Magazine article Foreign Policy

We Don't Need No Education

Magazine article Foreign Policy

We Don't Need No Education

Article excerpt

It was the summer of 2012, and Hong Kong was in an uproar. The pro-Beijing government's attempts to put in place a so-called "patriotic education" curriculum--one with lessons similar to those taught in mainland China--were met with howls of protest across the city. The government claimed it was only trying to further a more thorough understanding of Chinese culture and history. Hong Kong, of course, operates under different laws that provide greater rights and freedoms than the mainland. And Hong Kongers, ever defensive of their way of life, took to the streets by the tens of thousands.

Teenagers gave impassioned speeches; students went on hunger strikes; parents cried that their children should not be brainwashed.

Did the protesters overreact? After all, the hubbub was just about textbooks--not the outright denial of free speech or another right.

In fact, a new study indicates that those decrying "thought control" were right to worry: Changes to an educational curriculum can have a profound effect on how students think.

A group of economists from universities in the United States, Hong Kong, China, and Germany set out to measure how much a government can influence the thinking of its citizenry via education. They examined changes to the mainland Chinese high school curriculum that were rolled out between 2004 and 2010, with the explicit goal of turning potentially rebellious students into upstanding members of the Communist Party's harmonious society. A 2001 Education Ministry document explained that the curriculum sought to "form in students a correct worldview, a correct view on life, and a correct value system. …

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