The nation's new history teaching materials outline draft is ready. As expected, it has led to yet another intense dispute. Amid these raging debates, we cannot help but wonder who has the right to decide how history will be written. The process behind this decision has been opaque, and the new outline was only made public just before it was about to be implemented. Mock "public hearings" will be held across the country before the decision is implemented by the end of the year. This is the typical behavior of an administration that decides everything -- a governing style that can rightly be called "neo-authoritarianism."
The authoritarian era is over. Political forces shouldn't force uniformity, but rather promote the free expression of differing opinions. The reason the new history outline has caused a huge controversy -- besides its questionable content -- is that the decision process was devoid of procedural justice.
History and geography teaching materials differ from teaching materials in the natural sciences because they directly involve the country's fundamental status as well as the understanding of major historical events. Taiwan's current situation is both difficult and complex, and it is only natural that different opinions should co-exist. If the government were to use political force to pass an outline coinciding with its version of history, a long and violent reaction is sure to follow.
Transitions of power are the norm in a democratic society. If today's opposition becomes tomorrow's government, wouldn't they also be able to draft teaching material favorable to their own preferences? Having teaching materials change as governments change would be disastrous for the next generation and the country as a whole.
The minister of education is a political appointee, and the members of the different editorial committees for teaching materials are all appointed by the Ministry of Education, which casts doubt on their impartiality. The way to resolve this is to return education to academia and educational experts. This would increase professionalism and reduce political intervention. One solution worth considering would be to set up a national educational commission for the humanities and the social sciences.
The nation's academic and educational organizations should elect people with outstanding professional achievements, and they should jointly define the material use in elementary, junior and senior-high schools. They would also handle various issues relating to the teaching and examination of the humanities and the social sciences. Questions of how the commission should be organized, how to make elections representative, and how it should operate are complex issues that should be cautiously regulated.
Many may wonder if an elected education commission would continue to cause social polarization and conflict, pushing the population further away from building consensus. But in a democratic society, we must learn to face polarization and conflict and build consensus through mutual understanding and tolerance.
If it is impossible to reach a consensus at this time, there is nothing to keep us from proposing different outlines and allowing teachers to choose which they want to teach and students which they want to study. National level examinations would have to accommodate these different versions in tolerance of society's fundamental diversity.