Civics Curriculum Reform based on Ethnocentrism May Harm our Children

image One of the trending issues in Taiwan is no doubt the ongoing debate about the country’s civics curriculum reform. The Ministry of Education (MoE hereafter) of Republic of China (the official government of Taiwan) claimed that the changes are merely “minor adjustments” to reflect historical facts, and yet, not only were the participants’ names erased from official MoE meeting records, a closer look at the comparisons of the existing curriculum guidelines against the proposed changes revealed an agenda to promote a sino-centric perspective in interpreting Taiwanese history. The secrecy surrounding the curriculum reform has sparked protests at the MoE, student protests at high schools, as well as further call-to-actions and petitions on the Internet.

Since 2000, Taiwanese compulsory education took a step to abolish government-published textbooks in favor of privately-published textbooks by announcing the “one curriculum standard, multiple textbooks” movement. Taiwan, as some may already know, has a long tradition of aligning education to government-regulated examinations, and for this very reason the transition to democratize textbook publishing was widely protested due to fears of misalignment of education with college entrance exams. The multiple textbooks movement is no doubt one of the most important reforms in the Taiwanese education system to allow educators to present their own perspectives and pedagogies without government sanctions.

Despite the transition, the curriculum standard published by the MoE is not only a standard for textbooks in public schools, but private schools, despite their relative autonomy, must conform to the curriculum standard since the “Advanced Subjects Test”, which is the standardized college entrance examination for Taiwanese students, is based on the official curriculum standard. Needless to say, the latest civics curriculum changes will affect nearly every secondary school student in Taiwan as they study the “official perspective” on civics and Taiwanese history in preparation for college entrance examination. This attempt by the MoE to sanction an official interpretation of Taiwanese history, is no doubt an unfortunate regression in Taiwanese education reform. Why is this important? Is civics curriculum not just an instrument for college entrance examination? Why should this be considered a social issue? What is the danger in a civics curriculum change?

Time and time again through modern history, governments have used propaganda as an instrument of education. Let’s take a quick journey to recap:

  • The United States of America propagated the concept of Manifest Destiny in the 19th century to justify its war against the Centralist Republic of Mexico and resultant annexation of Mexico’s territories.
  • In early 20th century, Nazi Germany heralded itself as the Third Reich, one that proudly inherits the glory of a millennium-old German civilization that encompass the Holy Roman Empire (962 – 1806) and the German Empire (1871 – 1918). The concept of a united German race was used to justify wars and annexations that triggered World War II.
  • During World War II, the Japanese Empire created the concept of Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere in order to justify Japan’s rights to colonies and unite various cultures and ethnicities within the empire’s territories and colonies against Japan’s enemies.

If history taught us anything, education is an instrument to reconstruct moral judgment of the society. With enough intervention, any arbitrary act can be justified, even praised. Taiwan is an island with a complex history, with it’s people being governed by numerous external powers such as the Dutch, Qing Empire of China, Japanese Empire and now the Republic of China. With such controversy and no true self-governance, Taiwan’s history can be easily twisted to cover up certain facts and exalt other facts. Only a small sample of the proposed “minor edits”, as stated by the MoE, to the civics curriculum sought to emphasize Taiwan’s Sino heritage and de-emphasize Taiwan multiculturalism, reintroduce the concept of Taiwan and Mainland China as two regions of the same country, remove non-ROC perspectives on Taiwanese national identity and remove historical lessons of human rights violations in Taiwanese history. This recurring recipe of justifying rule and governance by way of establishing ethnocentrism or even monoculturalism, is a dangerous path that has paved ways to atrocities ranging from persecution, to massacre and to war. With this said, the civics curriculum reform in Taiwan is not only a social issue, it is one with consequences dire enough to re-program national identity of the coming generations of Taiwanese students. Much parallel can be drawn with Japanese education; with the Japanese Empire on the Axis power, there is heavy debate on how it is presented to their younger generation. The proper, multi-faceted, and unfiltered history can help youth understand where they came from and where they want to head towards. Below are examples of the curriculum changes along with translation and implications of such changes:

Teachers protesting the proposed changes debating with a member of the Ministry of Education

Multi-culture vs Sino Culture:

Suffice it to say that Taiwan’s cultural identity is a result of origins in and influences from Austronesian, Sino, Japanese, European and American cultures. However, the delicate balance of Taiwan’s multi-ethnic and multicultural heritage is often under assault when policies such as the banning of other sinitic languages such as Hakka and Hokkien in Taiwanese schools, and brutal suppression such as the massacre of Taiwanese intellectuals and civil rights leaders by the ROC government during the 228 incident, sought to erase any Taiwanese heritage that may contradict a purely sino-centric view of Taiwan’s history. The danger of a curriculum reform is not in the act of change, but the content of the revision that seeks to further unroot Taiwanese multi-culturalism. A quick comparison of the official curriculum revision and the original curriculum, we can see the following changes:

Original Revision
主題八、多元文化社會與全球化說明部分:從多元文化的理念,進而認識臺灣 現代社會,培養未來公民面對全球化趨 勢時有所依據。對於全球化的文化影響 意涵,宜客觀分析,引導討論。 主題八、多元文化社會與全球化說明部分:臺灣社會具有深厚的中華文化傳統,但亦融入多元文化的特 色,從這樣的理念來認識臺灣現代社會,培養未來公民面對全球 化趨勢時有所依據。對於全球化的文化影響意涵,宜客觀分析, 引導討論。
Translation:Topic 8: Multi-cultural society and globalization

Description: Based on the concept of multiculturalism, establish an understanding of Taiwan’s modern society to serve as the foundation for preparing future citizens for globalization. Employ objective analysis and guide discussions when the cultural impact of globalization arises as an issue.

Translation:Topic 8: Multi-cultural society and globalization

Description: Taiwanese society possesses deep Sino-cultural traditions, but it also contains aspects of multiculturalism. Based on such premise, establish an understanding of Taiwan’s modern society to serve as the foundation for preparing future citizens for globalization. Employ objective analysis and guide discussions when the cultural impact of globalization arises as an issue.

The edit in this section sought to de-emphasize the multicultural roots of Taiwanese culture, including the native Austronesian culture that predated Sino culture on the island.

China vs Mainland:

Then, a section on cross-strait relations has also been edited:

Original Revision
主題八、台海兩岸關係的演變先略述台海兩岸分治的事實。1-1 臺灣的中國政策 依據 1-1 說明臺灣的中國政策依據。 1-2 中國的臺灣政策 依據 1-2 說明中國的臺灣政策依據,如:反分 裂國家法等。 主題八、台海兩岸關係的演變先略述臺海兩岸分治的 事實。1-1 我國的大陸政策 依據 1-1 說明我國的大陸政策依據。 1-2 大陸的對臺政策 依據 1-2 說明大陸的對臺政策依 據,如:反分裂國家法等。
Translation:Topic 8: The evolution of cross-strait relations

First, explain the fact that the island and the mainland are ruled by two distinct governing bodies 1-1 Taiwan’s China policy 1-1 Explain the basis of Taiwan’s China policy 1-1 China’s Taiwan policy 1-1 Explain the basis of China’s Taiwan policy, such as the anti-separation law

Translation:Topic 8: The evolution of cross-strait relations

First, explain the fact that the island and the mainland are ruled by two distinct governing bodies 1-1 Our country’s mainland policy 1-1 Explain the basis of our country’s mainland policy 1-1 The mainland’s Taiwan policy 1-1 Explain the basis of the Mainland’s Taiwan policy, such as the anti-separation law

In this section, the use of Taiwan vs. China was clearly replaced with Our nation vs. the Mainland. These edits have profound political implications. In the U.S., the contiguous United States is regarded as the “mainland” while Hawaii is considered an island outside of the mainland. By the same token, when the latest curriculum revision switches China’s designation to simply “mainland”, it is in essence asserting that Taiwan and mainland are both parts of the same nation, which is a provocation to disrupt the status quo.

Republic of China Identity:

Then, a section on national identity has also been edited:

Original Revision
主題一、國家的形成與目的

  1. 主權國家的形成 與國家認同

1.2 國家認同 1-2 說明「國家認同」概念的涵義,並 對應於現行中華民國憲法相關內 容,描述我國人民對於國家認同的 不同看法。

主題一、國家的形成與目的

  1. 主權國家的形成 與國家認同

1.2 國家認同 1-2 說明「國家認同」概念的涵義,並 陳述我國憲法的立國精神與宗旨。

Translation:Topic 1: The formation and purpose of a nation

  1. Formation of a sovereign nation and national identity

1.2 National identity 1-2 Explain the concept and the meaning of “National identity”. Additionally, study the content of the Republic of China Constitution and describe different perspectives on national identity held by citizens of the ROC.

Translation:Topic 1: The formation and purpose of a nation

  1. Formation of a sovereign nation and national identity

1.2 National identity 1-2 Explain the concept and the meaning of “National identity”. Additionally, describe the founding principles and vision portrayed by the Constitution of the Republic of China.

Previously we have briefly discussed the history of Taiwan. The old curriculum is in itself an example for protecting the voices of different ethnicities and cultural identities in Taiwan. Such voices are crucial to understanding the history of the island given its turbulent and non-uniform past before and after the arrival of the ROC. As you can imagine, those who and whose ancestors have observed ROC’s White Terror, the 228 Incident, and the thirty-eight year long martial law, may voice a dissenting perspective on ROC’s legitimacy as the governing body of Taiwan. However, in the new civics curriculum, these voices will never be heard or documented.

White Terror as example of government oppression:

One example would be the removal of the White Terror in Taiwan history. Below is a comparison of the original text and the proposed revision:

Original Revision
主題三、人與人權3. 人權保障與立法3-1 人權為何應該受到保障 3-1 介紹公民社會保障人權的必要性, 舉例說明人人享有免於恐懼的尊嚴 生活以及蔑視人權的歷史教訓,例 如:我國的白色恐怖、良心犯、德 國納粹等政權清除異己的種族大屠 殺等等。 主題三、人與人權3. 人權保障與立法3-1 人權為何應該受到保障 3-1 介紹公民社會保障人權的必 要性,舉例說明人人享有免 於恐懼的自由以及記取蔑 視人權的歷史教訓,例如政 府 濫 用 權 力 對 人 民 的 迫 害,以及殖民政府對殖民地 人民的歧視。
Translation:Topic 3: People and Human Rights

  1. Legislation and Protection of Human Rights

3-1 Why Human rights should be projected 3-1 Introduce the importance of protection of human rights in a civil society and provide examples to explain that everyone has the right and dignity to live without terror and to explain historical lessons of human rights violations, such as ROC’s “White Terror”, prisoners of conscience, Nazi Germany’s massacres to eradicate political dissidents, etc.

Translation:Topic 3: People and Human Rights

  1. Legislation and Protection of Human Rights

3-1 Why Human rights should be projected 3-1 Introduce the importance of protection of human rights in a civil society and provide examples to explain that everyone has the right and dignity to live without terror and to explain historical lessons of human rights violations, such as a government abusing its powers to persecute its citizens, and a colonizing government discriminating against the people of the colony.

Possibly the darkest times in Taiwan history was originally used as an example of human rights oppression, but revised as a generalization. Some argue that with such changes, history will be forgotten and the perpetrators of the White Terror will be absolved.

—-

Photo credit: J.Michael Cole, 吳柏軒

Read more:

http://www.history.com/topics/manifest-destiny

http://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h337.html

http://buzzorange.com/2015/04/20/civic-education-adjustment-in-taiwan/

http://buzzorange.com/2015/04/22/taiwans-education-will-be-influenced-by-china/

http://research.calvin.edu/german-propaganda-archive/textbk02.htm

http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/war-crimes-wwii-japanese-practised-cannibalism-indian-soldiers-1460601

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Propaganda_in_the_Soviet_Union#Schools_and_youth_organizations

http://www.jstor.org/stable/2500213?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

http://buzzorange.com/2015/06/10/new-course-outline-make-students-angry/

http://buzzorange.com/2015/06/18/chinese-viewpoint-make-us-become-racist/

https://zh.wikipedia.org/zh-tw/%E8%87%BA%E7%81%A3%E9%90%B5%E8%B7%AF%E9%81%8B%E8%BC%B8

http://buzzorange.com/2015/06/19/wonderful-tw-history-syllabus-for-kmt/

High School Curriculum of Taiwan

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