Professor Joan Stanley-Baker Speaks on Alternative Education

The Dharma Drum University Preparatory Office invited Professor Joan Stanley-Baker, an expert in the history of Chinese art, to deliver a keynote speech at the Degui Academy on the morning of April 7, 2011. Professor Stanley-Baker holds a PhD degree in Oriental Studies from Oxford University, and was the first curator of Asian art at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria in Canada. The topic of her speech was “Alternative Education at Dharma Drum Mountain,” with the professor offering an alternative viewpoint on the establishment of a residential college lifestyle at Dharma Drum University.

After a welcome speech delivered by Liu Anchi, President of Dharma Drum University, Professor Stanley-Baker shared her experience and perspectives on several topics, including her academic background and intellectual development, her 40 years of art history research, long-term advocacy of education, her cherished personal experience in Chan practice, and what she has learned from disasters.

She went on to say that since childhood, she has always rejected standard answers. So throughout her life, Professor Stanley-Baker has always worked to undermine fixed frameworks. Expounding American philosopher and educationist John Dewey’s ideas about education, she maintains that the best educational methods should combine social service and academic work, embracing the service-learning concept while reinforcing young people’s civic consciousness and sense of responsibility, cultivating their self-command, and encouraging learning by doing to contribute to the community. As an educational goal, she advocated the development of students’ ability to make independent judgments.

Professor Stanley-Baker also shared her experiences learning about Chan in Japan. She first realized the spirit and value of Chan practice by reading The Three Pillars of Zen, and later began to study with Chan master Bai Yun in 1970. She likened her approach to Chan practice as “a bull attacking a red flag.” Through the practice, however, she was able to experience the “unity of all phenomena” and “union with the great center of the universe.” She noted that all individuals coexist and mutually resonate in the same energy field, and we should therefore cherish and utilize our energies of all kinds to allow our minds to send out spiritual energy through love, caring, music, joy, sympathy, prayers, sitting meditation, yoga, and entering meditative concentration. 

Long devoted to educational efforts, Professor Stanley-Baker served as an advisor to a fundamental reform program for childhood education launched in 1995-1996 by Melina Mercouri together with the Greek Ministry of Culture and Religious Affairs and Ministry of Education. The professor advocated abandoning authoritarian-style education and removing all boundaries based on materialism and conceptual frameworks, and urged the restoration of childhood curiosity towards the world and all phenomena, along with an acute sensitivity so that children can fully express their unique capabilities. Her proposals were adopted, and three years after the Melina Project was implemented, they found that school children had become more enthusiastic about learning. When learning is fun, surprises are everywhere, and life becomes interesting and enjoyable. Another result was that in their work as educators, teachers developed a deeper understanding and sense of vocation. Originally initiated in Greece, the Melina Project eventually gained popularity in Europe and the US, and was finally adopted by UNESCO.

As Professor Stanley-Baker has spent many years in Japan, she was especially concerned about the earthquake of March 11, 2011. She stated that she has long been aware of problems that planet earth will be facing in the future, such as undrinkable water supplies and inedible vegetable harvests. Nevertheless, in this tumultuous era, it is even more important to teach people to not to live in fear or succumb to panic, and remind everyone of that the truth of our existence is that all things and phenomena are rooted in one reality. In addressing Taiwan’s current educational system, the professor pointed out that the key is to engage in efforts to inspire and develop spirituality, so that students can generate a heartfelt respect for and commitment to myriad things, and enthusiastically participate in furthering the development of mutual love and wisdom.

The speech concluded with an in-depth dialogue and discussion between the speaker and the Dharma Drum University faculty, and Professor Stanley-Baker fully expects that Dharma Drum University will establish an innovative educational system for Taiwan. (Reported by Huang Shihting)