Common misconceptions about national education controversy

Updated: 2012-09-04 06:57

By Lau Nai-keung(HK Edition)

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Common misconceptions about national education controversy

Whilst many of those who oppose national education have not yet even read the government syllabus, the matter goes well beyond the common perception. The current debate on national education is a natural extension of the latent (or not so latent) political struggle in Hong Kong. Although contentious politics will always exist in a pluralistic society such as ours, what's frustrating many citizens is not the disputes themselves, but the fact that decade-old quarrels never seemed to have been resolved.

First, the current controversy is not a matter of "poor timing" as some might suggest. This view implies that implementation of national education is merely technical, and if we commence it on a "good day" chosen from a Chinese Yellow Calendar, perhaps everything will turn out fine. The problem is, it is quite impossible to stop the dissidents from harping on the issue in the current political situation, even if we want to keep them calm during the LegCo election period. On the supply side, we have an inherently weak executive branch with a lot of new appointees. On the demand side, there are hyper-ventilated citizens very receptive to rumors of an imminent "Communist invasion". Linking both sides is a relentless media which has the power to shape non-issues into super-issues.

The timing can be considered the other way round: would the dissidents leave national education alone if it were introduced after Sept 9? Highly doubtful. Let's not forget this is the age of perpetual campaigning, and that there are people out there still working hard to oust CY Leung from his current CE position.

The second misconception is that supporters of national education think that they will win the battle if something called "national education" is taught in school. Their common argument is that "we should all agree in principle that national education must be implemented, but we have all the time in the world to fine tune the content, and that every school may decide what to teach its students under the label of national education".

Hey look, even this humble position does not keep the kids from hunger striking. Please, don't be so naive. If this is the final deal that we are going to get, we certainly will win the battle but lose the war. After all, what's in a name? Who would object to a label called "national education", if for what we know everything can be taught under this heading?

I can foresee that in a lot of schools, teachers are going to receive extra funding from the government to teach the kids that "if you truly love your country, you have to overthrow the current undemocratic regime".

The third popular misconception is that rationality will eventually prevail. This faith, a relic of Renaissance humanism, is now doing us more harm than good. If you dare to examine deeper, you will find that we all express ourselves with our prejudices and predispositions. The beauty of it is that an indoctrinated person will never admit to himself that he has been indoctrinated. It is as natural as air, it keeps you alive but you never sense that it is there.

A dissident's election pamphlet says "when babies were also protesting national education, this policy is definitely wrong". In the video "When McDull Meets National Education", which has Digital Broadcasting Corporation's name all over it, we saw the kindergarten students rehearsing their slogans in school before they joined the rally. The schoolmaster chanted a line and the kids followed, then later on they repeated the lines word by word in front of the camera.

Am I the only one overwhelmed by the irony? These "texts" can be used, without any alteration, as proof that these kid-protesters are manipulated by their parents and teachers, but the producers didn't even attempt to conceal these brainwashing activities. To them, there is nothing to be ashamed of as long as their cause is "just" and "holy". At the end of the day, brainwashing is not the issue. The key of the struggle is, who holds the power to brainwash.

With all these said, nothing can be further from the truth than calling the hunger strikers ingenious, independent or critical. I would be a bit more impressed if they did it against the will of their parents and other behind the scene manipulators.

The author is a member of the Commission on Strategic Development.

(HK Edition 09/04/2012 page3)