Education and politics should be kept separate. This is a basic principle of democracy. However, Wu Kun-tsai (吳昆財), a history professor at National Chiayi University and a member of the history curriculum committee for the 12-year national education system, claims that textbooks all over the world serve a political agenda and have nothing to do with academic objectivity.
The implication behind this statement is clear enough even if he did not come right out and say that education is not about enlightened speculation, but about indoctrination and brainwashing, and that the textbooks for the 12-year national education system would be written the way people want to write them.
If textbooks are intended to serve politics, does that not mean that the authors are nothing other than political hatchet men? To see someone who studies and teaches history openly and almost triumphantly claim that there is no academic objectivity without the slightest bit of remorse makes one wonder what happened to academic conscience.
Under autocracies, dictatorships and communist regimes, it would be closer to the truth to say that the teaching of history is merely a tool for obscuring the truth and brainwashing the masses. Under Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石), former president Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) and now President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), Taiwan’s history textbooks have indeed been leaning toward outright myth, lies and distortions of fact, but to say that textbooks anywhere in the world are meant to serve politics and ignore academic objectivity is too bold and irresponsible.
When it comes to attributing responsibility, there is one criterion: The further a society gets from the actual event, the heavier the responsibility to depict it accurately.
Taiwan’s textbooks do not clearly explain who bears most responsibility for the 228 Incident. Investigation revealed that the order given to troops to open fire was passed on by then-Taiwan governor-general Chen Yi (陳儀), but nothing is said about who issued the order. Can a history book like this, where there are only victims, but no aggressors, heal the wounds caused by the 228 Incident?
In addition, does leaving Deng Nan-jung (鄭南榕) — who self-immolated to defend the freedom of expression — out of history textbooks imply that freedom of speech was a right bestowed upon the public from above, not something that was fought for?
Politicizing education results in indoctrination, and gives rise to a populace who can process information but lack critical thinking or insight. The brightest members of this demographic become the sycophants and pseudo-intellectuals who prop up autocratic regimes.
Ma, who graduated from Harvard Law School, is a perfect example of these dull-witted stalwarts of the “status quo”: The mention of lifting Martial Law in Taiwan gave him the heebie jeebies; he opposed introducing legislative elections; he opposed direct presidential elections; he opposed the introduction of referendums and he supports the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement and the cross-strait trade in services and in goods agreements.
How does his record reflect an academic understanding of the norms of democracy? Anyone in the street knows what lurong (鹿茸) means — the Chinese word for budding deer antlers — but because it was not mentioned in the textbooks he had read, Ma thought the term referred to the fur in deer’s ears. What use is knowledge without common sense?
Chang Kuo-tsai is a retired National Hsinchu University of Education associate professor and a former deputy secretary-general of the Taiwan Association of University Professors.
Translated by Zane Kheir
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