Sunday, September 25, 2011

Campus worship

Several Christian groups on campus jointly organized a worship service at the start of the new school year.  More than a hundred people attended the service at a renovated square.  The speaker, Dr. Philemon Choi, is an experienced and respected leader in working with the youths, not only among Christians but also across Hong Kong, and, more and more, in mainland China.  He exhorted the gathered students to go beyond academics - broadening into a truly holistic education, and among other things, moral intelligence in education. 

What he said is very much in line with the sharpening focus in our new 4-year programs: leadership (really psycho-social competencies), and service learning (civic responsibility and community service).  More can and needs be done.  And I am quite distressed by the lopsided culture at our university that puts research way above teaching.  But I am quite proud of both (1) our vibrant Christian community on campus, and (2) the encouraging developments towards a truly holistic education.


Cyiu Chau said...

Stephen, I don't know since when, reading your blog (esp. old posts) has become one of my biggest entertainment during the 'coffee break' at work, aside from reading soccer news and sci/tech news.

And I found posts under the label 'faith' most thought-stimulating and inspiring, perhaps it's because our occasional similar views on current issues but rather different views on religions.

To be honest, personally I am not excited about things like campus worship but I do agree that we need holistic education. Recently I have also read some posts written by Dr. Lam Pun Lee, a former professor of PolyU (by the way, he's also a christian. I am not a fan of him but I guess I do benefit from reading and knowing different school of thoughts). I recall that he used the word 'soulless' to describe the universities in HK. I also suspect that school managements and students are both too emphasized on measurable achievements (often grades and money).

Sometimes I have the feeling that students (esp. university students) should realize their own power and the impact they can create with their thoughts and acts. They should know that with dreams and practices, they can make something. Not necessarily money but something different, something elegant, to the neighborhood and even the society. It appears to me that many students nowadays are too parsimonious to do things not related to money.

Of course by using the word 'impact', I have dropped a hint on the uncertainty of being negative or positive, but that's not a major concern in a university. In schools, you have the rare chances to try things out, on a small scale and with a controllable impact. Too bad that some students are only there for GPAs and jobs. In my opinion, universities are not vocational schools. Universities are here to help students finding their own ways of learning and more importantly, how to think
critically. That's what education truly means to me. Its primary purpose is not about dealing with jobs and employment rates but to inspire students. (Just a joke, perhaps that's why UST, HKU and PolyU all dropped the word 'edu' in their domain names, while CUHK, a university well-known for being slightly more holistic, kept the 'edu' in its domain name.)

Recently I have also been reading a book [Free as in Freedom], by Sam Williams (, which was about the legendary hacker Richard Stallman and the stories of GNU. I admires the Xerox managements for making the decision of putting prototype machines in universities, because university students are (supposedly) energetic, creative and able to come up with some good thinkings. When the prototypes are broken, perhaps the students will find a way to fix or workaround the problems and the company can learn a lot from them. That's a smart decision! (Okay, sadly, things like this won't happen in HK, at least not at this moment)

And the story of Richard Stallman is also encouraging. What he did and met in university later ignited his commitment to the free software campaign. The word 'free' here does not only suggest that users need not to pay any money to use the software, it also means people can share their knowledge freely, hence more people can learn and contribute (and that's exactly the same aim of Wikipedia). It's all about the fresh air of freedom. The first word that came up my mind for describing such a campaign is 'holy'.

Mike Uretsky, the codirector of the Stern School's Center for Advanced Technology, says "The role of a university is to foster debate and to have interesting discussions", in the same book. That's exactly what I think.

Cyiu Chau said...

I can see why you are so proud of the vibrant christian community on campus, because I guess the majority of them are active and caring persons. On the other hand, I am not so proud as you are because we don't have any vibrant freethought (or even non-theism) communities on campus, which, if exist, should promote freedom, logical reasoning and perhaps philosophical thinkings. In fact, it's common for HK students being unconcerned and indifferent (perhaps I am just another one). In many highly-ranked universities in mainland China, they have their own forum/bbs for students or even other teenagers to discuss things like politics, current issues, technologies, hobbies, almost everything. The most famous pair is perhaps the TsingHua University and its 水木清华BBS. Looking back to PolyU, we do not have any official bbs/forum (there is one for mainland students though). I suspect that the largest PolyU-related forum is a page on Uwants, where people usually ask about course selection and abuse teachers after getting poor grades. What a shame.

Some other universities have fraternities or 'house' systems. We perhaps have something similar in the Halls, but again non-halls-residing students are excluded and I have the impression that even students in the Halls do not really care about the activities between halls. I also have the impression that fraternities are good, because they promotes brotherhood and the share of knowledge plus skills. Competitions between houses and fraternities are also good, because young people like the
taste of winning and that somehow promotes new ideas and techniques, just like wars can push people to come up with new inventions (esp. the World Wars). I feel that our university is a bit weak on these aspects, possibly because of its short history. I sincerely hope it will get better in the future, like, when we became history.

(Haha, I typed too many characters, so I had to post them in two separate comments. The limit of one comment is 4096 characters...)

StephenC said...

Dear Cyiu, I share with you the disappointment at the lack of forums (fora) for discussion of ideas. I believe in God and am proud of our community. But I am also interested in other faiths such as Islam, Buddhism, Taoism, ... I am fairly familiar with atheism, Marxism, .., and feel that it is healthy for a university to have such communities.

Perhaps we can set up our own forum when you come back :-) I can buy coffee, and start a group in the eToy Lab - as long as we still have a lab.

Looking forward to having you back.

StephenC said...

I also agree with you that our university has been lacking a true culture of education. But there are signs things are changing, with the new management and the new curriculum. Things such as what Grace and I have been doing are getting more recognition and encouragement at he university level. And we are taking on new roles. It is not just us, of course, and the initiatives are coming from top management. So there is hope yet. And we can also play a role.

StephenC said...

Related to your laments: the university started this READ campaign - to try to get students to read a book - The Kite Runner. I signed up to be a facilitator for one of the discussion groups.

Do you know how many turned up for the first session (there were 10 students in my group)?


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