Ever since ancient times, schools have been the primary means of cultivating talents though not being the only form of education. What sort of talents can be trained by schools depends on the nature and type of school and its purpose, content as well as the method of education, in addition to the coordination of the whole society and the practice and hard work of those being taught. In ancient China, there existed two types of school, operated either by government or individuals. Over the course of history, one type might predominate over the other at times, but mostly they complemented each other, both accumulating rich experience as providers of education.
Practice was an important aspect of Xunzi’s course of education. A student did not simply study ritual, but was asked to perform it. Xunzi recognized that this performative aspect was crucial to the goal of transforming one’s nature. It was only through practice that one could realize the beauty of ritual, ideally coming to appreciate it for itself. Thought this was the end of education, Xunzi appealed to more utilitarian motives to start the student on the program of study. He discussed how desires would inevitably be frustrated in the state of nature. Organizing society through ritual was the only way people could ever satisfy even some of their desires, and study of ritual was the best way to achieve satisfaction on a personal level. Ritual has this power to transform someone’s motives and characters.
The training of a skeptical mind was considered to be of great importance by ancient educators, so as to avoid one-sided viewpoints and promote students’ capacity for independent thinking. Debate between teachers and students was particular common in academies. The renowned scholar of Song Dynasty Zhu Xi especially stressed the importance of questioning in one’s studies. He said that “if something is believable, even it is said by ordinary people, it cannot be changed. If it is doubtful, even if it comes from the lips of scholars and great men, it should be carefully examined and thought over.” It was this fine tradition of questioning which promoted the development of traditional Chinese educational theories and academic and cultural thought.