By a group of students from Xing Wei College
Xing Wei College (XWC) was founded by Weiming Chen in 2010. It is, we believe, the first private, non-profit, college in the People’s Republic of China (PROC) with an educational philosophy inspired by liberal arts colleges in the United States (US). Our motto is “Freedom, Passion, Conscience.”
We feel that XWC is an example of a progressive college, although we are really just beginning to learn what that term means. Our school has several goals for students; some of them are that students will: find their own passions and develop their own innovative thoughts, apply their thinking to the “real world” and learn through action, gain an international perspective, develop autonomy and responsibility, and develop an ability to reflect on themselves.
We are starting small – currently, we have 4 full-time professors whose academic backgrounds are in Psychology, Philosophy, Literature and Ecology, about 10 coaches, and more than 10 part-time practitioners with knowledge and skills across a wide range of human thought and action. We have some distinctive characteristics that we’d like to briefly summarize.
Our management system is unusual. There are eight committees governing Xing Wei College, all of which are managed by the students – who, and only who, have voting power – with the help of coaches. Each semester, students volunteer to work in committees and earn credit for doing so. Students on committees have different roles to play: some are the chairs of each committee who arrange for and manage meetings and make holistic plans, some serve to manage budgets of perhaps millions of RMB, and others work on specific projects relevant to that committee’s mission. In this way, students take care of most of the daily management operations in XWC.
The Roles of Professors And Coaches
With the student self-governance committee system, professors and school administrators are not regarded as the sole designers of the school who have complete control over what student should do or learn. Rather, they are coaches and mentors for students. They listen to students, incorporate students’ ideas into their teaching or their concepts of school management. They step back to first let students try to do things on their own, then give advice and guidance to help student solve problems. Finally, they give students encouragement and feedback during the learning process.
As long as students can form a team of at least five people who share the same interest, they can create a course. This is done through a procedure that students and coaches have together worked out. The student “class representative” and his / her team finds a professor, coach, or practitioner who can teach the course and assists in building a contract for that person by working with one of the existing committees. Thus, it is student’s ideas and interests which are largely valued in XWC; students can pursue their own interests by being able to propose and create new courses.
Our Chinese Aspects
XWC is in Shanghai, and although some of our courses are in English, we have foreign professors, and we have absorbed many ideas from “the West”, we also incorporate concepts from Chinese traditional philosophies and values. The Chinese word “Conscience” in the motto is linked with ancient Chinese philosopher Wang Yangming’s idea of “Zhi Liang Zhi (致良知)” – the goodness of one’s heart.
We also embody another element of Wang Yangming’s philosophy – “Zhi Xing He Yi (知行合一)” – the unity of knowledge and action. That is to say that what one knows should be reflected in one’s actions, and one’s actions should be consistent with what one knows. We believe that our system that creates opportunities for actions, bridges a typical gap between learning and doing.
Another important tradition in Chinese thinking is that a person should exhibit “ De Xing (德行)” – that is, to behave with ethics and virtue, and to do the right thing to others. A large part of students’ learning at XWC is working with others to solve problems. If students want to have good outcomes and be recognized and respected, they have to behave with virtue and treat others with virtue.
Master Zeng said: “Every day, I examine myself multiple times”. Self-evaluation and reflection is an important part of improving ourselves. In many courses, students write a summary of their experiences and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses they’ve observed in themselves.
Team Work with Student Leadership
We’ve found that learning is most intense when students work together in teams to solve problems. Within the team of students, it is the students themselves who decide how to elect leaders, how to determine their team’s goals and objectives, how to distribute work among members, and how to communicate and stimulate cooperation. We’ve found that democratic voting inside a transparent discussion and decision-making process works well and definitely stimulates our learning. Students in a leadership position will be able to practice their leadership skills, and all members will learn to better balance their self-interests with the team’s interest and goals.
Practical Skills and Real-world Problem Solving
We believe that students become most interested in learning when they face real problems and they need to come up with practical plans and use practical skills to solve those problems. Examples of problems that students solve at XWC include: budget making, holistic semester/year academic planning, coordinating with other teams and committees, organizing campus events, holding regular productive meetings, improving rules and policies in different areas of XWC, and responding to a variety of situations and complains. In the process of solving these problems, students are able to improve their communication skills and so actually work as a team. Students can also sharpen their abilities to think systematically, to plan for the future, to solve conflicts and disagreements, and to allocate resources.
We’ve found that when students have a clear goal to work toward, like a trip, their interest in learning is great. The “learning journey” is an idea we imported from Team Academy (TA), a program within a school in Finland that we have developed a relationship with. In TA, a team of student entrepreneurs begins with the goal of taking a trip all around the world. What the team does then is to take steps toward this ultimate goal. The learning journey is like a “carrot” to stimulate students to put their knowledge and ideas into practice.