Unseemly Conduct and Educational Failure
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
December 6, 2012
Summary: Education Minister Chiang Wei-ning was subjected to name-calling in the Legislative Yuan by Tsinghua University students taking part in political protests. The incident attracted considerable media attention and sparked considerable public debate. Right and wrong in this matter is easily determined. We would like to examine the matter from three perspectives.
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Education Minister Chiang Wei-ning was subjected to name-calling in the Legislative Yuan by Tsinghua University students taking part in political protests. The incident attracted considerable media attention and sparked considerable public debate. Right and wrong in this matter is easily determined. We would like to examine the matter from three perspectives.
First, consider whether the contents of the Ministry of Education's official statement were appropriate. Taken literally, the statement merely asks universities to express concern about the health of students who are taking part in sports. But two questions arose. The first was "How did executive branch authorities obtain background information about students participating in sports?" The second was 'Did the expression "concerned about their health" contain an innuendo?' In the former instance, the Ministry of Education obtained information that certain students attended certain universities through normal channels. This was perfectly reasonable information gathering. It is hardly necessary to invoke terrorism related concepts such as "undercover operations." Now consider the expression "concerned about their health." It is hardly necessary to compare this to Mafia expressions of concern for their victims' health. The opposition DPP is making quite a stretch by equating these e-mails with the White Terror. The Ministry of Education's only questionable action was to make a mountain out of a molehill, and issue an official statement. This made the Minister's statement sound like an interrogation instead a personal expression of concern. This was a case of "official statements sent 200 km are better than ministers walking 200 meters." The official statement ought to be criticized. But the error was not that grievous.
The second point of controvery is the students' attitude and legislators' behavior. Let us be blunt. The legislators and the students set the worst possible example. They insulted the legislature. They underscored the students' lack of socialization. Legislators have no right to "transfer" their interpolation authority to others. Government officials are under no obligation to submit to questioning by non-legislators. Grand Justice Constitutional Interpretation 461 states that legislators may invite students to interpolations, but the students would be the ones being interpolated. They would not be the ones doing the interpolating. They would be permitted to respond to questions from legislators. They would not be permitted to point fingers at government officials.
Consider the behavior of the students. We do not agree that "Etiquette is of secondary importance when the issue is right and wrong." If anything, the opposite is true. Respect for other human beings must reign supreme in any civilized society. Every member of a democratic society must understand this. The school system must teach students how to behave like human beings. Only then can they choose to be human beings who practice science, human beings who practice the arts and culture, human beings who protect the environment. Every human being must treat others with respect. They must accord others the basic courtesies, especially when the person is 30 years one's senior and a member of the cabinet. Even supposing the students interpreted the Ministry of Education's official statement in a negative light, they should still not have demonstrated a total disregard for etiquette, and called Minister Chiang names. Phony indignation cannot rationalize boorish behavior. The students behavior reminded one the Red Guards. If legislators engaged in political struggles provide intellectual cover for boorish students, they set a negative example for society. They also weaken society's core values.
The Ministry of Education's official statement contained no serious errors. The students and legislators behaved badly. That said, Education Minister Chiang's handling of the matter warrants criticism. Ministry heads in today's political arena must meet three requirements. One. They must adhere to a consistent policy framework. Two. They must uphold the dignity of their office. Three. They must remain flexible during prolonged ordeals. Over the past 10 months Minister Chiang has demonstrated extraordinary patience and flexibility. But he has shown little in the way of the first two requirements. One month ago, legislators interpolating Minister Chiang demanded that he translate several remarks by President Obama. This demand was nonsensical. It had nothing to do with educational policy. Yet Vice Minister Chiang translated them. In a similar case, the National Youth Commission chairman agreed to legislators' demand that he donate his year-end bonus. This is how legislators avoid interpolation and instead use the opportunity to insult ministry heads. When ministry heads behave like pushovers, it may help them survive Legislative Yuan interpolation. But the job of ministry heads is to serve the people, by implementing policy. If the only thing that ministry heads do all day is bow and scrape and come across like children terrified of making mistakes, then officials within these ministries will have no choice but to act equally frightened. Officials from top to bottom will be paralyzed. Where will they find the energy to implement policy?
Finally, we must talk about the Minister of Education's ideas. Should the Ministry of Education or universities care about students? If so, what sort of care is consistent with liberalism? A Minister of Education should know the answers to these questions. By the same token, suppose one wishes to promote 12 year compulsory education? Ministry heads cannot simply dialogue with people everywhere. They must have their own conceptual framework and rhetorical style. Minister Chiang issued an official statement which was sent to various universities. He conducted himself ineptly during Legislative Yuan interpolation. He was too much of a pushover. Many political appointees probably do not understand the policies they themselves are promoting. Students behaved boorishly and self-importantly. The opposition DPP legislators' coarse demagoguery was regrettable. But our greatest concern is ministry heads. They must have a better command of the concepts they are promoting. Taiwan's educational system hangs in the balance.