July 27, 2011
David Gedalecia, the Michael O. Fisher Professor of History at The College of Wooster, delivers a speech in Chinese last month at a conference in Nanjing to honor Wooster alumnus Guo Bingwen for his many contributions to the educational system in China.
WOOSTER, Ohio — The College of Wooster’s global reputation for excellence in the liberal arts has evolved, in part, through the efforts of a 1911 graduate who played an integral role in shaping that country’s educational system nearly a century ago.
Guo Bingwen’s dogged advocacy for education in China altered that nation’s outlook, and scholars from around the world gathered to honor him last month at a conference hosted by Southeast University in Nanjing.
Representing Wooster was David Gedalecia, the Michael O. Fisher Professor of History, who presented a speech in Chinese to mark the centennial of Guo’s graduation from Wooster, as well as the 90th anniversary of his appointment as president of Southeast University. The conference was dedicated to examining his many contributions as well as his lasting impact on education in China.
Guo came to Wooster from Shanghai in 1908 and graduated with honors in the natural sciences. During his time at the College, he was editor of The Wooster Voice student newspaper, general secretary of the Chinese Students Alliance, a member of the Lincoln Society, and a prize-winning orator in speech contests.
After graduation, Guo received his M.A. (1912) and Ph.D. (1914) from Columbia University, where he studied under distinguished philosopher John Dewey and educational pioneer Paul Monroe. Using the American liberal arts institution as a model, Guo developed his own concept of how an education system should be organized.
In 1919, Guo returned to China and became an activist for education reform, especially on behalf of women. He founded Southeast University and served as its president. He was succeeded in that office by Mr. Qin Fen, the grandfather of Gedalecia’s wife, Pei-hsin.
“(Guo) was a trained student of education… and a natural leader,” said Edwin R. Embree, Secretary of the Rockefeller Foundation, in 1924, noting the similarities between Guo’s leadership style and that of American university presidents.
Elected three times as vice-chairman of the World Education Congress and one of the founders of the China Institute in New York City, Guo was an advocate for global interaction between East and West as a means of promoting international peace. He was also a strong believer that China could be “saved” through education by focusing on the correlation between politics and education and connecting the humanities and sciences.
“China may learn from American scientific knowledge… but America may learn from China…her attitude toward life…and promote the study of Chinese education,” said Guo in 1925.
In his summary of last month’s conference, Gedalecia said that the trend for Chinese students in the U.S. to attend liberal arts schools rather than larger universities shows an increased emphasis on their importance. He also observed that the Chinese were particularly interested in the concept of Independent Study, Wooster’s nationally acclaimed undergraduate research program, as well as the evaluation process for courses and promotion of faculty.
“Wooster has initiated a relationship (with Southeast) that will be extremely beneficial for students and faculty in both places,” said Gedalecia, “notably by way of exchange programs and other cooperative ventures.”
- Story by Libby Fackler '13
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