By Gordon Wong
The recent remarks from the Deputy Secretary of Education are absurd, and must not be given in to. Education is not a realm where one teaches a student what to think, but instead how to think.
Maths teachers do not teach students to be able to solve questions in one specific textbook and in only that textbook; they wish students to be able to solve these questions when they appear in different forms outside of school.
Teachers of English teach their students to read and think about books so that when they engage with texts in the future they will be able to extract information on levels both explicit and implicit. The hope of these classes is that students learn in school the skills required to walk the path of becoming independent, capable, and free-thinking adults.
It is dangerous and against the point of education then to claim that there are ‘black-and-white questions’ in what is inherently a subject of interpretation and subjectivity. History is interpretative – it is not fact.
A historian cannot prove with certainty the events of the past without the ability to record it from every perspective in that moment. In such a subject, and in many humanities subjects, one needs to defend their opinion, to be able to disagree intelligently with those who would disagree with them.
To remove that sort of ability from our students might be beneficial for an Orwellian-like state that wishes its students to be unable to think except in the language provided by the state itself, but this is not education’s purpose.
To consider that the history paper in question would harm people’s emotions and lead to inherent bias would be like responding to the hypothetical situation of: “A friend of yours tells you rob a convenience store as there will be money to be had; explain whether you agree with this as bringing financial gain in the long run” as being insulting to the feelings of convenience store clerks, and promoting robbery.
Open-ended questions allow imaginings of a different perspective, and ask the student to challenge whether or not the statement is true. Disagreement is possible, if not encouraged.
To think that this issue is just a matter of one question, one exam in one year, one paper, would be to miss how this is a small piece of a much larger puzzle reaching completion.
Alongside the push for the passing of the National Anthem Bill, a push for reformation in the Liberal Studies subject in local schools has been brought up over the past two years.
References to the Tiananmen Square Massacre are absent from the curriculum in history, and there have been explicit references in other areas as to how students in Hong Kong need to be taught to become more patriotic.
This has been evidenced in both recent remarks from our current Chief Executive and in the China Daily on May 17, with the questionable question being swept up in needless controversy.
A portion of the blame for last year’s – and this year’s reemergence of – protests has been levelled at the education sector. The goal of this is clear too: the Communist Party will not stop at making an example out of the current generation by pushing for heavy sentencing against protesters, but they also hope to cut off the ‘supply’ of children who they deem to be unpatriotic, using a minority of calls for Hong Kong’s independence as an excuse to clamp down on anti-nationalist sentiment.
All this has been paving the way for interpretations of the law from Beijing that will slowly choke out any hope of free speech and any real opportunity for citizens to deliberate on their own fates.
They are aiming to brand this generation as rabble-rousers, or very specifically, as ‘rioters’ who have disturbed the peace, and threatened the stability and prosperity of Hong Kong. By ‘educating’ the next generations to believe this, history will be rewritten.
This would be a major win for Beijing, if it could turn the people against the people, instead of them turning to resist an oppressive power.
I can see this because of my education. Because of questions that allowed me to think from a different perspective. I can see how soft language dipping into the hurt emotions of a state are being used as an axe to hack away at our education system so that, without a cry of timber, as an unseen, unheard, falling tree within a forest, an educated generation that spots this hypocrisy and manipulation of power will be cut off from the future. To never grow again, to never see again and most importantly, to never challenge again.
The HKEAA must not accede to pressure to remove this question. Stand strong and don’t give in to the EDB’s sophistry.
Gordon Wong – who was granted a pseudonym to protect his job – has been a tutor for 10 years. He has tutored both underprivileged students and those in attendance at elite international schools in Hong Kong. He will soon be obtaining his MA in English Studies.