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Schools don't need class in dictatorship

Catholic educators must rethink stance on 'national education'

  • Mok Chit-wai John, Hong Kong
  • Hong Kong
  • August 20, 2012
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The Education Bureau of Hong Kong forcibly introduced the Moral and National Education subject, spurring public anger. As the largest school-sponsoring body, the local diocese is inevitably involved in the debate.

The compulsory school subject was announced last year. Student group “Scholarism” was the first to come up to protest, criticizing it as brainwashing.

After Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying took office in July, the new government insisted on continuing with the introduction of the course this September.

Meanwhile, the public was shocked to find the China Model—National Conditions Teaching Handbook, the publication of which was helped by government subsidies, praises the Communist Party as “progressive, selfless and united.”

This enraged many parents and teachers, and they then joined the opposition camp. They organized a rally against brainwashing with 90,000 people participating. A teachers’ union has also threatened to go on strike when the new school term resumes.

Although the diocese announced its schools will not introduce this subject in September and will write its own teaching materials, its vague stance is still worrisome.

If the Church complies with the Education Bureau’s guidelines on national education, it is a backward move even with its own teaching materials.

Catholic schools attach great importance to ethics and civic education, which emphasizes care and commitment to society to breed civic awareness and to promote democracy.

According to the Education Bureau's guidelines on the subject, the curriculum for national education also includes concepts like democracy and rule of law, but the emphasis is on national identity and patriotism.

I agree that Church-run schools here are duty-bound to teach Chinese culture. However, they should not create a stiff and narrow sense of national identity. The Chinese government is a one-party dictatorship and the Hong Kong government is not running under a democratic system. We cannot help but think that their introduction of the subject is not being done with the best intentions.

Some may argued that being patriotic means to love the Chinese culture and the people rather than the regime. But can these three be clearly distinguished? Even if we think so, will the government think the same way? When it comes to discussions on the economic success of Communist China, should it be regarded as a matter of the regime or the people?

The Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association also talks about patriotism but what is it that they refer to? “Nation” itself is a political concept and inciting nationalism in the name of patriotism is extremely dangerous.

The subject guidelines seem to be neutral at first glance but are in fact biased. Words like “national identity” and “patriotism” appear repeatedly and students are urged to learn the Communist leaders’ efforts and contributions and the country’s opportunities and challenges, while nothing is mentioned about the crimes committed by the Communist Party.

Can we say the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989 were just challenges? Can we ignore the suppression of social activists and violations against religious freedom?

If a Catholic school compiles teaching materials according to the guidelines, does it need to replace the saints in heaven with Communist leaders Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai or to praise these leaders’ “work-study program” instead of the good deeds of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta?

What is more worrying is that some diocesan primary schools are reported to have already implemented such a biased curriculum. Some schools require students to study Chairman Mao's calligraphy and listen to the national anthem “March of the Volunteers” to establish national identity.

A vice president of a pro-Communist uniform group similar to the “Young Pioneers” in China was found to be the principal of a diocesan primary school and another Catholic primary school reportedly required students to sing “Red Song.” How absurd!

Catholic catechism indicates that the Church abandons communism and totalitarianism. Are these schools’ programs contrary to the Church teachings? This raises doubts about whether the diocese has the determination and ability to defend the vision of Catholic education.

Education is a serious issue. Our Church must stand firm without compromising. Catholic faith should be combined with the Chinese culture but must not approve dictatorships. The Church should request the government to withdraw the subject and make it clear that it opposes politics-oriented education.

If the Church conforms to the Education Bureau to introduce the subject, even teaching with its own teaching materials, it is still justifying the political mission of the government.

The Church should apply its own civic education, teaching Catholic social doctrine as well as traditional Chinese philosophies like Confucianism and Taoism and depicting truthfully the situation of Hong Kong and mainland China so that the students can become good leaders who are “the first to bear hardships, and the last to enjoy comforts” and who exercise morality to do the Lord's work. This is my humble wish.

Mok Chit-wai John is a Catholic student who is studying his second year at the Department of Government and Public Administration of the Chinese University of Hong Kong

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