Civic Awareness and Quality
The following is a translation from a blog post at Miss Lee In Summer. Miss Lee is a teacher by profession, and she was reflecting on her teaching plan for general education. She came to realize that she had been subconsciously telling her students not to trust this society but she did not tell them what the ideal world ought to be, much less how to get there.
I am in empathy with those thoughts, because all those thoughts are applicable to this blog. I am all too aware that I do not know what utopia is and, even if I think I know, I would be too self-conscious to talk about it, much less offer a roadmap to get there.
Lung Ying-tai sat there, her hands on her chin, like a person in a newspaper photograph. She did not move. She had no expression. My Chinese University of Hong Kong classmate Leung stood behind her with a tree branch in his hand and explained the tree-preservation movement at CUHK. When the students from Hong Kong, Taiwan and mainland China spoke, she still did not move. At most, she occasionally picked up a pencil and made a couple of strokes. When she responded in improvised fashion, it was an essay!
Over this past weekend, Lung Ying-tai spoke about "Civic awareness and the quality of people" at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. She spoke about a lot of things. I was thinking about one particular point, and it was something that I have been thinking about all along. But it was yesterday that I realized that I have ever actually gone ahead to do anything. The issue is, what kind of children do we want?
She told two stories about her children (she often writes about her children in Apple Daily. Everybody knows that. I sometimes wonder where do these mature and intelligent children come from?)
One day, then Taipei City Minister of Culture Lung Ying-tai brought his 11- or 12-year-old German-Chinese son to dine with the reporters from the two major Taiwan newspapers. The little boy asked, "Mom, how can you be good friends with the reporters? They are supposed to be monitoring you. Furthermore, those two reporters from the two newspapers are competitors. How can they be friends?"
Another time, the son wanted to buy sneakers. Lung Ying-tai said that she would take him to New Balance, because she knew the owner and could get a discount. The son told his mother, "You are getting a discount because you are the Minister of Culture. You are a corrupt government official!"
So she began to think just what kind of education can breed children with this type of consciousness.
While in the lecture hall, I began to think back about my teaching plans for general education for the past two or three years. When it comes to humanistic concerns, I am afraid that my plans were a mess. I was continuously destructive, I pointed out the absurdity of the World Trade Organization, the chaos that is the Hong Kong government and the ineffectiveness of the media. I taught too much economics, I talked about the deceptions and betrayals in politics and I pointed out the injustice of the wealth inequality in China.
So, I was subconsciously telling my students not to trust this society.
But what did I construct for the students? Did I tell them what the ideal world ought to be? Did we think about how we want our country to turn out to be? How do we establish love and justice in our society? Usually, at the end of these classes, I ask the students to say a couple of sentences and draw a plan and I let it go at that. It was boring and difficult to talk about building value systems.
Last week, I went with the school people to visit a school in mainland China. An elementary school asked the students to write a plan to promote environmental protection on the school campus. It was a boring exercise, but I would have taught it the same way. Every teacher and every student know that we should not litter, spit, chew gum or pick flowers. We know that it is wrong, but we keep doing the wrong things again and again.
When the teachers are taught at the teacher colleges, there should be a class about knowledge, skills and attitudes. That is the start of what Lung Ying-tai called knowledge, intellectual skills and character.
The part that I dislike the most is to teach attitudes.
I went back to consult the syllabus from the Department of Education about general education in high schools. This has been discussed often enough, so I just looked at the topic headings for the lectures. If education must contain elements of humanistic concerns, then my impressions of our syllabus are:
- About the development of self, the contents is about the individual.
- About society and culture, the contents are mostly about the development of China, our cultural heritage and the Chinese Diaspora. One of the elective topics is "War and peace in the world today."
- About science, technology and the environment, the contents make the total framework very clear to me: the various subject contents are blended together and served on the table. You can talk about information technology, diseases, hygiene, transportation resources and space. You can talk about similar things, but you have not been given any common objectives.
Can this syllabus allow our students to develop broader viewpoints? Can it make them love their countries and cities even more and even extend this concern to the whole world? Or are we still living in this restricted and narrow universe in which we continue to criticize the media contents, whether it was gossip about entertainment figures or politicians?
To summarize the contents of the talk (approximately):
- To complain about culture in Hong Kong is not the same as having critical thinking.
- The foundation of critical thinking is knowledge, but our ignorance has reached a grim stage
- Students ought to memorize books! Even if they don't comprehend or understand, they should memorize them first! And then they will appreciate the beauty of the poetry. We are just too scared of memorizing.
- General education, or nationalistic/patriotic education? Which is our goal?
- Civic education without citizen quality (i.e. understanding about history, human nature and literature) is a destructive kind of civic education.