Letter from Alfred E. Stearns to C.Y. Sun, Tientsin December 27, 1929

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Letter from Alfred E. Stearns to C.Y. Sun, Tientsin December 27, 1929


Letter from Alfred E. Stearns to C.Y. Sun, Tientsin December 27, 1929


My dear Mr. Sun:

First let me thank you and most warmly for your generous Christmas gifts. Mary sent me the embroidered hangings and Tom forwarded from Middlebury the small silver plates and the carved piece. The exact nature of the last I regret to say I am not able to determine, for the bottom piece had been broken completely off in transit and whatever was inserted in the semi-circular arms at the top had entirely disappeared. I am writing Tom to find out if I can whether these losses occurred after the box left him or some where earlier transit. If the former, it is just possible that I may be able to secure some restitution from the express company, though I am rather doubtful about it. Nonetheless, I am just as appreciative of and just as grateful for your exceptionally generous thought, so please don't allow the fact that the goods were damaged to worry you for a moment. You have already done far more than was necessary or expected by way of showing your appreciation of what little I have tried to do for your children. The deepest satisfaction that has come to me from the whole process has been the evidences that have been steadily increasing in recent years of the development in the youngsters, if I may still call them that, of poise and character and purpose that seemingly have more than justified your investments in their behalf and in realizing more fully as the days go on your hopes and ambitions for them.

In this connection, I do wish that I could just sit down with you and discuss frankly face to face some of the questions that are now confronting us in connection with the further education of the children, Charlie and Tom especially. I have recently talked with both of them, and Charlie has written me several letters since he reached the Legation in London. Both of the boys have been developing remarkably well in my judgment. I always expected as much from Charlie, but was a little puzzled at first about Tom, as it seemed to take him longer to find his footing and develop a serious purpose. His record at Middlebury, however, has been one of steady gain, and in a talk I had with him only a few days ago when he came out and had lunch with me, I was more than ever impressed with the boy’s increased maturity, judgment, and his sensible viewpoints on many of his problem.

Just at present I am truly worried about Charlie. The boy is naturally homesick, and we must make reasonable allowance for that. On the other hand, even before he left this country, he was inclined to be a bit morose and discouraged, a tendency which seems to have been growing on him and to regard his future with anxiety, if not actual apprehension. We cannot afford to allow the boy to continue in this mood, which in a more active stage would mean the definite undermining of his future development, if not actually something more dangerous. Charlie has so much ability and such fine traits of character that we must guard against the possibility of placing him in a position where these cannot have their fullest and finest play.

Just at the moment the boy is thoroughly disheartened at the prospect of having to work for a degree of some kind outside of and in addition to his duties at the Legation. Charlie himself feels that the combination is altogether too much for him to handle satisfactorily. Personally, I cannot help feeling that he is probably right. Nor can he appreciate just what value is to attach to the added decree even if he were to get it. Neither can I. Frankly, I'm convinced that most of the Chinese boys who have come to this country and have pursued that intellectual will-o-the-wisp termed a degree for the sake of the degree alone - and scores of them have done this - have been far more injured than benefited in the process. A good many of us here in America are coming to look with increasing suspicion on some of the degrees sought for and frequently secured by our own students. I myself, and the same may be said of most of my headmaster friends in our our beet American boarding schools are far less likely to take a man on to our teaching force who has done special work for a degree than we are one who has not. In other words, this specialized study has generally lessened the ability of the individual to do the high and broad grade of work that we desire.

I have found from my many years’ experience in dealing with these Chinese boys and their parents that my good friends in China seen to have, from point of view, a distorted and altogether too exalted a view of the value of a degree in itself, and I have not hesitated to argue with them on this proposition and to state frankly my opinion. I should not be a good friend if I did otherwise, and it is only because I wish to play the part of an absolute friend with you and your children that I am venturing to speak with such frankness now. Whatever work Charlie, or Tom either, for that matter, can do to strengthen his knowledge and broaden his viewpoints, with special reference to the kind of work which he is going to do in later life, the better for them. If a degree come naturally in this process, there is little to criticize, but the work and development are the main thing and not the degree, and I am perfectly sure that those who are eventually to lead China out of her present chaotic condition and to help put her in her proper and deserved place as a nation are not going to be those who have labored primarily for degrees in foreign institutions. The foreign training, the foreign contacts ought to prove tremendous assets to the Chinese leaders of the coming generation. Degrees in themselves will mean nothing.

I may have interpreted absolutely wrongly your attitude towards and ambitions for the boys. If so, you will pardon I know this unnecessary and perhaps uncalled for expression of opinion on my part. I could hardly have a less sincere and deep interest in their development, however, if they were my own sons, for they have been, as it were, a part of my family circle now for a good many years and I am tremendously interested in them and in their future. I wish it might be possible for them to take a little breathing space in the American education in the shape of a vacation trip home, even though the visit might necessarily be very limited in time, and talk over with you in person their problems and future plans. If that is not practicable, we will try our best to work them out over here. Please understand always that my suggestions are suggestions only and that I am always ready to carry out so far as I can your instructions and to help you realize your ambitions. These necessarily take precedence over any of my own and that fact I clearly understand. Knowing your general ambition for the children, however, I cannot help wondering at times whether the best procedure is being adopted for the attainment of the high goal which you hold for them. It is only that questioning which justifies me in offering anything savoring of suggestion or advice.

Trusting that you will fully appreciate the spirit which prompts me to write with such great frankness. and that you will not label me an intruder because I have done so, and with heartiest New Year's greetings and good wishes to you and yours, believe me

Very sincerely yours,


Alfred E. Stearns


Phillips Academy


December 27, 1929


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