The polemic touched off by the “minor adjustments” made to the high-school curriculum guidelines passed amid controversy in January last year has set off a fresh outcry after the minister of education insisted, despite the High Administrative Court’s ruling against the ministry on the transparency of the adjustment processes, on introducing the curriculum in the next academic year beginning in August.
A Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) lawmaker recently questioned why the protest against the new curriculum is aimed only at Chinese and social studies, but not mathematics and natural sciences. She then argued that the opposing forces have betrayed their “ideological” intentions.
Two objections could be made to her complaint, both showing the absurdity of her defense. The first is plainly factual: The adjustments have been made only to particular subjects.
The existing guidelines, set in 2012, have evolved from the so-called 2009 guidelines, whose comprehensive implementation was obstructed by the change of government in 2008, which had history and Chinese pulled from the rollout agenda. A new revision committee was set up to produce the 2012 guidelines, inclusive of the two suspended subjects, which were “conservative, but still acceptable,” according to National Taiwan University history professor Chou Wan-yao (周婉窈).
However, not long after the 2012 guidelines were announced, the ministry handed a booklet of “opinions from the public” calling for revisions to be made “in accordance with the Republic of China (ROC) Constitution” to the history review committee “for reference.”
A “checkup team” was then convened and swiftly passed the “minor adjustments” to the Chinese and social studies (including history, geography and civic education) curricula in January last year.
The lawmaker’s accusation that the objections are “ideology-driven” is similarly wide of the mark. Or, to be fair, it is on target in a meaningless sense that all objections are ideological, insofar as “ideology” is understood not in a negative light, but as a set of political beliefs and ideas.
That said, ideas could be put to debate and examined, and there are some that are considered more reasonable and valuable.
For example, one could certainly say the changes made to social studies textbooks — first in 1997 in junior-high schools and in 1999 in senior-high schools that (finally) included, as extra materials, knowledge about Taiwan’s history and geography — were “ideological,” as they were already then fiercely criticized by some as “anti-Chinese.”
However, which is more reasonable? No Taiwanese history and clinging to a pre-1949 (KMT China-centered) historical and geographical view, or equipping students with a realistic understanding of their surroundings and knowledge that they can actually relate to?
In 2003, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government’s attempt to revise the history curriculum again triggered the fury of some, who called the move to single out Taiwanese history into a standalone volume and to begin students’ history learning with Taiwanese history — rather than Chinese ancient history — “politically motivated.”
Was the perspective guiding the revisions radical? According to the then-review team, the guidelines were amended to promote students’ “understanding of the present” in a historical context and establish their “self-identity.”