Education is the effort to bring human beings up to their inherent and untouchable value. Tai Ji Men performs this supreme duty through its constant appeal to conscience.

by Marco Respinti*

*Conclusions of the webinar “Freedom of Education, Freedom of Belief, and the Tai Ji Men Case,” co-organized by CESNUR and Human Rights Without Frontiers on January 24, 2024, UN International Day of Education.

An article already published in Bitter Winter on January 29th, 2024.

Artistic AI-generated elaboration of a 1950s poster on the universal right to education.
Artistic AI-generated elaboration of a 1950s poster on the universal right to education.

Today we observe the International Day of Education, proclaimed by the United Nations in 2018. This day has been set up to celebrate education as a fundamental right of human beings. As our series of webinars aptly repeats, education is one of those rights that belong to all human beings by virtue of their very nature. Hence, it means that no government, no state, no institution bestows such rights on humans in force of its own power. They are so ingrained, entrenched, and enshrined in humanity that they define its uniqueness. Thus governments, states, and institutions can only recognize them as existing. Not only they can: they, above all, must.

These human rights, among which education looms large, are untouchable and undeniable for this reason: because they are not the product of any human will or power but reveal an aspect of the pre-existing human nature.

For this peculiar and radical reason, when a fundamental human right such as education is denied through discrimination and coercion perpetrated by a government, a state, or any other institution, serious violations arise. Education is one of those fields in which a truth is much more evident than in many other instances: the truth that when one suffers, all suffer. In fact, if even only one human being is denied education, all humanity is downsized in its objective dignity.

In the educational field, human beings should also avoid easy mistakes. I will concentrate on two of the most common. The first is to think that education means exclusively instruction or schooling. It does not. Instruction and schooling, while not strictly the same thing in themselves, are, or may be, part of education, which is a broader and more comprehensive concept.

Education can in fact be achieved in more ways and with more instruments than just those provided by schooling. Life is in itself educational, and families, ambience, and atmospheres are part of a broader school. Note that I did not use the prudential “may” but the assertive “are.” In fact, life, families, ambiences, and atmospheres are always schools. They may be good schools or bad schools, but they are schools, nonetheless. Hence the importance of cultivating healthy families, good ambiences, and apt atmospheres.

The chief educational instrument of the broader school that is life, based on families, ambiences, and atmospheres, is the role model. In the school of life, human beings learn through precedents and by examples. Models become heroes to imitate and villains whose ways should be avoided. It is then fundamental to always offer the right example: should a villain be admired as a hero and imitated consequently, great evils would arise for the whole society.

As to instruction, it should not be mistaken for the whole of education as well. While in fact education aims at the general uplifting of a person, instruction is the apprehension of specific notions and tools. They of course contribute to general education but are not the same. They are instruments for a goal.

The second mistake of the two I evoked earlier is to think that someone has the right to force human beings to conform to an extrinsic model that vilifies their sacred nature. Sadly, this happens so many times in today’s world, when arrogance and evil powers claim to know better than human nature itself and try to impose a violent conformity that they call education.

In what I have presented so far, one all-encompassing concept is implicit and deserves now to be made explicit. Education is the effort to bring a human being up to its inherent, untouchable, and insuppressible value. A famous line from Italian poet Dante Alighieri’s (1265­–1321) “Inferno,” canto XXVI, verse 119, says, in the classic 1867 English translation by American man of letters Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882), “[y]e were not made to live like unto brutes”. Men and women are not brutes, and education serves the purpose of reminding them of that.

Artistic illustration (AI-generated) of Dante’s verse “Ye were not made to live like unto brutes.”
Artistic illustration (AI-generated) of Dante’s verse “Ye were not made to live like unto brutes.”

Here I use the verb “to remind” as Greek philosopher Plato (428/427–348/347a.C.) used it: to regain an ideal condition that has been lost. All religions and spiritual ways consider human beings as wounded by a great fall that caused them to lose their original moral shape. If that happened, human beings were reduced to the condition of brutes. Hence the necessity to educate them back to their original spiritual dignity.

So, education is an ongoing process of continuous and permanent uplifting that all single human beings mutually perform toward their fellows. This is a fundamental right of human beings that needs recognition and protection. At stake there is in fact the very nature of human beings.

For this reason, the right to education must be guaranteed, both as the right to educate others and the right to be educated. The magisterium of the Catholic Church puts education at the core of the very short list of non-negotiable principles that must be always and everywhere guaranteed to realize a decent society. The first right on that list is the right to life as the obvious pre-condition for every possible human action. Then it follows the first direct consequence of the right to life in the form of the first political human right: the right to religious liberty. The right to education comes directly after.

The connection among these non-negotiable principles is strict and logical. Once human beings are free and able to live, they address the most important question of all, one that has directly to do with spirituality and the sense of life. In turn. that right to a supreme truth is irrorated and substantiated by the right to live up to the intrinsic and deep human dignity implied by religious liberty. This right is affirmed through education.

All this connects to the core of Tai Ji Men’s spirituality and Dr. Hong Tao-Tze’s teachings on conscience.

Dr. Hong Tao-Tze planting a tree on January 7, 2024, at the site of the Swiss Mountain Villa in Xizhi, Taiwan, a beautiful property that fell into disrepair after it was repeatedly seized and frozen as a consequence of the Tai Ji Men case.
Dr. Hong Tao-Tze planting a tree on January 7, 2024, at the site of the Swiss Mountain Villa in Xizhi, Taiwan, a beautiful property that fell into disrepair after it was repeatedly seized and frozen as a consequence of the Tai Ji Men case.

For Tai Ji Men, conscience is innate in human beings and the compass capable of orienting all actions to good. Dr. Hong teaches that going back to one’s conscience is the solution to all problems. Conscience, in his view, has in itself the power to re-awake and lead human beings back to their dignity after all their losses. It is then the supreme instrument of a constant education of human beings back to their true self. Consequently, the Tai Ji Men community is the extended family that educates dizi, or disciples, under the guidance of Shifu, or Grand Master, to imitate heroes and avoid the ways of the villains through the mutual nurturing of their spirit.

When the extended family of Tai Ji Men is denied the liberty to educate its members freely and without harassment, an entire movement suffers. But also the whole society is deprived of an uplifting model that, in different ways, some obvious and some in need of being discovered, has the power to inspire good deeds and affect the common good of the world society. When that liberty ceases to be guaranteed, society is reduced to a mere confrontation among brutes.