Sunday, April 03, 2011

Moral Education

An anti-bullying rally was held this week in Hsinchu:
A few hundred people took to the streets in Hsinchu in an anti-bullying march yesterday.

The demonstration was prompted by a recent case of bullying in the city where a teenage girl was beaten up by her peers. The videotaped incident was posted online and sparked public anger.

"I saw the bullying clip and felt saddened. As a parent, I don't want to see a repeat of similar things," a participant of the march was cited by the United Evening News as saying.

About 40,000 Facebook users said they would take part in the demonstration, the paper said. Some of them said they have been victims of bullying and do not want others to suffer in the same way.

Several high-profile bullying cases at schools over the past few months have prompted education officials to promise efforts to maintain campus safety.
I was struck by this because this week in my writing classes I assigned the topic of school reform, asking my students to write a paragraph containing recommendations for changes in the school system here in Taiwan.

You can probably guess that most of them wanted reduced testing, their performance to be judged on more than just test scores, and smaller workloads. But two things that nearly every group in every class identified really struck me.

The first was that the students all demanded that the government equalize resources across the different school systems. Many of them,and of course family and friends, come from disadvantaged schools where they keenly feel the lack of budget and other resources.

The other was more interesting: everyone demanded a boost in "moral education." I asked all the groups about this. I teach at one of the better universities on the island and the students are uniformly excellent. They all said that students need moral education because all kinds of negative behaviors are common in high schools. Students exampled bullying, students disrespecting teachers, students fighting with and even striking teachers, students not paying attention in class or ignoring teachers to do other things, and so on. Paul M Fussell once remarked that Americans spend their adult lives getting revenge for what happened to them in high school, and I gather that for too many local students the high school experience is similarly not a good one.

The problems in the public schools, but especially the junior high and high schools, are the ostensible reason the government has been pushing a re-introduction of the Chinese classics, the Four Books....

A Facebook campaign launched by teachers concerned about a Ministry of Education decision to make study of the Confucian classics mandatory in high schools asks an interesting question — is there an ulterior political motive to forcing students to study the “Four Books”? The ministry’s stated goal in making the ancient textbooks required reading is to combat widespread bullying, drug use and gang problems among high school students. However, academics and teachers question whether studying the books would solve these problems, and point out that it would take time away from the study of elective courses.

What is the real reason for railroading through mandatory study of four books that were chosen as the most important Confucian texts by a Song Dynasty scholar about 900 years ago? Written more than 2,000 years ago, the books are unlikely to touch on modern themes such as peer pressure, gang dynamics, drug use, teenage pregnancies, broken families, pollution, the declining birthrate and other issues facing young people today.

The real reason of course, is simply to make the courses even more "Chinese" than they are know. But it is interesting that the campaign to re-colonize local minds with Chineseness is run by leveraging the widespread acknowledgment of serious problems in the local schools.
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Anonymous said...

My public high school (in the USA, not Taiwan) had little bullying, and when it did happen it was generally stopped. I think this can mainly be attributed to two factors:

1) Older/higher-ranking students were given responsibilities, particularly caring for younger/lower-ranking students. During my junior and senior years I spent significant time teaching and/or supervising younger students, and even as a sophomore I had assist freshmen as well. This led to a culture where being able to care for those below you was a status marker ... and if you abused your position, you would get taken down by your peers and/or those higher than you. Meanwhile, as a freshman, I had so much respect for those above me (especially the seniors), that looking back, it astonishes me.

2) When the above system failed (as it did once in a while) the teachers AND administrators would get involved. They had significant influence over students' social standing, and they would use it to take down bullies. This of course gave students more incentive to make sure it never came to that - higher-ranking students knew it would be bad if bullying happened on their watch, and lower-ranking students knew it would be harder to rise if they were caught bullying (it was almost impossible for a bully to rise to the highest statuses). And of course the teachers were respected because of their influence ... at least, the teachers who had such influence. The teachers who had less influence over a student's social standing were much less respected by the students.

These two factors were quite intertwined. Students who were seen as good influences were assigned more responsibilities, and having more responsibilities conferred social status. Failing to earn such responsibilities because one had bullying tendencies denied one such status.


Okami said...

Bullying is widespread and pervasive. The only reason it go play from Hsinchu is that it got out as a video. It happens everyday at almost every school because from 2nd grade on every kid knows the pecking order in class. Stress out a higher performing peer and they will start to falter and you can move yourself up one notch.

The moral education bs is just a line they parrot. In Taiwan, moral education and right/wrong are like a bad haircut, they know when they see one, but they couldn't tell you what it is. Think I'm being cruel, watch the shock a person will get when you give them the right of way in your car as they try to cross the crosswalk. Better yet, ask them what moral education is, then ask them if they do it or what they will say when their parents behave badly.

Moral education works when you have a fear of retribution, hence the bad driving, the inattentive or teacher bullying students. They know perfectly well you can't do anything to them.

I also agree resources should be more equitably distributed between schools. It might relieve some of the testing pressure.

I deal with and motivate junior high school students as part of my job teaching GEPT. As long as I have the enough class time or support from Taiwanese coteacher things go pretty smoothly. Some of their school stories can be highly entertaining.

Anonymous said...



" I teach at one of the better universities on the *island and the students are uniformly excellent."


Next time please write: I teach at one of the *nation's better universities and the students are uniformly excellent.

sent in by committee to stop use of [ISLAND] in blogs and media

Anonymous said...


•What's Up Taiwan out is actually contracted out to the KMT learning China Post newspaper as a weekly feature and is sponsored by the KMT learning NIA, National Immigration Agency, and the writers of the WUT stories are all pisspoor lackeys of the KMT leaning China Post and you are pushinng that soft propaganda here?

Michael Turton said...

Next time please write: I teach at one of the *nation's better universities and the students are uniformly excellent.

I live on an island. I don't live in a nation, but on an island whose status is undetermined and has been since 1952. No nation rules Taiwan nor does it at this point in time constitute a recognized nation among the world's nations, though we both hope it will someday.

Stop writing this to me until the idea of what Taiwan is becomes clear in your own mind.