Taiwan education should be free from political influences
The controversy over the newly enacted high school curriculum guideline adjustments is itself great teaching material for at least two subjects.
First, the government, the Ministry of Education in particular, gives management schools a textbook case of not just how to mishandle a crisis but also how to create one in the first place. Even some of the supporters of the anti- curriculum guideline students were dismissive of the students’ storming of the Ministry of Education building. The complexity of the curriculum guideline adjustment process and considerable public approval ( or at least apathy) for the curriculum changes ( a fact admitted by some in the anti- curriculum camp) mean that the curriculum controversy did not electrify public opinion.
That was until the Education Ministry decided to press charges against the high- school- student intruders, thereby escalating the situation. The ministry should guard its offices against trespassing, but suing the students is simply overkill. The sight of a government education agency filing legal prosecution against reckless but powerless teenagers disgusted many. While the reasons behind the suicide of anti- curriculum activist Lin Guan- hua ( ) are yet to be determined, the needless escalation doubtlessly added dangerous pressure onto the situation and caused hostility between the students and the ministry. The death of the student activist led to a real crisis, with hundreds of angry students storming government agencies.
In a gross misjudgment, Education Minister Wu Sehwa and several ruling Kuomintang ( KMT) lawmakers attempted to dismiss the student protesters as hired guns of the pro- independence Democratic Progressive Party ( DPP). While the students no doubt support a “deSinicizated” world view of Taiwan close to that of the DPP, it is condescending and an oversimplification to suggest that the students are merely mindless pawns manipulated by politicians. If anything, ever since the series of mass demonstrations last year, the DPP is now more likely trailing behind student activists in social movements. The DPP, which is now enjoying a comfortable lead ahead of the fragmented KMT in the 2016 presidential election, has more to lose than to gain in yet another social movement that can backfire or rally KMT supporters. The government’s patronizing attitude toward the students only enrages them, alienating the public even more.
When asked why the curriculum guideline changes cannot be suspended, the education minister gave the most bureaucratic answer imaginable: “because the textbooks are already printed.” The lack of conviction and basic humanity in his answer disappointed people who support the government’s change and further angered those who don’t. The minister’s failure in handling the anti- curriculum protest has all the signatures of the Ma Ying- jeou administration’s utter lack of flexibility. Unable to understand the situation or to explain its own policy, the government is left with only two choices of either stonewalling the petitioners or capitulation. The government finds itself yielding in almost every conflict but yet is still seen as the aggressor.
In addition to being a case of management failure, the controversy is also a valuable material for history education. Politicians of both parties call for history education free from political influence, but the best lesson a student can learn is that there is no such thing. Both the KMT and the DPP are hypocrites in this case. The DPP, now slamming the KMT for promoting a “Chinacentered” historical world view in the new curriculum guidelines, rewrote history textbooks to fit in with its preferred version of history education back when it was in power. The KMT, on the other hand, now criticizes the DPP for bringing political interference to its education policies while it did the same against a DPP administration.
The best way to protect history education from political influence is not to pretend such influence does not exist. On the contrary, the political intrigues behind the textbooks should be included as part of history lessons in order to inoculate students from the lies of politicians.