“Should the province of Quebec become a separate country from Canada?” It was a big question in 1980-90’s when I was growing up. In grade 9 history class our teacher decided to use it as a way to teach us about debate and also make us aware of what is going on in the country, at the time. I was told to argue on the “yes” side even though I was strongly opposed to it.
I remember the class over 30 years later because I learned a lot from it. I spent a lot of time reading everything I could about the question. I read many English language newspapers from Quebec. The main reason why there was support for independence was because of a fear of the French language and culture disappearing in North America due to the overwhelming English influences. I learned, the Quebec government felt by becoming independent they would be in a better position to protect their language and culture. In the end, I was still not convinced independence was a good idea but I had the chance to learn about the other side.
This kind of learning opportunity will not happen in Hong Kong because those in charge fear the conversation and do not trust teachers to be professional.
Last Sunday, the Education Bureau issued a statement saying “no pro-independent advocacy or activities should appear in schools and any organization which serves to promote [Hong Kong’s] independence must be banned.” It went on to say the only way to discuss it is framing it through Basic Law meaning from only one point of view. Bureau has threatened teachers by saying they will not renew teaching certificates of anyone who was advocating for Hong Kong’s independence in the classroom.
There is a thin line between advocating and discussing for many, and so the conversation will not happen in the classroom. If I were a secondary school teacher and had been in the past, I wouldn’t touch the topic with this kind of threat.
Primary and Secondary School Teachers should not have political opinions in the classroom. If they do, they should be let go. However, they should encourage discussion and debate. They do need to guide, free thinking, problem-solving, and the rules for talking about an issue.
If anything, there should be more discussion in schools about what is going on in our communities with teachers helping students understand all sides.
Hong Kong is becoming more polarized between localists, pro-democracy and pro-establishment camps. It is important for our students to know and understand where each side is coming from. Students need to learn how to have a conversation with someone they disagree with. They need to know how discuss not fight about an issue.
As for my class 30 years ago, we switched the following week. I had a chance to debate the ‘no’ side of Quebec’s independence. Our government trusted our teachers to be professional. To teach students how important it is to understand all points of view on an issue.