Guidelines must adhere to Constitution: curriculum convener
Aside from Education Minister Wu Se-hwa, a polarizing figure standing at the center of the recent controversy on how the nation’s past will be taught is doubtful that the current fracas will be resolved. Shih Hsin University professor Wang Hsiao- po ( ) , who served as the convener of the Ministry of Education’s (MOE) controversial high school curriculum adjustment taskforce spoke in an exclusive interview with The China Post on Sunday to discuss his viewpoint on the current stalemate between student protesters and government officials who want to see the guidelines remain intact.
‘No solution in sight’
Having a propensity to engage in debate regarding his role in the curriculum-related strife, Wang said that the nation’s Constitution must be able to transcend party politics and ideology. “We see that in normal countries, different religious faiths with competing ideologies are able to coexist because of the nation in question’s constitution. The problem in Taiwan is that while the Kuomintang (KMT) upholds the Constitution, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) does not.”
Due to differing viewpoints on the nation’s Constitution, Wang is pessimistic that the current debate can be resolved. Instead of becoming a foundation to resolve disputes, “double standards” abound in who “respects the Constitution,” he added. He maintains that the curriculum guidelines must adhere to the Constitution, and that if people have a problem with the nation’s highest law in its current form, they should bring it up with DPP Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen. “She is after all running to be the next R.O.C. president,” he mused.
“We are not implementing a KMT curriculum or a DPP curriculum, but rather a constitutionallybased curriculum,” he noted. He challenged anyone to find anything within the guidelines that betrayed the Constitution or Taiwan’s sovereignty to “come find me.”
He reasoned that if the guidelines were abandoned, the KMT “could sit out this election” but also added that if Tsai were to make too strong a statement concerning the issue, it would drive more pan-blue supporters to the polls next year.
Minor Adjustments, Major
“It is not though we were looking to make things difficult,” Wang said of the “minor adjustments” made to the 2012 curriculum. He argued that textbooks publishers were writing “nonsense,” with some depicting sex slaves (termed “comfort women” by the Japanese forces) as volunteers and Japan’s role in the Second World War as “a holy war.” Wang defends the adjustments as a preemptive measure to prevent textbook writers from making “unacceptable descriptions.” Seventeen such changes listed in the guidelines will go into effect for the next school year.
While the government has tried to ameliorate the controversy over interpretation saying that both the new and older guidelines will remain available for textbook companies to base their curriculum on, DPP-led local governments have pledged to block and avoid the latest changes. So far, only Nantou County has decided to opt for the new guidelines in lieu of the older version. The county government compound was vandalized by a lecturer at a private university over the weekend. Authorities have since filed charges against the suspect, who wrote: “Nantou against brainwashing education!”
Defending the actions of the committee, Wang contextualized the process as “putting an end to de-Sinification, or at least, Japanization.” He also reasoned that the current opposition party should not be allowed off the hook, arguing that at least 10 separate “minor adjustments” were made to curriculum guidelines during Chen Shui-bian’s presidency (2000-8), and that under former Education Minister Tu Cheng-sheng (2004-8) the process was open to public scrutiny.
‘They don’t know what curriculum guidelines are’
When asked what he believed students were concerned about, Wang placed the blame on “Lee Teng-hui and Chen Shui-bian-era trained teachers” for inciting the current conflict between student activists who are currently camped out in front of the MOE and education administrators like himself who maintain that the curriculum guidelines are lawful. He categorized these teachers as “Taiwanese independence- leaning, proponents of de-Sinification and proJapanization.” Wang characterizes the student protests as a means of “keeping up with the latest fashion” and that most of the protesters were unfamiliar with the concept of curriculum guidelines in the first place.
“If there’s nothing to eat or drink, they’ll have to quit,” he surmised.
Wang’s critique also extended to how MOE officials handled the crisis, as he disparaged current Education Minister Wu for “having no clue” on the guidelines when he was reshuffled into his post after the sudden resignation of his predecessor. “He might be getting it together now, but all he did in the beginning was apologize,” Wang said.
Secrecy or Protection?
Wang, who referred to himself as being knowledgeable in Taiwanese history said that two other members of the panel were experts in the field despite protesters’ contention that none were. The names of those who served in the 2014 group that publicized its changes earlier this year have been kept under wraps, though a pending court decision between the MOE and the Supreme Administrative Court could change that. He supported a future move to have the roster of panelists released after curriculum guidelines are made public, but not before the process has ended in order to protect the privacy rights of those responsible.
In a meeting between protesters and government officials streamed live on the internet yesterday, Minister Wu agreed to student demands saying that the MOE would make public the panel participants within 10 days. Wang told the China Post that four of the 10-member committee are experts in history.
When asked to explain whether student criticism over the absence of Taiwanese historians on the taskforce overseeing the “minor adjustments,” Wang said that two members of the panel were experts in Taiwanese history and that he himself had supervised masters and Ph.D.-level theses in the field.
In line with previous statements on the issue, Wang expressed nonchalantly that the nation’s capital was in Nanjing, China.
“The textbooks do not mention this,” Wang said. Interview conducted by Tom Hsieh and Yuan-Ming Chiao
Above: Wang Hsaio-po, right, smiles while taking part in an interview with The China Post in Taipei, Sunday, Aug. 2.