Tue, Dec 07, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Letter

Duty and special citizens

On Dec. 2, the card-carrying Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) technocrats in the Ministry of Education announced revisions to the Special Education Staffing Standards. One of the revisions provides that each class shall have one teacher's aide for every 20 students.

Because of the low emphasis placed on education by the government, the unwillingness of the wealthy to pay reasonable taxes so that social welfare can be attuned to the very high level of economic development, and the traditional KMT denigration of Taiwanese cultures, languages and values, the institutional culture of the ministry has fostered a dull and inappropriate Confucian cultural emphasis on the would-be "scholar" as the center of social prestige.

Aborigines and other native Taiwanese have shown a great deal of entrepreneurial and cultural vivaciousness through their industriousness and resilience, which has stimulated most of Taiwan's economic development through a combination of thrift and "sweat equity." Memorizing the Analects in a spoken tongue quite foreign to the original text, unlike scoring well in physics and calculus, has had little to do with the Taiwan Miracle.

Education is wholly about the inculcation of human values and culture. Although the Constitution of the Republic of China is a nullity and irrelevant, the principles embodied in Articles 7 and 21, namely equality of all citizens under the law and the right to an appropriate education for each citizen, are universally recognized rights of all citizens and the duties of all civilized societies. Council of Grand Justices Constitutional Interpretation No. 485 holds that certain citizens are entitled to special treatment and social welfare expenditure above and beyond those available to all citizens, and that such expenditure is not only appropriate, but required by the Constitution.

One excellent deconstruction analysis of equality can be found in the teachings of my Rabbi, Manis Friedman, the dean of an all-girls high school. For more than 5,000 years, Jewish law and culture has provided that there must be at least one teacher for every 15 students, that schools must focus on improving character and inculcating civic values through peer-mediated learning known as the chavrusa method, and that certain children needing extra attention merit special resources, such as one-on-one teaching.

As Friedman explains, "We cannot demand anything on the grounds of equality, because equality remains to be seen. People are different, and necessarily so. Some are brighter, more talented and more beautiful than others. Some are better at some things and others are better at other things. And there is no morality in denying our differences. In fact, it is dangerous and immoral to predicate morality on the assumption that we are all equal, because that leaves open the possibility that, should you discover that I am in fact inferior to you, then it's all right for you to abuse me. What really is morality?

"To put it differently, if someone would say to me that I, as a Jew, am therefore inferior to him, my moral obligation would be to teach him that being inferior, he may not take advantage of me. I have no obligation to teach him or prove to him that I am not inferior. Rather, my moral obligation is to tell him, `Yes, you may be stronger than I am, this is your country, I'm just a stranger here, you've got the money, the power and the authority, but you may not take advantage of me.' That is morality. Because it does not allow for abuse or mistreatment in spite of inequality. What we need then, is not to pursue equality, but rather to pursue a universal value -- universal because it includes all people and applies to all humankind at all times.

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