About Me

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Yilan, Taiwan
I'm a Social Studies teacher and single mom from Colorado and have lived here for 9 years. Taiwan is an excellent base for us explore Asia, while living in relative (gun free) safety, while benefiting from a cheap and efficient national health care system. The people are amazing too. I have friendships that are 14 years old and I'm always making new ones.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Dictator Worship: Ignorance is Not Bliss

The mindless cosplay photos of a private school in Hsinchu has sparked outrage from the international community, foreign educators in Taiwan and local government. If you haven't already heard, this beloved history teacher allowed his class to dress up as Nazi soldiers, with full on regalia and even a cardboard tank. This kind of freedom of speech isn't even allowed in Germany. Of course Israel immediately expressed it's outrage, and then Germany soon followed. This embarrassment came right on the heels of a global survey on ignorance where Taiwan came in 3rd.

For me personally, being a Social Studies teacher in a private junior//high school and having a kid in the public system for 5 years, I am not in the least surprised. I am surprised something like this didn't happen sooner. I do have to face the reality it could of happened in any school.

Why I know this to be the sad truth is in the beginning of this semester I had to go off on a teaching tangent for all 8 of my 7th grade Social Studies classes and explain the Holocaust with graphic pictures. Maybe 4 out of 100 kids really knew what happened. The reason why I had to explain, was I was teaching a reading about London's first mayor Sadiq Khan and his mistreatment by a Neo-Nazi opponent. No one knew who Nazis were, to my surprise.

Basically its a gigantic failure of the KMT controlled curriculum, that never really resolved Taiwan's own murky history, coupled with a complete adoration of only studying Chinese history in depth. A recent editorial explained this best in the dictator worship of  Chiang Kai-Shek. I first came aware of the lack, utter vacuum of Taiwanese history books when I was in Tainan. My then private kindergarten was more of a project based school and the unit we teachers were given to teach for that month was Taiwanese history. I had to make my own timeline poster and did swaths of research because there was nothing for kids, other than a really cool comic series that was too difficult for them to read. I had parents thank me because they got so much out of it, as they confessed that they learned absolutely zero of their own history. So much is still unknown from the White Terror days of martial control. In 2012 Ma officially apologized on behalf of the KMT for their persecution of democratic activists. Yet classified documents from that era still cause military police to break into citizens' homes. Many from the KMT believe declassified documents should be destroyed rather than being made public. How's that for reconciliation and healing?

Its easy for me to sound judgmental from my American perspective. For my generation, all of us kids had grandfathers who survived WW2. Both of mine served (Navy and Airforce). I grew up watching movies that glorified Allie soldiers and vilified Nazis. I clearly remember watching PBS with my mom on a Saturday night, I was maybe 7 years old and we watched graphic historical footage of Nazi concentration camps. Those image are seared in my brain forever. So even in the lack of a school's responsibility to educate, parents must be that safety net. How the parents of these kids allowed that is proof of their own lack of a decent education. Likewise, The Diary of Ann Frank (安妮的日記) was required reading when I was a student. My elementary school also had a camp survivor come to our school and describe to us kids about her ordeal. She showed us her tattooed number, and recalled how easy it was for society to slip into evil. We kids venerated her like a saint, as we all knew how fortunate not only to hear from an eye witness, but meet a survivor that was able to go on with her life. At the same time, America has yet to fully acknowledge their own genocide of Native Americans, and continues to misuse Native's images in national sports and names of places. So I acknowledge that I am not coming from a place of moral high ground, but the Jewish Holocaust should be required in every curriculum.

The past 2 days I have been bringing up the Hsinchu incident with my students, just to inform them. Basically they read the Holocaust in about 2 paragraphs, so they might know what happened, but have zero clue of the significance. Their humanity wasn't touched.

Having lived and worked in Germany, I also was able to visit Dachau, and I was also able to see how many local, small camps were absolutely everywhere. If Taiwanese could travel, if these private schools could take a field trip, go there. I'd suggest Taiwan follow Germany's example and teach the Holocaust at a young age, but I had too many young German friends who admitted to be totally desensitized to what happened, and even defensive (that wasn't "me") from having too much history crammed down their throats. I doubt Taiwan would go that far, but it must have a more inclusive world history curriculum.

My foreign coworkers decided that at the very minimum all the grades should watch Schindler's List (辛德勒的名單), and my manager will suggest it at the next meeting. This might not seem like the best answer, or response to their collective ignorance, but its a start. In spite of the local and global outrage, the Hsnichu students started getting defensive, and some jerks in the Taipei MRT  were walking around in Nazi uniforms. I don't see this going away until the culture has a radical shift, a look in the mirror of their own dictator worship.

Defaced Chiang Kai-shek, Green Island

So all I can do is shed light in my own little sphere of influence. I will teach Genocide as a unit next semester in my 7th grade Social Studies classes. I actually tried last year with my 9th graders. I had this long unit on Colonialism and Slavery as an introduction to modern Genocide. But then I taught a long unit on Gender and another unit on Racism and the year was over. I won't make that mistake with my 7th graders. Its an art, balancing substance, quality, making sure they get it (in a 2nd language) and quantity (there are so many themes). Transitional justice and transformation happen in our little everyday interactions. I'm reminded what a privilege and responsibility it is to teach and to have so much creative control of my own curriculum.

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