I finally had a chance to take a closer look at some excerpts of the now infamous Hong Kong primary school textbooks said to propagate racist stereotypes, if not outright racism.
You can see some of the excerpts here.
So I thought I would weigh in with some thoughts. To be honest, until I had children of my own, I did not spend too much time thinking about these issues. I was just glad my own school years were long past and happy never to look back. Of course, I was aware of several controversies regarding school textbooks in Hong Kong. As a higher education teacher I was also acutely aware of the kind of education offered at primary and secondary level, i.e. rote learning with a rather disciplinarian tinge. The mottos seem to be that the teacher is always right, never question the teacher, and certainly never question the textbook. I spent many years trying to undo this sort of mindset in my tertiary students – with mixed success. However, what really got me thinking, aside from having had kids of my own, was when a good friend told me how upset he was about his young ones’ being forced to recite the names of certain politicians in preschool. Since that time, I have had a very strong conviction not to send my kids to local schools. The rote learning I can deal with (or at least try and undo at home). This sort of indoctrination not so much.
And now this latest revelation. So basically, in the eyes of the textbook writers, all of whom are presumably Han Chinese, people from different parts of the world are meant to have certain skin colours and also other “common characteristics”. Those “common characteristics” are said to include physical characteristics such as size of nose or lips, but also other types of characteristics. Teachers are English, Maids are Filipino, Sushis chefs are Japanese. There are also pages of photos of people whom pupils are supposed to assign races to. The thought that we should be teaching our kids that it does not matter what anyone looks like, and that it has no bearing on who they are, what they do and where they come from, seems to be a completely alien concept to the textbook writers. In fact, here is something else they have put in the book:
“People of different races live in different parts of the world. They have different physical characteristics and are often classed into the white, black, brown and yellow races by their skin colour.”
What is even more shocking is that, having gone through book writing and publishing processes on many occasions, I know first hand that there are various levels of scrutiny applied before a book goes to the printers. And no one felt like flagging up these issues?