The legislature recently passed the Act Governing the Administrative Impartiality of Public Officials (公務人員行政中立法). As public school teachers have traditionally been regarded as the same as public officials, it is easy to conclude that the legislators are attempting to extend the power of the act by making it applicable to public school teachers. The legislative passage of the act unexpectedly gave rise to wide discussion on the topics of neutral education, freedom of speech and freedom of academic instruction, which caused uproar in academic circles.
Objectively speaking, our society has always had unrealistic expectations about education being neutral, while our legislators have also exaggerated the original intention of the Act Governing the Administrative Impartiality of Public Officials to a certain degree.
Textbooks on the politics of education have over the years taught us that the myth of non-political education was debunked a long time ago. First, education institutions are a part of government policy and politics will always be at play in either the administration of education or legislative forces. Second, school systems are a microcosm of entire sociopolitical systems, with each different society having its own unique makeup of politics and education. Throughout history, education has been used by those in power as a tool to achieve political motives, with schools being used by modern governments as places to train our citizens and spur political developments. Third, by nature, education policies are a form of value choice and without a doubt the hierarchy of resource allocation affects value choices. Moreover, it is inevitable that the allocation of resources will be influenced by competition between different political parties over ideology and it is therefore impossible that the allocation of resources can be free of political influence.
If we look at the development of political parties in Taiwan over the last decade or so, we can see that our education policies have always been influenced by politics. More distant examples include sinocentric ideas, political taboos and cults of leadership that were taught across the board at all school levels during the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) era of authoritarian rule. More recent examples would be the Democratic Progressive Party’s language education policies and the ideological opposition between different schools toward the 98 Curriculum Outline. Let us think of even more recent education issues, such as choices on the romanization of Chinese words, the debate over the name of Liberty Square and even the timetable for the implementation of a 12-year compulsory education system. Just which one of these issues is non-political in nature?
We can clearly see that education cannot be totally free from politics, but we continue to expect neutral, unbiased education. It is contradictory to admit that those in charge of education administration cannot cut off their political resources, while also demanding that teachers strive to be neutral and unbiased. This contradiction obviously comes from traditional ideas about educational institutions having to be free of ideology and the hope that educational institutions be kept pure, which stems from real life situations in which we see struggles between political parties and the dislike we have for corruption among politicians.
The UK and US faced a similar situation at the start of the 20th century, with schools in the US calling for politics to be left out of schools and for schools to be left out of politics. A recent report on education reform released by the Ministry of Education also mentioned the ideal of neutral education, while Article 6 of the Educational Fundamental Act (教育基本法) also mentions the principle of neutral education.
The academic circles of the UK and US eventually realized that education cannot be entirely free of politics, but they also decided that education should not be controlled by politics. They discovered the only middle path was to pay special attention to checks and controls of various political forces and encourage academic circles involved in teaching politics to be brave enough to speak up against those in power, while passively insisting administration remains neutral in an attempt to regulate those in power and those in charge of managing and allocating public resources.
The Act Governing the Administrative Impartiality of Public Officials is a product of compromise under such an environment. The act aims to guard against the inappropriate use of public power and public resources, while respecting the rights civil servants and teachers have to participate in political parties and support different political ideas. In other words, for educators, the original intention of the Act Governing the Administrative Impartiality of Public Officials is actually in line with the original intention of the current Educational Fundamental Act and its aims to regulate those in charge of education administration and school authorities. To be precise, it means that management in schools cannot utilize its power to promote a political party, political group or religious belief. Administrative powers in charge of overseeing education in schools also cannot put pressure on lower-level administrative staff, teachers or students to take part or not take part in activities organized by political or religious groups.
To take positive action against these problems, schools and research institutions should encourage professors and researchers to discuss politics and research current affairs. A responsible teacher should not avoid discussing politics in relevant classes and should also widely discuss the diverse range of political ideas and allow critiques of different ideologies. In addition, according to the Act Governing the Administrative Impartiality of Public Officials, if teachers wish to run for an official position, they can ask for temporary leave from their teaching responsibilities according to regulations and their administrative superiors are obliged to grant them this leave.
Therefore, unless professors and researchers use teaching or research resources or conduct election campaigns for official positions in educational institutions, their freedom of speech and freedom of academic instruction will not be restricted in any way. Viewed in this light, the Act Governing the Administrative Impartiality of Public Officials is actually a form of guarantee.
It is not unconstitutional for the Act Governing the Administrative Impartiality of Public Officials to regulate civil servants who control the allocation of administrative resources. However, the original meaning of the act will be totally lost if our legislators are making the act applicable to researchers at public academic research institutes and make supplemental resolutions and request revisions be made to the Educational Fundamental Act to make it applicable to teachers in all public schools who do not also hold administrative positions.
Tsai Bih-hwang is a member of the Examination Yuan.
TRANSLATED BY DREW CAMERON
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