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Cultivating the Autonomous Learner: Disciplinary Power, Techniques of the Self, and Pedagogical Dilemmas

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Cultivating the Confucian Individual
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Abstract

In this chapter, I describe some concrete techniques that were applied at Yiqian School for the teaching and learning of the classics while cultivating students to become autonomous, learned individuals. These techniques included minimum memorization of the classics, making study schedules, examinations, competitions, and mutual monitoring in groups. By presenting these teaching and learning practices, I reveal the pedagogical dilemmas of Yiqian School. On the one hand, this Confucian school attempted to implement the memorization of classical literature under the umbrella of the individualized teaching principle, as shown in Chap. 4, and to respect students’ disparities in memorization capabilities. On the other hand, in line with its ultimate goal of training students to become “great cultural talents” (wenhua dacai), Yiqian School also attached great importance to coercing its students to recite the classics beyond the limits of their abilities, which provoked private resistance from the students. I conclude the chapter by arguing that students of the revived Confucian education are governed by technologies of power in the disciplined classroom, but they are also encouraged to be the masters of their own study according to the technologies of the self, in order to become autonomous learners. In a broad sense, the revived Confucian education encounters a profound dilemma between autonomy/individualism and coercion/authoritarianism in making Confucian individuals.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    School observation in April 2015.

  2. 2.

    Similar critical comments against state education by parents of children at Yiqian School can be found in Chap. 3, showing the parents drawing on an anti-instrumentalist ideology to challenge China’s current examination-oriented state education system.

  3. 3.

    Interview in May 2015.

  4. 4.

    School observation at Qishun Class in April 2015.

  5. 5.

    School observation at Qishun Class in April 2015.

  6. 6.

    The teacher advised students in Qishun Class to call each other not directly by name but by adding “older brother” (xiong) or “younger brother” (di) before the first name. The purpose of this practice, as Mr. Sun explained, was to cultivate closer fraternal ties and affection among the boys, most of whom are the only child in the family, in their everyday school life.

  7. 7.

    Class discussion in June 2015.

  8. 8.

    Class discussion in May 2015.

  9. 9.

    Class discussion in May 2015.

  10. 10.

    Class discussion in May 2015.

  11. 11.

    Interview in April 2015.

  12. 12.

    In addition, some students went against their parents on the issue of whether they would move on to the Confucian academy for their future education. A number of parental informants disclosed that they expected their children to go to the academy, but their authority was challenged by their children’s independent thoughts and actions. A detailed discussion of this topic is provided in Chap. 7.

  13. 13.

    Interview in April 2015.

  14. 14.

    Interview in July 2015.

  15. 15.

    Interview in August 2015.

  16. 16.

    Interview in July 2015.

  17. 17.

    Interview in August 2015.

  18. 18.

    It should be noted that I played two roles simultaneously in Qishun Class during my fieldwork—one as a researcher and one as a teacher. My role as a researcher was to observe and record the students’ activities for the sake of the research project, but I was quickly assigned by the school leader to work as a teacher in Qishun Class. Taking on this teaching role meant that the students expected me to fulfill the responsibilities of a regular teacher, such as monitoring their learning of the classics and examining them on their memorization.

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Wang, C. (2023). Cultivating the Autonomous Learner: Disciplinary Power, Techniques of the Self, and Pedagogical Dilemmas. In: Cultivating the Confucian Individual. Palgrave Studies on Chinese Education in a Global Perspective. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-27669-9_5

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-27669-9_5

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