Tailored learning

子路問:「聞斯行諸?」子曰:「有父兄在,如之何其聞斯行之!」冉有問:「聞斯行諸?」子曰:「聞斯行之!」公西華曰:「由也問『聞斯行諸?』,子曰:『有父兄在』;求也問,『聞斯行諸?』子曰:『聞斯行之』。赤也惑,敢問?」子曰:「求也退,故進之;由也兼人,故退之。」
Zilu asked: “If I hear of something that needs to be done, should I immediately take care of it?” Confucius said: “Your father and your elder brother are still alive. How could you take care of it immediately?” Ran Qiu said: “If I hear of something that needs to be done, should I immediately take care of it?” Confucius said: “Take care of it immediately” Gongxi Chi said: “When Zilu asked whether or not he should take care of something that he has heard needs to be done, you told him that his father and elder brother are still alive. But when Ran Qiu asked the very same question, you told him to take care of it immediately. I am confused. May I ask for an explanation?” Confucius said: “Ran Qiu holds himself back, so I push him forward; Zilu has enough energy for two, so I hold him back.”

One of the greatest crimes committed against Confucius was the establishment of the one-size-fits-all rote-learning education system in his name hundreds of years after his death.

As this passage shows, Confucius was in fact a patient and sensitive teacher who took time to understand the diverse personalities and requirements of his students and tailored the lessons he gave them accordingly. While he demanded great academic rigor, he never lost sight of the need to focus on the individual.

What a pity that his self-proclaimed successors blithely ignored his enlightened approach to education.

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