Tue, Aug 04, 2009 - Page 8 News List

Education never free from politics

By Tsai Bih-hwang 蔡璧煌

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.

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