Kids not taught about horrific history
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Kids not taught about horrific history

The inappropriate action and dress of BNK48 singer Pichayapa
The inappropriate action and dress of BNK48 singer Pichayapa "Namsai" Natha at a televised rehearsal turned into global notoriety and then tears as the photos and screen caps (above) appeared online. (Photo via FB/Drama-addict)

The 19-year-old BNK48 singer, Pichayapa "Namsai" Natha, could not have been the only one who was unintentionally insensitive to the World War II holocaust when she wore a T-shirt featuring a Nazi flag with a swastika during a rehearsal last Friday.

She is among the majority of us, domestically educated Thais, who know little about World War II and the massacre of more than six million Jews. Our school textbooks just give us a patchy tour to this chapter of world history.

The genocide at the hands of Nazis is not the only page of history that has largely gone missing in our school textbooks. The 1976 student massacre in Thailand, the 1975-1979 Cambodian genocide carried out by the Khmer Rouge regime and the long, costly and divisive Vietnam War from 1955-1975 -- to name but a few -- also do not have their place in the "history subject" of our compulsory education.

Surasak Glahan is Deputy Editorial Pages Editor, Bangkok Post.

As a result, we have not learned much from past atrocities, or social values, hate speeches, ruling leaders and propaganda that had driven those awful pages of history. Consequently, we are prone to repeat similar crimes.

Learning about and reflecting on these histories in school, at the young age, could have helped nurture generations of Thais who are more tolerant, less ignorant, less xenophobic and non-fascistic. Why? It could offer us a developed understanding about the mistakes in the past. When we are young, we tend to look at them with an unbiased mind, seeing objectively why and how those horrendous crimes took place, and why that kind of incident should no longer be tolerated.

But our education policymakers have dictated otherwise about how Thai students should revisit histories.

Our history courses in primary and secondary schools merely touch upon the national "triumphant" pages of the past when the country conquered its neighbouring enemies. Worse still, the education policymakers only let us recite and memorise chronological events and dry facts about those events without encouraging open discussion and debate about them.

Such typical teaching of history in school paints Thailand as a semi-utopian territory to young students, instead of letting them learn from the country's past mistakes. So don't be surprised if many of us are still clueless about the October 1976 massacre when state forces and far-right paramilitaries attacked student protesters on the campus of Thammasat University.

And don't be surprised if there are still people who may laugh at the notorious "chair" picture, which shows bystanders cheering on and laughing at the scene of a man raising a chair to beat a dead body hung on a tamarind tree at Sanam Luang on Oct 6, 1976. During past years, we still have seen a similar type of crowd who laughed at or ignored tragic incidents of political protesters being killed or jailed, notably during the colour-coded political conflict.

About 100 people died during the crackdown of red-shirt protesters in the heart of Bangkok in 2010. But this is not a big deal among many Thais who viewed those protesters as "the other".

Many people have been jailed for sharing "fake news" or expressing their thoughts on social media. Many poor forest dwellers have been forced out of lands they lived on for generations because the state later declared them national parks. None of these have resulted in a massive public outcry calling for more just and tolerant laws and law enforcement.

In fact, Thailand might not have been trapped into this political turmoil or might not have been ruled by authoritarian regimes over and over again if our educators let us learn not just about these awful histories but also other social subjects such as human rights and ethics.

Sadly,when it comes to social science learning in the compulsory education, the Ministry of Education has so long dictated the priorities for us: Subjects that promote nationalism, patriotism, conformity and Buddhism.

After many countless history lessons, have young students actually learnt from the past?

Speaking of untaught atrocities: A relative of a victim of the October 1976 massacre lays flowers at the Oct 6 memorial ground inside Thammasat University. (File photo by Patipat Janthong)

As dry and recital as history courses are Buddhism classes. I have few friends from school who said Buddhism was their favourite subject. It was a boring, compulsory subject that rarely provided meaningful insight and understanding about the religion. I do believe that much of our learning about Buddhism has something to do with our participation in community ceremonies and our direct interaction with monks and temples, rather than those mandatory classes.

In fact, even though Thailand has not officially recognised Buddhism as a national religion, our education system seems to have done otherwise. Other religions do not have that prominent attention in classrooms even though there are many Thais who are not Buddhists.

So instead of dedicating unproductive numerous hours of school learning on Buddhism, should we rather reallocate the time for subjects that could help polish the mind, develop the thoughts and open the eyes of our young people on topics such as human rights and ethics?

And I don't mean "human rights" in the typical Thainess context that the state thinks we should embrace it, but in a context that promotes the acceptance of each others' rights, respect for diversity and differences and intolerance to discrimination, among other universal values.

Replacing Buddhism with ethics learning can help our school produce students, who are not submissive to state-dictated "good" values, but ones who can form logical and objective judgements.

More importantly, if we replace those countless hours of classroom study on the feel-good histories with the forgotten pages such as the October 1976 massacre and the World War II holocaust, our young generations would have understood how horrific the outcome of a hate crime can be.

Disappointingly, changes to the Thai school textbooks seems to be too much for many fact deniers at the Education Ministry. For example, in the wake of the BNK48 singer incident, Nitsuda Apinuntaporn, an official at the ministry's Basic Education Commission, said there's no need to improve the history curriculum.

The fact that many of us have conveniently embraced authoritative and dictatorial military rulings over and over again speak volumes about what kind of education that has shaped our society.

Of course, there are other factors that shape our thinking and behaviour, but education is still one of them.

We may have to admit that the education system could have fostered an ignorant and non-tolerant Thai society. And the BNK48 singer has done us a favour by putting it into the spotlight.

Surasak Glahan

Deputy Op-ed Editor

Surasak Glahan is deputy op-ed pages editor, Bangkok Post.

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