Tag Archives: China

Effective Civic Education…In Hong Kong

What is the purpose of civic education?

I could argue–indeed, I have argued–that people who don’t understand the basic structure of their country’s government lack personal efficacy. They don’t know where to go to get their problems with officialdom solved, for one thing.

The argument focused on democratic self-government is obvious: people who don’t know how the system is supposed to work aren’t prepared to cast informed votes.

These observations are true, but incomplete. A recent article in the New York Times reminded me that civic ignorance also aids and abets autocracy. The article reported on Beijing’s belief that civics education has contributed to the uprising in Hong Kong .

HONG KONG — They are sitting in orderly rows, wearing neatly pressed uniforms. But in this class, as they debate the merits of democracy and civil rights, Hong Kong high school students are prompting Beijing to worry that they are increasingly out of control.

The mandatory civics course known here as liberal studies has been a hallmark of the curriculum in Hong Kong for years, and students and teachers say the point is to make better citizens who are more engaged with society.

But mainland Chinese officials and pro-Beijing supporters say the prominence of the city’s youth at recent mass protests is the clearest sign yet that this tradition of academic freedom has gone too far, giving rise to a generation of rebels.

It is certainly the case that both university and high-school students have been active participants in the current protests.  And according to the article, students are planning class boycotts intended to ramp up pressure on the government to enact universal suffrage and fully withdraw the contentious extradition bill that triggered the current uprisings.[Update: the government has fully withdrawn the extradition bill, so to that extent, the protests were successful.]

On the mainland, China approaches education as indoctrination.

China’s ruling Communist Party has long seen education as a crucial ideological tool for nurturing loyal citizens. Under Xi Jinping, the country’s authoritarian leader, the party has ramped uppatriotic education on the mainland, helping shape one of the most nationalistic generations of youth that the country has seen in years.

The U.S. has its share of “patriots” who also believe that the nation’s schools should be a venue for inculcating the “proper” perspectives and values. We have an even larger percentage of lawmakers who equate education with job training, and dismiss the importance of a liberal education and the creation of knowledgable , participating citizens.

We have far too many politicians who would enthusiastically agree with Xu Luying, who was quoted in the article:

“There is indeed a problem with the national education of Hong Kong’s youth,” said Xu Luying, a spokeswoman for the Chinese government’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, at a news conference last month. “Passionately loving the country and passionately loving the motherland should be taught in the first class in school.”

In fact, the critique of Hong Kong’s civics course sounds depressingly familiar. In recent surveys, Republicans have soured on higher education, and make similar accusations.

Many educators and democracy advocates in Hong Kong say the course teaches students to be analytical and objective, even when it comes to examining the party’s flaws. To present a distorted version of history, they argue, is to undermine the intellectual rigor of a system that has consistently ranked among the top in global education indexes.

“They want to make young people dumber and less aware,” said Hoi Wai-hang, 38, who has taught liberal studies for 10 years.

But pro-Beijing officials have accused liberal studies of stoking anti-mainland sentiment.

Some, like Mr. Tung, the former Hong Kong leader, blame the curriculum. Others, including the Hong Kong Island Chaoren Association, a community organization with pro-Beijing views, blame the teachers. The group said in July that students should not have to take liberal studies classes at school because they could be swayed by the political beliefs of their teachers.

The conflict over civics instruction in Hong Kong has highlighted what the article calls “the increasingly untenable contradiction” between academic freedom as a core value and ideological control.

That contradiction isn’t limited to China and Hong Kong.

 

I Guess We Won’t Always Have Paris….

When I read that Trump intends to exit the Paris accords, all I could think of was that famous line from Casablanca, “We’ll always have Paris.”

Well, evidently, we won’t.

Permit me to deconstruct Trump’s gift to China, a gift that comes on the heels of his large assist to Putin’s geopolitical ambitions, thanks to his conspicuously lukewarm show of support for NATO.

Stephanie Rule posed an interesting–and illuminating–question to her panel during yesterday’s news broadcast: Since the Paris Accords have no mechanism for enforcement, why exit? If the Administration is convinced that pursuit of a particular goal is inconsistent with American economic interests, why not simply refrain from pursuing that goal?

The answer can be found in Trump’s ego and his animus toward Barack Obama. Failing to enforce a particular element of the Paris agreement would accomplish what Trump says is his goal: protecting American interests (at least as he defines them). But it wouldn’t generate the attention he so obviously craves. And it wouldn’t be yet another public attack on Obama’s legacy.

I’m not a psychiatrist (and I don’t play one on TV), so I don’t know the genesis of Trump’s obvious hatred of Obama. Jealousy is clearly a big part, and I suspect it is magnified by racism: How dare this uppity you-know-what garner the obvious respect and admiration of world leaders who snicker at Trump? How dare he draw far larger crowds? It’s insupportable.

Whatever the psychiatric explanation, Trump’s animus toward Obama and his egomaniacal need to be the center of attention have done significant damage to America’s stature in the world, and that damage is not limited to our moral leadership. His disastrous first international trip convinced our longtime allies that America is currently headed by someone too erratic and ignorant to be trusted. (Think about that when you have to get a visa for your next trip to Europe–a document that was not previously required of U.S. citizens. At least when you return, getting through customs should be a snap: tourism to the United States has dropped dramatically since Trump’s election.)

Power vacuums don’t last; when one country’s global influence ebbs, other countries fill the void. Over the past several years, China has moved aggressively to increase its global reach from South Asia to Africa. Google “China’s growing global influence” and you get thousands of links to articles documenting the country’s strategies and global investments.

In contrast to the Trump Administration’s peevish anti-science posture, China is moving (with most other developed nations of the world)  to shift its economy to clean energy.

As 2017 begins, China is poised to leap ahead of the United States on clean energy to become the most important player in the global market. Last year, China increased its foreign investment in renewables by 60 percent to reach a record $32 billion, according to a new report from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. This includes 11 new overseas investment deals worth more than $1 billion each.

China’s new Going Global strategy for renewable energy was an important instigator of its huge increase in foreign investment in 2016. This is part of a broader picture of overseas investment. Last year, China showed its regional strength by establishing the Asia Infrastructure & Investment Bank and pouring money into the BRICS’ New Development Bank, which made its first loans, all for renewable energy.

And in contrast to Trump’s doomed effort to prop up a dying coal industry, China is generating economic growth through its commitment to renewable energy.

Looking at the entire economy, not just foreign investment, China regularly outspends the United States on renewable energy. It invested more than $100 billion in clean energy in 2015, more than double U.S. investment, which spurred robust job growth. Of the 8.1 million renewable energy jobs that exist globally, 3.5 million are in China, compared to less than one million in the United States. And China’s National Energy Administration projects that new investment from 2016 to 2020 will create 13 million jobs in the renewable energy sector.

People around the world used to study English in the belief that an ability to communicate with the dominant world power was important. I wonder how many people are studying Chinese these days….

This Blew My Mind

A former student–President of the Chamber of Commerce in his small Indiana town–sent me a link to this Ted Talk.

There are several “nits” one might pick, but it is a fascinating argument, and well worth the 20 minutes it takes to listen. At the very least, it’s a reproach to arrogant assumptions about the way others should live….

That said, it brings to mind an important point raised by Fareed Zakaria in his book The Future of Freedom: the issue is not democracy, it is liberty. Living under the tyranny of a majority is not appreciably different than living under the tyranny of an autocrat. There can be a wide variety of mechanisms for making decisions about governing. We should judge them not just by their effect on the material well-being of the governed, but by the degree to which they respect fundamental individual rights.

Thus Spake the Profits

We do seem to live in the Age of Hypocrisy.

A Facebook friend posted a comment about Hobby Lobby, the craft store chain headquartered in Oklahoma. Like Chik-fil-A, the chain makes much of its Christian values, closing on Sundays and, most recently, suing the Obama Administration over the mandate to include contraceptive coverage as part of the health insurance offered to employees.

“Next time you hear someone defend Hobby Lobby’s extremist stance on birth control and health insurance law, try this little thought exercise. Go to a Hobby Lobby and make a small inventory of every item they sell that’s made in China. Yes, the same China that has MANDATORY FORCED ABORTIONS. Then ask a salesperson why Hobby Lobby’s commitment to Christianity extends to how their employees live their lives but not to where they get their inventory from.”

Seems like a reasonable question to me.