Protesters occupying Hong Kong’s city plaza have won — sort of. Wall Street Journal reports people are feeling “mixed jubilation and frustration” after the city announced yesterday it will make its controversial National Education curriculum “voluntary.” While it’s too early to unravel all the implications of this decision, a direct result is that those on their hunger strike can now eat. “I am dying for a bowl of wonton noodles,” said one Mr. Hon. (Maybe he shouldn’t have starved himself — I remember a time when hunger strikes were reserved for truly extraordinary causes, such as getting out of prison and opposing Hindu-Muslim violence.)
What was all the fuss about? If I’m not mistaken, the teachers of core subjects at these schools will continue to be mostly Hong Kongers, correct? They’re not all being fired? No one is being asked to pledge an allegiance to a flag? Were people worried Hong Kong’s teachers would be subjugated to Winston Smith-style brainwashing before being unleashed back into the classroom to inculcate a brainwashed curriculum on brainwash-able (and totally not disobedient, already cynical, smart-aleck) children?
As Tea Leaf Nation notes: “From the comments [to a Yahoo Hong Kong article], some worry that Hong Kong children lack knowledge about China and Chinese history, and opposition to national education may itself become another form of brainwashing.”Continuing:
MANDY pointed out that when Hong Kong’s education bureau introduced curriculum reforms in 2000, Chinese history was one of the classes cut from middle schools’ mandatory curriculum. 骨精強 wrote, “It’s not a question of whether Chinese history is taught well, but that the course is seen as useless because it has nothing to do with making money. That’s how the society, corporations, parents and students see it, but such fashionable view points are often skewed. What’s fashionable and popular today may become worthless tomorrow — just to give one example: Communism. But, a Chinese person who doesn’t study, or does not need to study, the history of one’s own country, that ‘s very sad.”
I understand the aversion to ideological education, and I’ve ranted about as much in this space, but protests in the past week have ignored the actual content of the curriculum they so loathe. I don’t mean just the worst parts on Old Woman Marxism-Leninism or Party slogans, but the curriculum taken as a whole, which is still only a snapshot of the schooling that mainland Chinese students must endure. Protesters have also been much too willing to ignore the fact that nearly all forms of education — to say nothing of advertisement, which we are inundated with — are propaganda by definition. George Washington’s apple tree. Basically every history book. Battle: Los Angeles. Those in ostensibly “free” societies seem less able to discern the pernicious effects of the propaganda they’re peddled.
Personal anecdote time. I attended public school in the US, where I was assigned books out of the Bible in sophomore and junior English class. Some of my classmates vehemently opposed it, but we all survived — and were better because of it (thanks Mr. Allen, Mrs. Long). If we never read Genesis, we wouldn’t know the meaning behind the movie Babel; I would never fully appreciate Chris Jericho’s WWE entrance music, which features the line, “Break down the walls of Jericho”; and Revelations — holy hell what a trip! Education isn’t a choice to study what you morally, philosophically, or personally favor and ignore all that you oppose because it isn’t “practical.” Algebra would then never be mandatory, because I can count on my fingers the times in real life I’ve used the Quadratic Equation (I would bunch my fingers into a fist). Education is about equipping yourself with a base of knowledge to properly function in society, where our common language consists not only of words but a shared experience.
On the specific issue of National Education in Hong Kong, I suppose we were always headed toward a compromise. I’m not sure if we’ve reached the right one, thanks to the hunger strike and massive civil unrest. The fault for that lies as much in the government’s failure to communicate and convince as anyone else, but I do wonder: why can’t, say, a Grade 3 secondary school student devote one class out of his or her eight per day to learn about the society — 1.4 billion strong — just north of the border? Are we really so worried that National Education courses would replace — instead of supplement — a teenager’s knowledge of British parliamentary democracy with Chinese Communism? As if ignoring one model of thought could validate the other model? People: let us not bask in ignorance while flaunting our purported bliss.