Every Expat Teacher in East Asia Should Study Confucianism

I am currently taking a Philosophy of Education class, and it is arguably one of the most important classes I will take in my degree.

Aside from the fact that Dr. Patrick Slattery at Texas A&M University is one of the most brilliant and thought-provoking people I have ever met (with hilarious stories of growing up Catholic), the course has really evoked many thoughts on what it means to be an educator.

Each of us were asked to choose a philosophy to study independently, and I chose Confucianism.


Because I have spent most of my teaching career as an educator in Taiwan at schools that have pushed away Eastern thought and promoted Western education. In short, I wanted to know more about what we were suppressing.

Confucianism is complicated, and I am far from really understanding it due to conflicting interpretations, but one thing I do know is that all expat teachers in East Asia should study it.

I think to really understand those we work with in Confucian societies like Taiwan, South Korea, etc., we must understand Confucianism. I have witnessed many arguments (and perhaps engaged in a few) that could have been explained (though not necessarily resolved) by differences between Western thought and Confucianism. Here are a few:

  1. Westerns are individualistic; Confucianism is about community.
  2. Westerns work in absolutes; Confucianism changes based on context.
  3. Westerns think linearly; Confucianism is cyclical.

Obviously these are generalizations and not meant to mean EVERYONE is like this, but they are good starting points for conversations about differences.

I will intentionally leave this post short because (a) I’m a Ph.D. student and have no time to blog, and (b) I would prefer readers to think about what this means for them.

So on that note, tell me your thoughts on the three items above and what they mean to you.

I’m sure I’ll be writing more on Confucianism and other philosophies down the road.