Ends can­not jus­tify means in cur­ricu­lum re­form

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

The adage of his­tory be­ing writ­ten by the vic­tors adds am­ple fuel to a peren­nial de­bate re­gard­ing Tai­wan’s high school his­tory cur­ricu­lum, in which the is­land’s stu­dents are al­ways get­ting the shorter end of the stick.

Re­cent ef­forts to skirt his­tory rather than ap­proach­ing it with the re­spect, open-mind­ed­ness and em­pa­thy re­quired would mean a back-ped­al­ing tan­ta­mount to Ja­pan’s re­vi­sion­ist ac­counts of WWII, China’s at­tempt to erase the Tianan­men Massacre and de­niers of the Holo­caust.

At the cen­ter of the de­bate are the pro­posed “mi­nor ad­just­ments” be­ing made to his­tory text­books that would ex­cise top­ics such as Nazism, the Fe­bru­ary 28 In­ci­dent and the White Ter­ror. Some civic or­ga­ni­za­tions are call­ing this a “China-cen­tric” per­spec­tive of his­tory be­ing forced onto the hearts and minds of stu­dents. They also found prob­lem­atic that the Hi­malayas were al­legedly re­ferred to as the na­tion’s tallest peaks and Tai­wan’s sub­se­quent “re­turn” to the R.O.C. fol­low­ing WWII as a “glo­ri­ous retro­ces­sion.”

Stu­dents across Tai­wan protested the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion’s (MOE) omis­sions to cur­ricu­lum guide­lines in May, which ul­ti­mately led to a pe­ti­tion from stu­dents rep­re­sent­ing 120 high schools and vo­ca­tional schools is­land-wide against the “black-box op­er­a­tions” in­volved in ap­prov­ing the changes. Ear­lier in June, a Tai­wan Sol­i­dar­ity Union leg­is­la­tor ac­cused the MOE of ap­point­ing those with a “pro-uni­fi­ca­tion­ist stance” onto the cur­ricu­lum ad­just­ment task­force.

On Tues­day, Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Wu Se-hwa at­tended a public fo­rum with par­ents, stu­dents and teach­ers at Taichung First Se­nior High School at­tended by hun­dreds. Wu apol­o­gized for the pro­ce­dural con­tro­ver­sies and said that “courage” was needed to deal with the dif­fer­ing view­points on Tai­wan’s his­tory, and that “ed­u­ca­tion should not be dis­cussed in a politi­cized man­ner.” But many still felt the gov­ern­ment state­ments were disin­gen­u­ous.

Con­tro­ver­sies in ed­u­ca­tion cur­ricu­lums are al­ways po­lit­i­cal, and pol­i­tics can­not be di­vorced from so­cial pol­icy. Any calls to do so are ei­ther naive or ill-con­ceived. How­ever, as a public good that is pro­vided to the na­tion’s stu­dents, ed­u­ca­tion pol­icy as a po­lit­i­cal game that un­der­mines demo­cratic de­lib­er­a­tion and de­bate can­not be sus­tained.

His­tory, no mat­ter how painful and shame­ful, when white-washed or swept un­der the car­pet only wors­ens into greater po­lit­i­cal re­ac­tions. Any group or author­ity that de­lib­er­ately takes his­tory out of con­text for nar­row po­lit­i­cal gains is in ef­fect rob­bing the na­tion’s youth of an op­por­tu­nity to learn from his­tory. Re­ac­tionary strug­gles that are formed with­out public dis­cus­sion and em­pa­thy for dif­fer­ing per­spec­tives, in­clud­ing top-down poli­cies dur­ing Chen Shui-bian’s de-Sini­fi­ca­tion drive, will con­tinue to make his­tor­i­cal fact a po­lit­i­cal de­bate. They dis­card any no­tion of the public good in pur­suit of a truth tem­pered by what feels right in­stead of a broad-based con­sen­sus of what is right.

The key to build­ing the much-de­sired, yet equally elu­sive so­cial con­sen­sus lies in treat­ing Tai­wan’s youth not as pawns but as ac­tive thinkers who pos­sess the po­ten­tial for crit­i­cal think­ing. How our stu­dents de­cide to for­mu­late their ideas, how­ever, de­pends on a solid foun­da­tion of his­tor­i­cal fact that can­not change when­ever Tai­wan has a po­lit­i­cal tran­si­tion of power. The la­bel­ing of cur­rent ac­tions of the MOE as “China-cen­tric,” while use­ful in piquing at­ten­tion and de­bate, is only a par­tial per­spec­tive and the first step in bring­ing about a sus­tain­able foun­da­tion.

Tai­wan is part of the com­mu­nity of na­tions that have suf­fered from the fes­ter­ing wounds of con­flict. Rather than wait­ing for the gen­er­a­tion af­fected by wars and mas­sacres to die out in si­lence, the gov­ern­ment and civil so­ci­ety need to fa­cil­i­tate open dia­logue with our fore­fa­thers and fore­moth­ers while also humbly so­lic­it­ing the ad­vice of na­tions who have done more in this re­gard in­clud­ing Ger­many, South Africa, Rwanda and Bos­nia.

In a so­ci­ety that en­cour­ages its youth to be­come crit­i­cal thinkers, gen­er­a­tions from dif­fer­ing back­grounds must co­op­er­ate on build­ing this con­sen­sus with a high-de­gree of em­pa­thy. Only through this process can sus­pi­cions of po­lit­i­cal in­ter­fer­ence be tran­scended and a peo­ple’s his­tory that ac­cu­rately re­flects Tai­wan’s oft-tragic yet rich his­tor­i­cal back­ground be cul­ti­vated for the fu­ture.

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