The now-regular sit-ins, blocked public transportation, blocked roads, rallies, vandalism, marches, shows of disrespect of national symbols, skirmishes with the police and other anti-social forms of public protest in Hong Kong are now relayed in real time to screens around the world, thanks to the wonders of modern technology. These disturbing images can, when they lapse into violent actions — as they regularly do — portray Hong Kong in a very negative light on the international stage. What was once one of the world’s safest cities has, by such indiscriminate violent disturbances, become markedly less safe, even if only in terms of perception, over the last three months.
Many of the black-shirted protesters are young, of university age. Indeed, many of them are in fact university students protesting about their worries and uncertainties about their future. It is perfectly legitimate for them to voice their concerns in peaceful marches and the like. What is certainly not acceptable, although now sadly all too common here, is for their protests to seriously disrupt the lives of ordinary citizens, such as by closing our airport, destroying traffic lights, digging up the pavements for bricks to be thrown at the police who are struggling to keep order, and even vandalizing public property and paralyzing our public transport systems.
University students, as with all adult citizens, can and should express their views on government policies and actions. But their recent attempt to encourage our secondary school pupils to boycott their lessons at school to join their protests is simply beyond the pale. Most school pupils do not have the vote; they will only get that when they reach the age of 18. The reason for this restriction is that they are generally held to be insufficiently mature at age17 or younger to have the right to vote in elections because of their still-developing judgment skills. Furthermore, their knowledge of, and interest in, politics is also likely to be not fully developed at school age. It is surely inappropriate for youngsters aged below the voting age to be bamboozled or brainwashed by older, committed other people into adopting pressure tactics such as boycotting their classes or joining street protests. Worse still, such political protests always have an element of risk in degenerating into street violence, clashes with the police, disruption of the social order, and even vandalism to make their point.
A child’s life should be exactly that. We may hope that they can be carefree — certainly not politically active at such a tender age, when their general knowledge is inadequate and political discernment still developing. Our schools already do too much to overburden the lives of Hong Kong school pupils, such as by setting way too much daily homework. Well-meaning parents often further limit the free time — the playtime — of their teenage offspring by enrolling them in after-school tutorial courses. As it is, many children have too-limited time available here to enjoy that level of freedom from cares that a healthy childhood should offer.
Let their (schoolchildren) childhood remain a period of innocence and be preoccupied with things befitting their growing-up period. It is not only selfish, but dangerous, for teachers to egg their students into political activism to advance their own politics. Teachers who do that are basically distorting the political picture when they are in reality merely using their students to jack up the numbers of their purported supporters for their cause, whatever that might be
Seeking to drag school pupils into this adult world of anti-government protests and punch-ups does them a disservice. It is better for them not to get involved too early in politics, especially when they are generally still too young to understand the various arguments over the abortive fugitive-extradition bill, which triggered our unprecedented social turmoil. They will have a lifetime ahead of them, by which time they will, we hope, have developed the necessary levels of maturity of judgment based on sufficient general knowledge to contribute to constructive debates about the current hot controversies that have engulfed Hong Kong over the last three months.
Let’s not distract them from their studies, and spare them the confusion and aggravation of politics, and certainly not force them to take sides. Urging them to boycott classes simply is a big step too far for such a tender age.
Let their childhood remain a period of innocence and be preoccupied with things befitting their growing-up period. It is not only selfish, but dangerous, for teachers to egg their students into political activism to advance their own politics. Teachers who do that are basically distorting the political picture when they are in reality merely using their students to jack up the numbers of their purported supporters for their cause, whatever that might be.
Some politically aware but misguided teachers are apparently egging on their school pupils to join them in becoming more involved in the current political struggles under the pretext of promoting democracy. This distorted teaching of civic affairs by getting the students directly involved while sacrificing their studies must not be condoned. The classroom must not be used by teachers to promote their political agendas. It would constitute a clear violation of their calling if they did. And the young school kids would be left more bewildered than enlightened, even though they may not know, having also been exploited.
The author is a university lecturer and a veteran commentator on Hong Kong affairs.
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