Students who dressed as Nazis at a campus cosplay event demonstrated the failure of the nation’s education system and national ignorance about history, Academics and education groups yesterday said.
Over the weekend, images shared on social media of students marching in Nazi costumes at a school function held by the Hsinchu Kuang Fu High School on Friday sparked a public outcry, and a statement from the Israel Economic and Cultural Office in Taipei described the incident as “deplorable and shocking.”
“We feel that we have not worked hard enough, and have allowed this absurd, ignorant and indifferent attitude toward the universal value of human rights to spread and become an international joke,” said a joint statement issued by Our Story Alliance of History Teachers and Action Coalition of Civics Teacher.
“The students’ lack of empathy to the historical trauma suffered by others shows that Taiwanese history and civic education is in crisis,” said National Taiwan University history professor Hua Yih-fen (花亦芬), who recently published a book entitled Rebirth from the Wounds of History: Germany’s Path to Transitional Justice.
History is not irrelevant to the present, she said, adding: “Events that took place in the past continue to have reverberations in the present, and the incident in Hsinchu proved that Taiwan still has a long way to go on its path toward transitional justice and in dealing with its own historical traumas.”
History textbook guidelines have not allowed students to gain an understanding of human rights or imparted respect for the value of human life and dignity, as the teaching materials used are a mishmash, Hua said.
Humanist Education Foundation executive director Joanna Feng (馮喬蘭) said that modern educational principles emphasize teaching resistance to authoritarianism and totalitarianism through critical thought, but Taiwanese education had largely failed to adopt those standards.
Taiwanese educational practices directly contradict modern principles by consolidating authority through unreasonable discipline and educators are frequently ignorant of or indifferent to democratic values, Feng said.
“School teachers, deans and principals need more work than the students,” Feng said.
Our Story Alliance of History Teachers spokeswoman Huang Hui-chen (黃惠貞) said political indoctrination, by the school system and historical influences by the “New Life Movement” are to blame for postwar Taiwanese society’s indifference to fascism and infatuation with its aesthetics.
The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) launched the New Life Movement in the 1920s to imitate fascist movements in the West, which led to the institutionalization on campus of militarized uniforms, mandated morning assemblies, teacher-graded weekly diaries, military song contests and military instructors on campus, Huang said, adding that many of those practices still exist.
In the three decades following the end of the Martial Law era, transitional justice and self-reflection in the education system have failed to materialize, Huang said.
“The display of Nazi paraphernalia at the student event in Hsinchu showed that the participants were completely ignorant of the deaths, suffering and inhumanity that the Nazi regime stood for in its 12 years of rule. Their insensitivity and indifference should be frightening to us because it demonstrated they possessed no critical facility to power,” Huang said.
Meanwhile, Action Coalition of Civics Teacher spokesman Chiang Pai-chuan (江佰川) said schools should re-examine their reasons for requiring students to wear militaristic uniforms and check whether fascist ideology had survived in their student codes, and lawmakers should legislate for mandatory classes on social justice and require transitional justice on campus.
“Taiwanese education could not care less whether students understand history; it is merely concerned with how well they do in history exams, after which the students forget everything. To change students, history education must do away with curriculum guidelines and tests,” said social activist Yu Teng-chieh (游騰傑), a student at Chia Nan University of Pharmacy and Science.
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