Interview: 'How Can I Teach Without my Principles?'

As the Hong Kong government prepares to extend its crackdown on public dissent into the city’s primary and secondary schools, staff will be told to report students chanting pro-democracy slogans, holding hands in human chains, or engaging in other activities deemed in breach of a draconian national security law imposed on the city by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Teachers will also soon be required to replace Liberal Studies, a schools-based critical thinking program blamed by Beijing for youth involvement in recent protests, with “national education” highlighting the achievements of the People’s Republic of China under CCP rule. A Hong Kong Liberal Studies teacher who gave only a surname Au told RFA that the changes are making him consider emigrating:

RFA: Why are you considering emigrating?

Au: Have you seen the [new] course content, that stuff about the national flag, the national emblem in a quiz for primary school students? Shall we analyze it? One of the best things about my subject is that it teaches independent thought and critical thinking. They are going to change it into something that is quite frankly a waste of the students’ time, and reduce it to multiple-choices quizzes. The whole point of multiple choice is that there has to be a right or a wrong answer. Before this, there was room for people to hold different views and use reason to argue them. The important thing was the thinking process itself, but they don’t seem to want that any more.

RFA: What do you plan to do?

Au: I love teaching, but if I can’t hold onto my principles, I … may be forced to move to a different subject, although I can’t imagine what. How can I teach without my principles? Why would I even stay [in Hong Kong] It would be better to take the plunge and try to make a new life somewhere else, rather than to carrying on teaching as an accomplice [of the authorities], wasting my students’ time. Wouldn’t I just be hiding the truth from them if all I’m allowed to do is sing the government’s praises but never say a negative word about it? This goes against the whole point of education.

RFA: How did you come to teach Liberal Studies?

Au: I have a strong interest in education. Even back in university, [studying social sciences], I was asking my lecturers for discussion and guidance on topics relating to education. They didn’t announce the formation of the Liberal Studies program until I was in my third year of college. This was tailor-made for me; a perfect companion to social studies. It’s such a shame [that it won’t exist any more].

Reported by Man Hoi Yan for RFA’s Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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