Ed­u­ca­tors must stop dic­tat­ing to stu­dents what to think

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

The gov­ern­ment’s han­dling of the on­go­ing stu­dent protests over the cur­ricu­lum guide­lines is symp­to­matic of the one-di­rec­tional think­ing preva­lent among many of our ed­u­ca­tors: there is a norm, and no one should think dif­fer­ently or de­vi­ate from the norm.

Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Wu Se-hwa re­vealed him­self to be one such ed­u­ca­tor when he tried to quell the con­tro­versy.

Back­ing down amid pres­sure from stu­dents who have been de­mand­ing the min­istry re­tract the re­vised guide­lines and re­store the old ones, Wu de­cided to keep both, let­ting schools de­cide which ver­sion to adopt.

He stressed that the con­tro­ver­sial parts where the old and new ver­sions con­flict or dif­fer will not be tested in open ex­am­i­na­tions.

Tests on only the non-con­tro­ver­sial parts? This is symp­to­matic of the fun­da­men­tal prob­lem with our ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem and its mis­placed fo­cus.

This on­go­ing dis­pute is mostly about how the history of Tai­wan should be pre­sented in text­books. It is not about the his­tor­i­cal facts, but a his­to­ri­og­ra­phy with which we try to form a dis­course of who we are as a na­tion based on the facts avail­able to us.

Does it mean that the ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter is telling stu­dents to fo­cus on mem­o­riz­ing the facts and to for­get about the pos­si­bil­ity of form­ing dif­fer­ent dis­courses and in­ter­pre­ta­tions? Are they go­ing to be asked about things that can read­ily be la­beled “right” or “wrong” — in the mul­ti­ple-choice or true-or-false kind of ques­tions that have been dom­i­nat­ing the tests?

Tai­wan’s stu­dents have long been en­cour­aged to mem­o­rize facts, but dis­cour­aged from de­vel­op­ing their pow­ers of crit­i­cal think­ing. But true learn­ing can only come from a di­alec­ti­cal process, not from mem­o­riz­ing.

The ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter’s de­ci­sion, while seem­ingly lib­eral in al­low­ing dif­fer­ent ver­sions to co-ex­ist, may be in­ad­ver­tently en­cour­ag­ing stu­dents to skip those parts that will not ap­pear in the ex­am­i­na­tions.

And it was dou­bly ironic to hear Wu’s re­sponse af­ter one of the stu­dent lead­ers com­mit­ted sui­cide sup­pos­edly in protest of the re­vised guide­lines.

Ex­press­ing his sad­ness at the death and yet adamant in re­fus­ing to re­tract the re­vised guide­lines, Wu said he is open to dis­cus­sion with the stu­dents, but stressed that many is­sues are so com­pli­cated that they can­not be seen sim­ply within a di­chotomy of “right” and “wrong.”

We to­tally agree with Wu on his “right-and-wrong” re­mark, but didn’t he ear­lier sug­gest a so­lu­tion con­tra­dict­ing this?

We don’t think we need to, and will never be able to come up with a uni­fied dis­course on Tai­wan’s history. What we should do in­stead is have stu­dents ad­dress the con­tro­ver­sies di­rectly, make them think and let them ar­gue. True ed­u­ca­tors don’t dic­tate their stu­dents’ think­ing.

Stu­dents should be en­cour­aged to demon­strate their power of crit­i­cal think­ing and un­der­stand­ing of the con­tro­ver­sies in ex­am­i­na­tions. We need stu­dents who can think crit­i­cally, in­stead of hav­ing an en­cy­clo­pe­dic mem­ory — some­thing that could now be done much more ef­fi­ciently by Google or Wikipedia.

You can’t just sweep the prob­lems and con­tro­ver­sies un­der the car­pet pre­tend­ing they don’t ex­ist — just as Wu is do­ing in try­ing to ap­pease the protesters. Peace doesn’t mean a sit­u­a­tion where there are no open ar­gu­ments. Peace is sup­ported by each side’s will­ing­ness to ad­mit their op­po­nents’ rights to ex­press them­selves suf­fi­ciently and ra­tio­nally.

In this sense, we don’t see peace in this on­go­ing row: Nei­ther the gov­ern­ment nor the stu­dents are will­ing to lis­ten to each other.

But if we re­ally need a set of guide­lines for the cur­ricu­lum, it must one that can high­lights and raises the stu­dents’ aware­ness of the dif­fer­ences and dis­putes, rather than one that tries to brain­wash stu­dents into ac­cept­ing a spe­cific ver­sion.

We end this ed­i­to­rial by re­it­er­at­ing a warn­ing that has been car­ried by media about the death of stu­dent leader Lin Kuan-hua: Com­mit­ting sui­cide can­not solve prob­lems.

But let’s hope Lin’s un­timely death can make us take a closer look at our prob­lems.

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