However, the varied and multicultural content of the general education under this program is supposed to lead to critical thinking, and even creativity and stimulus for professional performances. Some students and teachers are “moved” by the group activities, the presenters say. Occasionally a student notes morosely that he or she would like to help the elderly homeless seen in a park, but must hurry to cram for a science exam. Is it any surprise that the presenters almost uniformly bemoan the difficulty in generating enthusiasm for the program among students, and highlight student resentment if they are required to attend a one-credit class in “citizenship,” which will cut either into their study, or their recreation?
I think we need to ask more deeply, what kind of citizenship, and what kind of critical thinking, this is.
We should look at the direction of education in the globalized economy, and strip away the mantle of moralized self-justification that never seems to be challenged within the nation — we should not expect that education has anything to do with citizenship in the sense of mass responsibility, citizen entitlements and social democracy.
The US has taken the lead in producing universities that are the handmaidens of research and development for industry. Students have been suppressed and government support for higher education has decreased; tuition fees have steadily increased until now attending university is a major investment that perpetuates an increasingly class-polarized technocratic society.
Higher education is a global commodity, with universities in the business of creating a multicultural technocratic elite in the service of global capital.
It seems disingenuous that Taiwan’s “cultivation of citizenship” has taken no note of the increasing polarization of wealth within Taiwan nor of its eroding industrial base and high youth unemployment as well as decreasing opportunities and falling standards of living for many. Also overlooked are the question of national identity, the trivialization of mass media and increasing ideological control from China.
At the same time, it is clear that in producing future professionals the universities face the material of the “strawberry generation”: Young people that have been force-fed information to the point where their intrinsic interest and curiosity have expired; youth that have been relatively pampered and have little knowledge of the world; youth that have no history and no idea of what their useful role in society may be, and thus little justifiable motivation other than what they are told: career. In this light the program for “cultivation of citizenship” makes more sense. It is for teamwork within the technocratic elite, not beyond.
The repeated mobilization of faculties to meet the demands of the ministry may have a role that is more in honing the mechanism, making the faculty an obedient instrument, than in the message of universality. Even blatant dictatorships do not neglect to parrot such platitudes. The dysfunction or function of this is in jerking the faculty from one short campaign to another.
My final comment will take on a more insinuating note: The last slide presented by National Chengchi University — originally founded as a the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) cadres school — at the meeting was a picture of hundreds of students with arms raised in salute, as they pledged their identity with university and classmates. Shades of fascism?