BEIJING — On Sunday afternoon, a group of Kentucky educators passed through a wooden gate painted in vibrant hues of green, red and blue and entered a a temple where Chinese emperors came to pay tribute to a famous teacher – Confucius.
The Confucian Temple was built in the early 1300s as a place where the Chinese emperor could come and make sacrifices to honor Confucius.
Sarah Baker, assistant principal at Bristow Elementary School, said she felt a sense of peace because the temple was built to honor the teacher.
“Confucius in my mind was a great educator, but he was someone who didn’t just teach to the moment,” she said.
While he touched many people during his lifetime, his legacy continues to touch people today, Baker said. That’s something that she, as an educator, also strives to do.
Baker is one of eight Kentucky educators on a trip in Beijing to look at the differences in educational leadership in China and the United States.
The trip was organized through the Confucius Institute at Western Kentucky University and paid for by the Hanban. Hanban/Confucius Institute Headquarters is a public institution affiliated with the Chinese Ministry of Education.
In the temple, the educators toured grounds that included a main building to honor Confucius, an ancient tree purported to see the difference between honest and dishonest courtiers and numerous small buildings where stone slabs commemorating government achievements rested on the backs of mythical stone creatures that appeared to be a hybrid of a dragon and a turtle.
They saw a dance performance and part of an opening ceremony to a summer program for young members of the Communist Party taking place at the temple.
Baker said that though she has enjoyed the cultural tours the group has been on, one of her favorite things about the trip so far has been getting to know new people.
“I think it’s just interacting with the local people and getting to know them on a personal level,” she said.
Betty Yu, associate director of the Confucius Institute at WKU, said she noticed there seems to be strong moral guidelines in Confucian philosophy.
“I did not realize how inclusive Confucius made education,” she said.
Yu noted in many of the statues of Confucius, he holds his hands in the shape of the Chinese character “ren,” meaning man. The symbol indicates that a person should first consider that he or she is human before taking action.
John Millay, superintendent of Meade County Schools, said he sees that philosophy in the American value of education for all, which led to national efforts, including No Child Left Behind.
“What we do is strongly rooted in those principles,” he said.
Millay said he was impressed with the way people in Confucius’ time embraced that idea.
“Their whole society picked up on it and thought it was really, really good,” he said.
Millay said one of the only people he has seen begging during his trip was a burn victim near the Confucian Temple.
Those that can work in Chinese society seem to do so, even if what they’re doing is collecting bottles for recycling, he said.
“It appears family and neighbors take care of each other,” Millay said.
The Confucian philosophy set up a Chinese culture now that seems to respect and value education, said Nannette Johnston, superintendent of Hardin County Schools.
One of Confucius’ philosophies was that people should reflect constantly, be self-disciplined and have a good heart, Johnston said she learned at the temple.
“Even out in the public, I have not seen any children who have misbehaved or been disrespectful,” she said.
Johnston said some of Confucius’ ideas remind her of some of the ideas set up by Franklin Covey, such as “Seek first to understand.”
“It comes back to ‘The Leader in Me,’ that whole concept,” Johnston said.