In Taiwan, recent revisions in high school history textbooks caused major protests among students and have sparked debates over national identity and the “purpose of education”.
The new curriculum appears to emphasize a different view of historical interactions and links between Taiwan and mainland China, and was seen as a blow against “Taiwanization.” Taiwanization is “a conceptual term used in Taiwan, which acknowledges a separate Taiwanese culture, society, economy, history and nationality, rather than regard Taiwan as solely an appendage of China.” In educational fields, it involves the teaching of the history, geography, and culture of Taiwan from a “Taiwan-centric” perspective, as well as promoting languages locally established in Taiwan. Disputes were raised due to the fear that the government was using educational structures to favor the “ruling party’s” ideology.
After 65 years of separation with the mainland, the national identity issue of the islanders (“Taiwanese” or “Chinese”) is still a hot battlefield between scholars, government officials, political parties and NGOs, with both sides trying to shape the youths’ national identity through revising educational curriculums. One of the most controversial statements was made by a member of the committee responsible for the amendment process in the Ministry of Education. In his statement, he said, “All the textbooks in the world serve for political purposes; nobody aims for objective academic perspectives!”
The statement prompts a question: what should be thought of textbooks? What is the purpose of education? Is it only a procedure to train our vocational professions, or is it an access to the richness of humanities?
In the opening chapter of The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis states that the purpose of education is to teach genuine truth and order to students, cultivate appropriate affections that would shape genuine human character, and simultaneously protect young people from banality and corruption. Some forms of modern education, however, have been bent upon debunking objective truth and order and the emotions that fortify them, and made students vulnerable to future manipulations. Lewis calls the resulting men “men without chests,” and says, “We make men without chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.” It’s true. We seek talented personnel in an educational system that aims to produce obedient citizens that lack the ability of critical thinking.
There is great potential for totalitarianism in a world where the those in power no longer believe in objective truth, where everything is reduced to a struggle for power, in which the statement “all the textbooks in the world serve for political purposes; nobody aims for objective academic perspectives” can stand as an obvious example. A human-centric education that promotes the dignity of the person and supports freedom of excellence, the freedom to choose the thing that is good for every person, is essential to the sustainable development of the society, and surely cannot be adopted by minds that believe textbooks and education are merely tools to achieve a state’s ambition and economic development.
Education shapes the youth, and by this, affects a country’s future. The prosperity of a nation, the stabilization of regions, and the effort for world peace can all be damaged if a single state provides education that doesn’t align with the truth of the person. Throughout history, we have seen states around the globe, democratic and authoritarian alike, mobilize citizens to purposes through propaganda and education. For states that use education as tools to utilize citizens for political purpose, citizens are left more vulnerable and are unable to protect themselves from ideological propaganda that clearly against their interests and rights.
On the other hand, states that provide human-centric education enable citizens to strive for excellence, and provides independent thinking abilities for citizens to participate in public affairs. States that provide human-centric education are more able to provide a healthy democratic system that serve the very interests of the people, where both legitimacy and accountability can be found valid.
“Without the aid of trained emotions the intellect is powerless against the animal organism,” Lewis wrote. His understanding and analysis on the importance of rightful and holistic education is true. It is also my belief that peace in the international arena, and sustainable development in states, can be possible only if we understand the importance of human-centric education, education grounded in the conviction that every person has dignity and protected from political and state ideologies.