Sun, Jun 05, 2016 - Page 8 News List

Liberalizing schools is the first step

By Lin Chia-fan 林佳範

One of the government policies initiated after President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) took office is the Ministry of Education’s order saying that schools are not allowed to punish students for not complying with dress codes and rules about general appearance. The policy has sparked a great deal of discussion.

Not long ago, senior-high school students went so far as to occupy the Ministry of Education forecourt to protest against curriculum guideline changes, but when it comes to dress codes and general appearance, high schools still treat their students as if they were attending kindergarten.

The contrast between what happens on and off campus is indeed stark. The debate highlights that the nation’s campuses are in need of further democratization and they need to see students as subjects of regulation rather than objects. Only then can schools cultivate people who are well versed in democracy and the rule of law.

The first point to consider is that democratic education about the rule of law cannot merely use external compulsion to make students obey rules. That can only make them obey out of fear of authority, not because they really accept the values inherent in the rules.

“Education through prohibition” is not real education about the rule of law.

Modern thinking about the rule of law stresses the protection of human rights and the kind of rule of law that it advocates places its main emphasis on public institutions’ abidance by the law. The Constitution even permits people to disobey the law when institutional power is exercised in an unlawful manner. So, education about the rule of law does not stress blind obedience to the regulations and the standard value of laws stresses not their external compulsive power, but their role in maintaining fair and just public order. Therefore, if schools use dress code regulations to force students to obey the rules, it would not be democratic education about the rule of law, but authoritarian education.

The second point is that authoritarian education views students as objects of control and can only foster students who fear and obey authority, and who are themselves authoritarian.

Although many years have passed since the Martial Law era, the specter of militaristic management still persists on campuses. Uniforms, morning assemblies and so on still emphasize obedience to the collective identity and conformity, while exams emphasize standard answers. These repress individuality and diversity, completely contrary to democratic society’s respect for subjectivity and individuality.

Imposed or enforced acceptance, be it in the shape of assemblies or uniforms, can easily become a mere formality, a kind of miseducation in which students learn how to pay lip service without genuinely accepting the rules.

Finally, democratic education sees students as subjects, rather than objects of control. Space for making autonomous decisions is an essential condition for fostering a sense of responsibility in students.

As Harvard University psychologist Stanley Milgram wrote in his book Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View: “The essence of obedience consists in the fact that a person comes to view himself as the instrument for carrying out another person’s wishes and he therefore no longer regards himself as responsible for his actions.”

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