And the lucky national education scapegoat is…

In Beijing, the worst storm in decades leaves 37 dead from drowning and other mayhem (if you believe the official number – plus plenty are still missing). In Hong Kong, a once-in-10-years typhoon leaves a few dozen people sitting out the night in dry, air-conditioned Mass Transit Rail stations. It is hard to tell which community is freaking out in righteous anger more, as Mainland authorities have censored public criticism of the capital’s poor preparedness and third-world drainage, but it seems quite possible that the Big Lychee proudly takes the prize. In classic Hong Kong government fashion, officials jump on the bandwagon and sternly demand that the MTR submit a full report on why the rail operator disgracefully allowed such a powerful weather system to come this close to the city.

Meanwhile, another disaster is unraveling, which means someone is in search of another scapegoat. The Great National (and Moral) Education Brainwashing Controversy attracts more constructive debate, with government officials insisting it’s no big deal but nonetheless very important, and detractors declaring it is pointless and yet also highly dangerous. (One of the latter is Libby Wong, former civil servant and legislator back in the heady days of Governor Chris Patten. After many years’ retirement in New Zealand, she has returned, in her capacity as a cuddlier and funnier version of ex-Chief Secretary Anson Chan, apparently to share the benefit of her opinion with all of us, and generously.)

The word is that new Chief Executive CY Leung is adopting a strictly non-cuddly and non-funny stance on national education: he is simply going to tough it out. The plan is inherited from his hapless predecessor, but as a patriot he can hardly backtrack or abandon it. Anxious parents can march all they want; it is going ahead.

Although it sounds like a no-nonsense message, it essentially leaves schools and parents to backtrack or virtually abandon as they please. ‘Going ahead’ in fact means ‘going ahead in pretty much any way you want, using any textbooks you want, any time you want in the next three years, just so long as, by 2015-16, kids spend an hour a week or something they won’t even be tested on called National and Moral Education’.

And of course we need a scapegoat to blame for the misunderstandings and confusion that have led parents, teachers, churches, lawmakers and the media to fear a wave of red propaganda sweeping through our children’s innocent little minds. The big recent scare arose from the National Education Services Centre’s booklet for schools on the China Model. And the pro-Beijing body was funded by the Education Bureau, which must now hang its head in shame for failing to exercise proper oversight, and may have to lose extra face by commissioning better materials from some other groups – the John Birch Society, the Kuomintang and the Vatican, say.

I have seen a copy of China Model (efforts to nab it for sale on eBay were thwarted). It is aimed at high-school students and teachers, and contains a fairly straightforward account of modern China in terms of the ‘Beijing Consensus’ theory/story/fad (which the booklet mentions by name, along with the – boo, hiss – ‘Washington Consensus’). The Beijing Consensus holds that China’s gradualist, state-guided, authoritarian pattern of reform and development is a better way for poor countries to become rich than the ‘Washington’ (US/IMF) preference for free markets, open economies and of course laid-back groovy open societies. Depending on your taste, the Beijing Consensus is going to dominate the 21st Century, or is destined to fail.

Experience tends to show that trendy, jargon-clad miracle cures for planetary ailments tend to be 50% common sense and 50% self-serving twaddle. (Which reminds me: whatever happened to Asian Values?) Needless to say, economist-chatterers and conference-whores have come up with lots of other ‘consensuses’, some of which really come under the category of ‘you’re kidding’.

Coming tomorrow: the Shatin Consensus.

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6 Responses to And the lucky national education scapegoat is…

  1. Big Al says:

    At least all these consensuses (consensi?) have one thing in common – they’re all utter bollocks.

  2. Stephen says:

    Loved the Sub Standard this morning – Train services stopped, passengers asked to leave stations, get angry enough and get $200, messages on the internet saying they got $400 – the injustice, the inhumanity …

    All that and Libby Wong !

  3. No soup for you !! says:

    I once had sex with a Libby Wong.

  4. Claw says:

    I love the statement from Maria Tam on the news this evening that all our students should know about the “unitary system” in China. So this is the new, cuddly name for a one-party state. How nice!

  5. Real Tax Payer says:

    Time to give up national education
    MY TAKE
    Alex Lo
    Jul 24, 2012

    It’s easy for people who have lived normal lives to tell their life stories. It’s far more difficult for individuals who have been traumatised or violated to give an unbiased account of their lives. As it is with people, so it is with nations. Modern Chinese history has been one of foreign invasions, civil war, famines, massacres and totalitarian state terror. As Chinese, we have had plenty of interesting times for several generations; and that is a curse indeed.
    China may be rising and taking its rightful place among the family of nations. We are trying to normalise as a people, but that remains a difficult journey, despite the nation’s newfound wealth and power. That, I believe, is why it would be next to impossible to formulate a national education curriculum that is acceptable to scholars, teachers and nationalists alike. For this reason, the government should accept defeat by delaying the plan, if not scrapping it all together.

    In principle, the idea of national education is wholly defensible. We cannot escape our own “Chineseness” any more than we can see without eyes or walk without feet. And it’s important to know who we are, how we have come to be and what we can achieve as a people. Such knowledge can instil a sense of pride in our own culture.

    In practice, that will mean glossing over key but unpalatable episodes in our recent past: Mao’s famine, the Cultural Revolution, the June 4 crackdown, endemic official corruption and failure of political reform. Nationalism usually involves sanctioning a narrow, official version of history that promotes the transient or contingent interests of a state leadership at particular moments in time. But there can be a higher nationalism that accepts the search for an elusive historical truth as the ultimate goal while recognising the extraordinary achievements of China’s unique development model.

    But unless and until we have come to terms with our past, warts and all, we cannot become a “normal” nation and produce a historical narrative that can withstand the scrutiny of genuine scholarship and nationalism. We must not force contentious subjects on our children as if there are no controversies.

    [email protected]

  6. Real Tax Payer says:

    I meant to add ( but it did not get through) :

    Alex Lo is highly opinionated ( but what do you expect when he calls his column ” My Take” ?)

    Alex Lo is also – at least my opinion – a very intelligent guy.

    I do not always agree with Alex , but in this case I think he hit the nail dead on the head

    PS : Note especially the ” As Chinese , we…. ” I empathise completely

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