Wed, Aug 05, 2015 - Page 8 News List

Daring to challenge the culture of deference

By Andrew Cheng 鄭泰安

More than 30 years ago, I went on a tour of Scotland with my wife. During the journey from London by bus, our middle-aged tour guide, aside from introducing the scenery along the way, frequently railed against the English for historically oppressing Scotland. However, as we reached our destination, he said: “I must admit that the English never interfered with the Scottish teaching their own history at their schools and universities.”

The Scots have never forgotten their history, althought they are part of the UK: They still defend their history and culture, and use it to fight their corner. In recent days, the Ministry of Education’s so-called “minor alterations” to the high-school curriculum guidelines have sparked student protests, and this reminded me of my trip to Scotland many years ago. From thinking of Scotland, I began to consider Taiwan: Have our schools and colleges in recent years been teaching a correct and objective history curriculum?

Last week, Dai Lin (林冠華), a protester and member of the Northern Taiwan Anti-Curriculum Changes Alliance, took his own life. This sad news brought tears to my eyes: Suicide has been the main focus of much of my research for many years.

There are many causes of suicide, but two main ones are emotional disability and being dealt a blow by a life event, in particular an event that causes “loss of a cherished idea.” I have no clinical data to assess whether Lin was suffering from an emotional disability. However, prior to committing suicide, Lin said: “I have clearly done the right thing, why is the education ministry still unwilling to withdraw its clandestine adjustments to the curriculum? I have even been arrested and charged.” This is the cognitive process of Lin acknowledging the loss of a cherished idea, which led him to resort to the explosive option of suicide to remonstrate against the authorities.

The High Administrative Court ruled that the process of the curriculum adjustment was illegal, yet the ministry still persists in forcing it through. Not one of the members of the curriculum adjustment committee was a professor of Taiwanese history; the process was extremely unprofessional. In addition, Minister of Education Wu Se-hwa (吳思華) has never engaged in sincere dialogue with students. Despite this, the ministry has called for protesting students to abide by the law, respect the professionals and engage in rational dialogue. If this is not the definition of absurdity, then I do not know what is.

In the age of the Internet, children can harness the power of knowledge, with information at their fingertips: Consequently, their thoughts should be respected. Parents and teachers should speak to young people in a truthful and rational way, and not blindly ask them to “listen and obey.”

The government should also respect the rights of the public. The emperor’s word is gospel, the teacher’s word is final, do as parents tell you to: This is the legacy of a feudal society. Such notions are not only harmful to democracy, but create unequal relationships within society. The dispute over the clandestine adjustment of the high-school curriculum guidelines demonstrates the feudal, authoritarian nature of those in power.

Perhaps those who seek to defame students opposed to the curriculum changes have themselves been deceived. Perhaps those teachers who have been used by the government should consider and reflect whether their education system has failed them since it has produced independently minded students who are in open revolt.

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