If C.S. Lewis had desired to teach English in China he would probably have succeeded. However, due to some rather peculiar requirements, he may not have passed muster.
In that Asian nation, you need four years of college to become a teacher. At 山西师范大学 (Shaanxi Normal University) they include another odd requirement. Shaanxi has a minimal height standard. Men must be at least 5-foot-1 and women must be no shorter than 4-foot-7.
C.S. Lewis would have passed this mandate; he was just shy of 5-foot-11. But who knows what other arbitrary dictates may have barred him from sharing his brilliant mind.
The university’s policy came to international attention when the plight of a young student who completed her studies only to be informed that she was four inches too short to receive her diploma. As the BBC reports, there is a waiver for those who wish to teach the very young.
Those wanting to teach at nursery are able to apply for special accreditation if they are five centimetres shorter.
The school’s, albeit flimsy, rationale is that teachers may need to reach high on blackboards when they are teaching their students. (So much for using modern technology to compensate.)*
It would be bad enough if they failed to admit such candidates to their program, but obviously some are not informed of the standard until they have completed their university studies. One can hardly imagine how that unfortunate graduate felt.
C.S. Lewis spent his academic life at Oxford and Cambridge. Although he lectured in a variety of venues, no international university was blessed to have him serve as a visiting scholar.
Fortunately, however, his words reached far beyond the campuses of Oxbridge. And, even though Lewis never taught in China (or in Chinese), his words are available today via translation. At Wheaton College, the Marion E. Wade Center preserves a great deal of information about the Inklings, including some original material.
The Wade’s translation collection has a diverse amount of languages represented, even if only by one book. The languages at the Wade include: Afrikaans, Albanian, Arabic, Bulgarian, Catalan, Chinese, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Esperanto, Estonian, Faroese, Finnish, French, Gaelic, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Latin, Latvian, Lithuanian, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish, Swedish, Thai, Turkish, Ukrainian, and Welsh.
A Two-Way Street
Those of us who have taught realize better than others that teachers often learn as much from their students as they offer to them. Preparing to teach demands that we study to know the subject matter as intimately as we can, so we might convey it effectively to others.
Although he was a brilliant teacher, C.S. Lewis was also a diligent lifelong learner.
Lewis held great respect for Chinese civilization. He was interested in the Chinese philosophical concept of the Tao. I’ve written about his thoughts on this subject before.
Lewis viewed the Tao as being similar to what Christian theologians traditionally refer to as Natural Law.
The Tao, which others may call Natural Law or Traditional Morality or the First Principles of Practical Reason or the First Platitudes, is not one among a series of possible systems of value. It is the sole source of all value judgments.
If it is rejected, all value is rejected. If any value is retained, it is retained. The effort to refute it and raise a new system of value in its place is self-contradictory. There has never been, and never will be, a radically new judgment of value in the history of the world.
What purport to be new systems or . . . ideologies . . . all consist of fragments from the Tao itself, arbitrarily wrenched from their context in the whole and then swollen to madness in their isolation, yet still owing to the Tao and to it alone such validity as they possess. (The Abolition of Man)
Lewis was an advocate of what some refer to as Classical Education. It involves loftier goals than simply communicating data. In his essay “Our English Syllabus,” Lewis “propagated education’s end, rather than as the filling of students’ heads with information or their muscles with habits, as the inculcation of virtue.”
Lewis treasured the essence of knowledge rather than its trappings. He was patient with those genuinely hungry for knowledge. But you could also readily apply to him the maxim that he did not suffer fools gladly.
It does not take a genius to discern what C.S. Lewis would have thought about this Chinese height requirement. To prevent a motivated and capable educator from pursuing her vocation simply because she may lack the reach of someone taller, does not pass the test of common sense.
* “The first interactive whiteboard was released in 1991,” and I assume The People’s Republic “magically” secured that very technology no later than 1992.