By DJ Revival
With the recent initiative of eliminating the name “China” from government corporations in Taiwan, I interviewed Ross Kenneger – an owner of elementary age language schools – on how he feels about teaching the concept of independence.
“Taiwan exists in international limbo. Yet, one has to make comparisons and contrasts. Research Taiwan – Don’t just wing it!” He admonished. “Develop confidence about Taiwan.”
Kenneger says “Draw a map of the world on the whiteboard, color in the once British empire and tell the students about countries that have declared independence. For a child the answers are easy – a people should be able to play by their own rules and do business with whom they like, without having to pay a foreigner to do it!”
Is this a hot topic to students, I asked. Absolutely, Kenneger explained, “Use questions like “Is Taiwan, China or Taiwan?” Are they the same country?” “Did Chinese people come to Taiwan and build many new things?” Did English people go to America and build many new things?” “Is America a country?” “Should Taiwan, be Taiwan or China?” Get their attention (as so many teachers don’t) and be Socratic.
I asked him what he saw his role as when teaching concepts. “I’m a facilitator and illustrator” he responded. Kenneger has taken a poll that asks students and parents how they feel about Taiwan as a country in relation to China and America. “I am told that China is a bully and America can’t be trusted”, Kenneger reports. “In a self-defeatist voice my student Andrew said “We are too small.” Kenneger believes that, in Taiwan’s case, small is good.
Is Taiwan described as small in a bad way? I asked. Kenneger says “Yes, nobody has told them that Taiwan’s economy is the world’s 22th largest and that Taiwan has the world’s fourth largest USD reserves – 265 billion. Socially – the lack of crime and drug abuse and the quality of Medi-care – Taiwan is superior to the US. Yet, the children feel that Taiwan is not good enough. Johnny once asked “Why do only poor countries want to be friends with us?
I asked Kenneger why his students felt such. He retorted “Regardless, of how much Taiwan deserves to be part of the UN, the world will not accept Taiwan. Some students feel small.”
Kenneger said that a his student Julia asked him “Why can’t Taiwan go to the “swimming pool of countries” (as he described the UN), have we been naughty?”
I questioned Kenneger as to whether he feels that nationalism is an impediment to success for Taiwan. “It is important for children to have a firm sense of national pride. My student Mathew said “I want to be American.” A child practically denying his beginnings is a sad start,” he declared.
Can a teacher help, I asked. “Of course,” Kenneger started, “Teaching is not a ‘gig.’ A teacher should live in the student’s growth. I’m able to inform them of facts to be proud of. Compared to Athens or L.A. the air in Taipei is cleaner. Taipei is definitely much safer than any major U.S. city!”
Kenneger believes that the children are struggling for positive identity reinforcements and they need to be reminded of Taiwan’s achievements.