Educators must stop dictating to students what to think
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.