The Ministry of Education’s (MOE) “minor adjustments” to its high-school social studies curriculum guidelines — returning the viewpoint to a Chinese-centered one — have triggered a major backlash from civic groups and historians, and now the protests are spilling over to those who would be directly affected.
Students from more than 200 high schools are networking to voice their opposition to the changes, and the ministry has organized a series of meetings in a bid to dampen the uproar. The first such meeting was held at Taichung First Senior High School yesterday.
However, it is doubtful that the ministry’s “elucidation” — which can almost be guaranteed to be nothing more than a reiteration of the legitimacy of the changes — could eliminate the students’ suspicions. This is not only because the entire review procedure and the composition of the adjustment committee has been repeatedly questioned, but because there is a widespread lack of public confidence in the administration, especially among young people.
The ministry has repeatedly denied the High Administrative Court’s ruling that it should be transparent about its dealings regarding the adjustments — given that complete meeting minutes have yet to be provided and questions have been raised about the lack of due procedure — has anything to do with the legitimacy of the adjusted guidelines.
Apart from the paradox of whether there could be substantive legitimacy without procedural legitimacy, it turns out that the convener of the six-member history curriculum committee belongs to the same pro-unification organization that two other committee members belong to (and on which they serve as executive committee members). Another member of the curriculum committee once said that it was “a waste of time” to have high-school student “relearn” Taiwanese history after their junior-high lessons on it, because it is just “local history as opposed to Chinese history.”
No wonder the authorities delayed releasing the list of names of the history curriculum committee members until last week.
More than one academic involved in the curriculum adjustment project has intimated that history education is simply a political tool to instill ideology, something the current administration would probably like to say out loud, but does not dare.
That idea may be true to some extent, but in a democratic society, even ideological implementation needs to be subject to debate and to adhere to the principle of transparency, without which a government’s legitimacy and popularity declines.
The protesting high-school students have clearly already learned one history lesson — taking their cue from last year’s student-led Sunflower movement — but apparently the government has not.
The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government’s impatience to force through the new guidelines in the face of mounting opposition is reminiscent of the way it tried to ram through the cross-strait services trade agreement last year, a move that triggered the Sunflower movement.
Society remembers, as do young people, who probably also remember how the government tried to label the Sunflower movement’s young participants as malleable saps who were being “misled and goaded by the opposition party.”
Given the KMT lawmakers’ procedural obstruction efforts to block a proposed constitutional amendment to lower the voting age to 18, it is hard for young people not to believe the government harbors an entrenched patriarchal belief that they should be neither seen nor heard.
The government and the ministry like to brag that the goal of education is the cultivation of independent thinking, but their actions belie their words. Otherwise they would be doing more to encourage young people to participate in society and become more politically aware, rather than trying to nip such thinking in the bud.
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