Friday, 18 March 2016

When HK Education Becomes Banality of Evil

When HK Education Becomes Banality of Evil
Translated by Chen-t'ang 鎮棠, written by May Lau (劉倩) @ Jumbo 48.4, HKBU
Original: http://issuu.com/_hkbusueb/docs/jumbo48.4/1 
[Translator's note: not being sexist, man/men here refers to human being in general.]

What Makes Man?
The definition of education varies in different schools, and I agree what John Dewey, an American educator, proposed - education is needed to train the people to have independent thinking and sensibility, so as to reform the society and build democracy in people's mind, and this, is individual subjectivity. Education is treated as a basic human right in a civil society. Convention on the Rights of the Child Article 28 said "States Parties recognize the right of the child to education, and with a view to achieving this right progressively and on the basis of equal opportunity".

The Book of Rites said, "Generally speaking, that which makes man man is the meaning of sense of propriety and justice." Though I share Mencius' view of "Men at their birth are naturally good", sense of propriety, justice, honesty and honour need a long time to be motivated (except those emotionally detached). The fundamentals of teaching is to make a man a man, or in Mandarin chengren, which means to be a conscientious man. The teaching must be started when they are young. People now send their children to receive education in schools. Such education means teachers, who have received professional training, will deliver values to children. School and teachers play important roles in the children's development.

The Inferiority of Hong Kong's Education: Banality of Evil
The most ridiculous thing about Hong Kong's education is nothing wakes up the individual subjectivity of the students. Rome is not built in a day, and the failure of Hong Kong's educational system has accumulated for a long time, causing a fundemental institutional problem. The education system is ossified, schools and parents are overemphasizing exams and results without much care about sense of benevolence, justice or propriety. Students have no choice but become the sacrifices of such distorted education system.
The education system in Hong Kong makes me think of banality of evil - that means no thinking, not thinking of people nor the society. Evilness is banal, and everyone might fall into this trap. Some people are willing to give up their own free will to assimilate themselves into the system and follow its arrangement, and would not speak a word for the hidden immorality. Such people would use all sorts of excuses to rationalize their moral faults. These people are but horrible, because they look the same as normal people do, but when they commit crimes, the consequences are unimaginable. The most evil of human being is not to think and to blindly follow.

The concept of "banality of evil" was mentioned by Hannah Arendt, an American philosophist, in 1963 in her book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. She illustrated that these "criminals" are not unpardonably wicked, and sometimes even quite conscientious (like helping old ladies on zebra crossings), but they commit crimes when they do not think and feel responsible. When Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi killer, faced with the charge against humanity, he said he was just a law-abiding person and all he did was to execute his duties. Eichmann said his role in the Final Solution (Endlösung) was just incidental, and any other people under his situation would execute tasks delegated by Hitler.

When Education Becomes Banality of Evil
System is a double-edge sword. Whether it is well used depends on the people inside a system. The biggest problem of Hong Kong's educational system is "quantifying everything" by looking at numbers in exams and assessments. Policy makers, executers and participants do not think. Secretary for Education Eddie Ng, who said he reads 30 books a month, quantifies his reading habit into number of books read; schools, who worry parents choosing other schools, would quantify the school achievement by how many score achievers in HKDSE. The education in Hong Kong has entered an era when nothing else but quantification is important.

First, talk about territory-wide assessment (TSA). TSA initially intends to evaluate the school's education policy, provide data for the school and teachers to improve its teaching, and let the Education Bureau evaluate the schools' qualities. Many schools worry that they will be eliminated or culled, so this burden is transferred to the shoulders of students. I do not know the reason behind - must the results of students reflect the teaching quality of a school or a teacher? Does good results in students reflect good teaching? Does good teaching (or not) depend on the good results? Since primary schools, students are carrying such burden to achieve the goals set by teachers and schools, and completing exercise books one by one as if they were robots. Eventually, students and parents can no longer take it, and call for complete eradication of TSA.

Then, the public exams. In the past there were HKALE and HKCEE, and now there is HKDSE. Studying is for exams. How many things can students remember and use it for their whole lives, instead of returning to their teachers once they are outside the exam halls? With such ideology in mind, schools become "input-output" factories. Students are input with formula - "studying is for scoring marks, or you cannot get in universities". Students live under such distorted system, and some high achievers cannot even take care of themselves, not to mention "lofty ideals".

Blind Obedience - When Education Becomes the Tool for Training Skills
The education in Hong Kong does not need nor allow us to think or to ask but to absorb knowledge and become puppets. Education becomes a tool to train skills and ensure capitalism to run on. Students are raw materials, and eventually become parts which cannot function on themselves, as they need to work with other parts - they can never become an independent individual. Schools are places producing parts in a closed circuit. As Michel Foucault said, "In every society, the body was in the grip of very strict powers, which imposed on it constraints, prohibitions or obligations." (Discipline and Punish, p136, 1977 Vintage Books) In schools, students are domesticated by authority.

Under the education system in Hong Kong, students can barely think, or if they wish, they do not know how to think outside the box. Most of the time they think inside the box of Examination and Assessment Authority (HKEAA). When they recite model answer from famous tutors, speculate markers' thoughts when answering "open-ended questions", they can get high marks. The banality of evil in Hong Kong's education is not because of students' ignorance, but rather, lack of thinking ability or willingness to think, because in schools, when you follow the authority, you get awards. And so, the younger generation becomes willing to assimilate their personal will into the system, and neglect the injustice of the system, thus growing the seeds of banality of evil.

What HK Teachers Teach Is to Compromise - System Is Bigger than Justice

I think what Hong Kong teachers teach is to compromise. Why I would conclude so? I watched an episode of Below The Lion Rock 2015, a RTHK TV programme. The female leading role, Yip Hiu-yuet, stood out for the classmate bullied by the bully, but was avenged by the bully. The teacher, without understanding the complete story, punished and insulted Yip physically. The bully and her father even said they will charge Yip. The teacher worried that Yip, who will be troubled by the lawsuit, will affect the school reputation, so the teacher demanded Yip to apologise to the bully and her father. The teacher did not teach students to stand out for injustice, but rather wanted Yip to play this down and compromise. Such "roll-with-the-punches" attitude would distort justice and treat this as normal -- that is the abnormal point. Students will treat teachers as authoritative yardsticks and social norms are delivered through and confirmed by teachers. The teacher has shown the ordinary education culture in Hong Kong - students should not resist but succumb to the fact.

There are many real life examples. In the 2013 Kei Chun Primary School tragedy (where a 10-year-old girl fell from 5th floor but teachers failed to respond promptly and causing her death), a seemingly good teacher did such hysteric thing (calling St Johns, 6.9 km away instead of dialling 999 and asking for an ambulance from Margaret Hospital, which is 1.5 km away). The school and teachers succumbed to "the protection of school reputation". During the death inquiry, the teachers even said "all were following established procedures". The seemingly good teacher become murderer, because she followed the procedures and the arrangement, and put system above justice.

Reshape the Role of Teachers as Social Intellectuals
To be honest, the system cannot be changed in a day, but the people inside the system can be the key. Teachers, as social intellectuals, are not only responsible for teaching, but changing the society. Teachers have to jump out of the box of "I am just a teacher", and should remain critical to the injustice in the school and the society, and pass this mindset to students, so as to foster social transformation. This is critical pedagogy, which advocates students should have the critical thinking, to think independently and solve problems. Students can have different points of views from real life problems, so they can get away with those rigid models, and think about men and the society.

Conclusion
George Orwell's 1984 warns the world how terrible an authoritarian regime is. If people still face the society with the none-of-my-business attitude, then they would be banality of evil too, as they become puppets manipulated by others. Hong Kong education should not be in this way, and Hongkongers should not be in this way. We should hold our conscience, and probably this is the only thing we can do for Hong Kong.

Reference: Hannah Arendt, Shek Chun-yin, Alex Hui, Tsang Wing-kwong

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