Tai­wan ed­u­ca­tion should be free from po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ences

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

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.

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