Thu, Dec 06, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Lessons to be learned from the plebiscites

By Yeh Hai-yen 葉海煙

Judging by the results of the Nov. 24 referendums, Taiwan continues to hover between traditional and modern society, unable to take a decisive step forward. The referendums also seem to have struck a merciless blow to the younger generation’s new way of thinking and new ideas.

Walking through the schoolyard in the days after the elections, I met a coworker who said that one student seemed depressed to the point of thinking about seeing a psychiatrist, perhaps because of the referendum results.

This might be an isolated case, but from an educational perspective, if even something as well-intended as gender equality education is being rejected, then it is a major issue that we adults have to take a serious look at.

Politics is one link in a wider cultural context, and the issues related to the referendums dealing with writing new legislation or amending existing laws are closely tied to the maturity and stability of civil society.

Unfortunately, due to insufficient preparation, effective information, explanations and analyses were not provided in various educational environments ahead of the referendums.

This meant that voters from different age groups, and people with different professional and educational backgrounds, did not all have a proper understanding of the intent behind and content of the referendums.

If the outcome of the referendums has resulted in a widening gap between generations and social groups, it would not be right to blame people for voting or for not voting in the referendums for this.

Fortunately, a lesson has at least been learned, and it is not only a lesson for political parties, but a lesson that we, 23.5 million Taiwanese, have given ourselves. It is a rare lesson in civics and it is also a rare democratic experiment.

The long and complexly worded referendum texts must not be discarded as wastepaper. They can be used as teaching materials in senior-high school civics classes and would also be suitable for inclusion as teaching materials at universities as a topic for debate, because they do not only touch on politics, law and economy, they also involve considering culture, ethics and values, and making related choices.

One can only hope that the student who was thinking about seeing a psychiatrist would be able to see things clearer again and would understand that Taiwanese are still in learning when it comes to understanding the workings of referendums.

Especially when it comes to questions about right and wrong that touch upon deep-rooted traditional values, he must discuss such issues with his friends and debate them with the older generation. In other words, he must be patient, courageous and filled with hope.

Yeh Hai-yen is an adjunct professor at National Cheng Kung University’s Center for General Education.

Translated by Perry Svensson

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