by 陳怡蓁, 2012-09-07 15:53, Views(1087)



The book “60 Letters to the Medical Students” is for those who are ready to take their lives to the next level. The message conveyed by the author, Dr. Fon-Jou Hsieh, is loud and clear: he is trying to inspire college students at NTU to live in their Higher Selves. Behind the message hides Professor Hsieh’s dream, a dream driven by his passion for education, which in turn drives him to write assiduously in spite of his already busy schedule. This persistent nature of pursuing for the truth speaks for the Professor Hsieh I know – he constantly gives his best to go after what he deems important and necessary.

My first encounter with Professor Hsieh left me with an impression that he was a scholar way too serious, even to the point of being fastidiously impeccable. We met at a cognitive science symposium. In between two speakers, he walked out all of a sudden . We then found out during the break that he left to have his assistant fax over the definition of “Mandarin” given in Encyclopedia Britannica – a word coincidentally brought up and was used in a sense different from the way he would normally use it.

A scholar as such, especially a famous and senior professor as he is, usually intimidates me. I was overwhelmed, but could hear at the same time an inner voice telling me to take him no more than one colleague I happened to become acquainted with. As I got to read more and more of his letters to the medical students and to the students at NTU, I was really surprised that the voice in me had faded out before my being aware of it. I was shaken again and again by something he tried to convey through the letters. So moved was I that I even got into the habit of writing him feedback when I shared his views and had something to say in return. It soon dawned on me that what touched me was his passion for education and his sticking to what he believes to be important. I was reminded time after time of his insistence for what he deemed right – a precious quality that many educators nowadays no longer possess.

Such passion of his is obvious from his making numerous efforts to provide a well-rounded program in medicine, or even a well-rounded liberal education in general. Education as such incorporated knowledge of all disciplines – literature, arts and painting, music, biology, even language education, whose root lies in the study and the understanding of human brain. He writes about Mozart, about Jane Austen, about English education, and also about arts and drawings. He wants to combine neuroscience with the “magic” of one’s appreciation for music, Mozart’s pieces in particular. He wishes to instill in the undergraduates a new interdisciplinary approach to the study of Pride and Prejudice, an approach now known as literary Darwinism. He intends to introduce the artistic elements into the somewhat boring and stressful lives of the medical students by explicating the true meaning of “Less is more” since “A picture can say a thousand words.” Over the years, Professor Hsieh has devoted himself to the creation of, after having overcome many difficulties and obstacles, a handful of new courses so as to put into effect what he firmly believes in.

In fact, these interdisciplinary efforts are best shown by his stressing the importance of understanding how human brain functions. The priority given to the study of human brain entails the significance of language affects, according to the Whorf-Sapir Hypothesis, the way we think. Our understanding of the relationship between language and cognition is, of course, still at its infancy, which is subject to new evidences from neuroscience. Just as medical education should not be downgraded to the level of vocational training for medical technology and skills, language learning is not just to master the operation of a tool. Via language learning, one is to cultivate the ability for critical thinking so as to see the world from a different angle or a different frame of mind. The ability to think is highly emphasized in Professor Hsieh’s book, completely in line with what T. Harv Eker says in his book “Secrets of the Millionaire Mind”: one would need to think rich to get right.

In view of the important role play by language, mastering English has become a necessary “evil” for all citizens of this global village, if they were to be part of this brave new world. To encourage and to motivate his students to improve their English proficiency, he even set up English Tea Time instead of the conventional small group discussion, “luring” his medical students to sharped their English skills over coffee and cakes. He has successfully convinced his students that English would not be that difficult to learn if proper environment for the language is provided. The promising result of his trial was extremely impressive. These lucky medical students of his had the chance to understand the true meaning of language education – a good writer usually means a good observer, and being a good observer is highly demanded in doctors, as insightfully stated by one student benefited from the “experiment.” 

For the twenty-first century, commitment to liberal education assumes that the intellectual powers are to be cultivated through interdisciplinary studies springing up both within and across the traditional arts and sciences boundaries. It becomes now necessary to foster a more engaged, integrative, and socially responsible approach to liberal education: to provide the advantages of a rigorous, public-spirited, and intellectually challenging liberal education to all college students. Future faculty members will not be able to meet this educational challenge through solid scholarship alone, or  even by teaching with creativity and passion. A new education that aims across the curriculum, focuses intercultural and collaborative problem solving, and features more active connections with the community is the diredtion higher education is moving into in the near future, which is definitely the direction Professor Hsieh has shown in his book.

As to what it requires for one to become an intellectual, Wikipedia provides a pretty comprehensive definition: an intellectual is one who is analytical, knowledgeable, philosophical, observant, and curious; he is an inventive and introspective problem-solver who enjoys games of strategy, relying more on mind on mind than others; he as a rationalist is more influenced by self than others and seeks meaning incessantly. If abstractness is the essence of civilization, a well-rounded educational program should try to make one understand the intricate relationship between the abstract and the real, so as to contemplate the role abstraction plays in human civilization. Education can encourage some people who wouldn’t otherwise to develop that side of their personality. Professor Hsieh’s dream echoes well what we expect of all intellectuals: Whatever expert one may aspire to be, one will have to learn to be a human being to begin with. Although Professor Hsieh states matter-of-factly that the best a professor can do is nothing but to educate the students, his evocation strikes and lingers with us just like a clear stream running unremittingly through our minds.