“Learning Virtues,” David Brooks

This is a fascinating article from David Brooks about a Chinese and a Western approach to learning. He says, “The simplest way to summarize her findings is that Westerners tend to define learning cognitively while Asians tend to define it morally.” Note especially this,

You can look at the slogans on university crests to get a glimpse of the difference. Western mottos emphasize knowledge acquisition. Harvard’s motto is “Truth.” Yale’s is “Light and truth.” The University of Chicago’s is “Let knowledge grow from more to more; and so be human life enriched.”

Chinese universities usually take Confucian sayings that emphasize personal elevation. Tsinghua’s motto is “Strengthen self ceaselessly and cultivate virtue to nurture the world.” Nanjing’s motto is “Be sincere and hold high aspirations, learn diligently and practice earnestly.”

Another way of stating this is that American universities seem oriented toward a modern western epistemology, while the Chinese universities seem to represent an approach more oriented toward virtue epistemology. Perhaps Brooks is generalizing a bit too much, but if he is even mostly correct, the American universities could learn from their Chinese counterparts.

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