Why am I Taking these Courses? Taoist Approach to Education Offers Answers

By University of Arkansas Grantham October 13, 2017

Countless articles, books and seminars exist that claim to know secrets to motivating people. Sports teams use motivational speakers and coaches to give pep talks before games. Colleges and universities offer courses on motivation, while business summits feature speakers devoted to holding the keys to motivation and success.

Instead of boring you with “can-do” catch phrases or showering you with false praise to get you to perform better, let’s explore a less traditional, but valuable approach to motivation by looking at the process through the principles of Taoism.

Chinese Taoism

Chinese Taoism philosophy is thousands of years old. One of its main principles is that all actions consist of a process, and each step within the process prepares you for the next step. If you skip a step, you will not be properly prepared to handle future steps; in other words, you cannot move from a starting step to an ending step without completing many different stages in between.

Taoism at Work

Let's take Taoism to work. You might be familiar with phrase, "They don't make things like they used to." Why does this saying persist over time? Possibly because until the last hundred years or so, vocational jobs, like carpentry, required a person to study for years under a master. An apprentice would earn hands-on experience, spending endless hours fine tuning each skill he or she acquired, until his/her master carpenter was satisfied.

Moreover, the master carpenter would not only look at the apprentice's final product, but would communicate how well the apprentice performed each task in the process. The final product would not be accepted if the apprentice did not follow proper step-to-step procedures. Therefore, the ultimate motivating factor for the apprentice was to achieve the skills and master every aspect of the trade, and in doing so gain the acceptance of his superior.

The apprentice could not go from being a beginner to being an expert without working through a proper training process, one that often took many years to complete. Motivation came through the prospect of steady, gradual mastery, and never through automatic gratification. In other words, the motivation for the apprentice was to achieve the skills of the master carpenter and gain the mentor’s approval.

Taoism in Education

Now, let’s consider the process of education. I’ve heard many students at UA Grantham and elsewhere ask, “Why do I have to take these general education courses? Why can’t I just move into my major courses?”

A Taoist approach to this question would be: without the general education courses you will not be properly prepared for the courses in your major of study. As Taoism teaches, no one can go from being a novice to being an expert without developing specific skills along the way. Only after the skills taught in the general education courses are mastered, will you be prepared to move forward.

Let’s look at a specific example. Have you ever wondered why you are required to take math, sociology, philosophy, history, and English/writing courses? Did you feel like they were a waste of time and were not related to your major? If you have had these questions or thoughts you are not alone. Most of us probably asked ourselves these questions at some point in our education process. However, each of these courses and others play a vital role in preparing you for future courses in the College of Business or other programs.

For example, you will use your math skills in: marketing to calculate the break-even-point and sales forecasts; economics to calculate elasticity; accounting to find net income, business statistics to find out the probability of an event occurring; and even in your human resource course you will use math to determine if you are meeting federal guidelines on numerous employment laws.

Other examples are found in your history, sociology and philosophy courses. These classes help prepare you for business studies by teaching you about human interactions, behaviors and governing principles — concepts that are useful when learning about management and leadership.

Finally, your English/writing courses play a major role in your overall education. These courses help prepare you to write effectively and concisely. You will learn how to format papers according to APA standards, which is required in all business (and many other) classes. Furthermore, you will learn how to conduct research and utilize it properly in your writings. All of this is important as you progress through just about any online degree program at UA Grantham, building a strong foundation of understanding along the way, so you can be successful in all future courses.

In short, general education courses are an integral part of your development as a learner, worker and human.

Applying Taoist Motivation

In order to properly motivate yourself, especially as a novice, it’s important to acknowledge that becoming a master in any discipline requires many intermediate steps. These in-between steps are often the most informational, transforming parts of your life and career. Further, they often set the foundation for who and what you will become. Although listening to speakers may help inspire you and get you in a motivated state of mind, remember that mastery takes time. The process is important, and the wait is worthwhile.

Skipping hard work will not sustain motivation, nor will it generate respect. Accepting the principles of Taoism can help you as a student, worker and citizen of the world better recognize that you should measure your success not just by where you end up, but by the process through which you were able to get there.

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University of Arkansas Grantham
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