The new guidelines for senior-high school history education -- which will soon be published by the Ministry of Education -- have raised doubts from scholars concerned about history education. These scholars have said that the guidelines present a politicized view of history crafted by former president Lee Teng-hui's (李登輝) "special state-to-state" model of cross-strait relations. Based on my years of contact with history pedagogy and experience in guiding Taiwan's senior-high-school history education, I have several suggestions.
The first major change under the guidelines is to make Taiwan's history a separate text, making it the first volume of senior-high school history textbooks to be taught in the first semester of the first year. Generally, the principle of history pedagogy is to start from the modern and work backward to the ancient. For years, the content of Taiwanese history has been scattered in the chapters and sections related to Chinese his-tory. Such content has been simplified and lacks consistency and completeness. In view of this a single Taiwanese history textbook would be more progressive and reasonable.
The current textbook has five sections about Taiwan during the Qing dynasty, which account for as much as 30 percent of the entire book. The political and social changes and economic and cultural development of Taiwan have been intricate and rich for the more than half of a century since World War II. But there are only four sections on this period, which account for fewer than one fourth of the whole book. This does not tally with the principle of "simplifying the ancient times and detailing the modern times," and should therefore be adjusted.
The second major change is that ancient Chinese history from the ancient periods to the early Ming dynasty will be taught later in the second semester. But modern Chinese history -- from mid-Ming onward -- will be merged into modern world history to be taught in the second year.
This change has raised doubts from the pro-unification camp -- which has voiced its suspicion that it is a move to eliminate "reference to the Republic of China [ROC]" from history textbooks, a move that "equals desinicization," and may cause "identity confusion."
In fact, interconnectedness of the world's major regions has increased. In order to develop a healthy and complete international view among citizens, the academics who compiled the pedagological guidelines had tried to integrate Chinese and world history with the past. But they eventually gave up due to the difficulties encountered in trying to compile a textbook and then integrate the guidelines in actual classrooms.
This time, the ministry's guideline committee chose to integrate the modern histories of China and the world at large, so students can compare and contrast as they go and broaden their horizons. It's a reform that deserves our recognition. People should not worry about Chinese history melding into world history.
Apart from the first-year senior-high course "The History of Ancient China" and four sections about China in the second-year modern world history course, there are another five sections partly related to the topic in the second-year modern world history. In addition, there is an elective course called "The History of Chinese Culture" for third-year students. Thus, Chinese history will take a large portion of the entire senior-high history education. Negative comments such as "desinicization" and "identity confusion" are exaggerated.
As for doubts that the ROC will soon disappear from the new history textbooks, this is indeed an issue for which we should show concern. The official name of the nation is still the ROC. But in the related chapters and sections, only two sections make mention of the ROC, and they have been excessively simplified indeed.
If we want our students to understand the threats the nation faces, and to think for the future of Taiwan's sustainable develop-ment, it's better for us to honestly face the ROC's 40-year history in China. The ministry should add more content to this part, and have a chapter entitled "the ROC."
In order to enhance teaching process and distinguish textbook content, a correct design is replacing ancient Chinese history with modern Chinese history in the second semester of the first year, so the former and the third-year course will not repeat. This tallies with the principle of "simplifying the ancient times and detailing the modern times," and will clear any doubt that "the ROC has disappeared."
Advanced countries that enjoy relatively progressive and open education systems no long take history education as a tool to cramming students with information. Instead, they now tend to develop a rational attitude, diverse concerns and the ability to think rather than indoctrinate a "nationalist consciousness."
Due to the nation's special political environment and history, we had ignored local history while leaning towards rigid education of a "greater China" ideology. Fortunately, Taiwan is now an open and democratic society.
Our history pedagogy should be able to return to the right track, so the nation's diverse ethnic groups can coexist and prosper as a gemeinschaft under rational history and culture learning and thinking.
In light of this development, perhaps those who worry about the reduction of Chinese history education should be more concerned about junior-high-school history education. After the Nine-Year Educational Program was implemented in 2001, Chinese-history education was dropped at elementary-school level, while the average class hours for junior-high history education dropped by almost 50 percent, to one hour per week.
Obviously, students can hardly absorb much or go very deep when learning the entire Chinese and world history. This is actually the real crisis of history education in this country.
Liao Long-sheng is the chairman of the department of history at National Taiwan Normal University.
TRANSLATED BY EDDY CHANG
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