Effective labor education integrates knowledge with action

Source:Chinese Social Sciences Today 2023-04-06

In March 2020, the CPC Central Committee and the State Council issued the “Opinions on Comprehensively Strengthening Labor Education in Universities, Middle Schools, and Primary Schools in the New Era,” which stated clearly that labor education in the new era has the educational value of “boosting intelligence.” To fundamentally unleash the value of labor education, it is first necessary to have a deep understanding of people’s mindsets.

Mentality closely related to behavior

Fundamentally speaking, humans are the product of their environment, and their mindset is affected by the environment. There is no onefold or isolated mindset. The mindset, or the way of thinking, refers to the way issues are perceived or handled, or in what way implications or conceptions are formed in one’s mind, so that rational conclusions can be induced. Mentality training is about developing curiosity, forming habits of inquiry and verification, and bolstering sensitivity to issues. It is also about controlling the orderly flow of ideas, reaching conclusions based on sufficient evidence, and liberating behaviors from common practice, conventions, and bias.

Mentality is not opposed to behavior but is closely related to it. The former provides methods and guidance for the latter, while the latter ascribes purposes and meanings to the former. In the words of Zhu Xi, a Chinese thinker from the Song Dynasty, “knowings” and “doings” (knowledge and action) are often correlated with and dependent on each other. In the words of Wang Yangming, a thinker from the Ming Dynasty, knowings and doings should not be separated into two parts. In this sense, there should be no gap between the two, which needs to be unified.

Maximizing intellectual possibilities of labor education

The traditional view of thinking denotes a process confined to the mind, where pure conceptual deductions are produced. Logic and mathematics are taken as the best disciplines for training one to think. In fact, any form of labor with social values, ranging from farming, cooking, sewing, to commodity sales, can “boost intelligence.” One of the important tasks of schools is to maximize the intellectual possibilities of labor education—to stimulate students’ curiosity and appetite for knowledge by means of labor education, to guide students to meaningful explorations and experiments, to foster meticulous and accurate observations, and to develop habits of prudent thinking and adept discerning.

First, labor education should be blended with theoretical courses such as history and geography. A person’s mindset requires “food,” which is the information and data provided through reading and observation. However, spheres that can directly provide observations are limited, and most of the “food” stems from conclusions reached by others. It has been indicated by practice that labor education without theoretical support may teach students skills but cannot teach them how to think. It is undeniable that the acquisition of proficient labor skills sometimes comes at the expense of the ability to think and innovate. Nothing about experience is absolutely onefold or solitary, there will always be inextricable link to nature and human beings. The significance of labor depends on the type of relationship and context it is placed in. The labor may be purely physically, or may contain rich intellectual and social connotations. The result depends on the laborer’s understanding of the facts, principles, and background of the laboring process.

Second, properly equip laboratories, libraries and museums, and provide universal access to internet resources. The entire history of human science has shown that the conditions for complete thinking activities do not possibly exist unless people truly alter material objects through the use of tools. Libraries and museums are important resources of materials for developing thinking. Museums provide the tangible, while libraries supply the textual evidence. Fields, workshops, libraries, museums- by visiting these places, theory and practice, knowledge and action can reinforce each other.

Third, only if a labor project spans a sufficiently long time period can it ensure complete of thinking at a deeper level. In practice, some schools tend to be rigid and inflexible in managing labor education, with few labor courses and less concentrated class hours. The result is inadequate implementation of labor projects. Therefore, an adequate time commitment is necessary, which is the fundamental prerequisite for liberating labor education from aimless physical impulses or entertainment. If the time span is too short, the purpose of laboring cannot be fully attained, and the laboring process falls flat. Activities or labor composed of unrelated, fragmented, and random behaviors cannot be considered labor education, because they may misguide students towards the habit of pursuing sensory stimulation and shallow, perfunctory behaviors. In short, whether and to what extent labor education can play its role of boosting intelligence depends on how it is executed- whether we regard it as a technology or an art.


Tao Qing is a professor from the Teachers College at Zhejiang Ocean University.

Editor:Yu Hui

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