ATII Missionary Teachers on Education in Taiwan

A missionary/teacher in the ATII rural education program recently wrote me about what I’ve been writing about their mission. She doesn’t want to be identified by name, so I will honour her request. But the contents of her mails were so enlightening about the mindset of the people in the program that I have to write about it.

I found the contents of her mails to be not only uniformed, but also offensive. Most of the people I have spoken to who share her imperialistic attitude toward Taiwan have been drunk and involved in illegal activities in Taiwan.

I have to reiterate my point that I am much less upset about the religious message of their program than I am about the fact that the people working in it are clearly working illegally. I mentioned this to Miss X in my reply to her initial mail,

I’m not as concerned about the religious aspects of the mission as he (Michael Turton) is. My major concern is that despite what you may have been told, the work you are doing is almost certainly illegal. I have been told by other ATII missionary/teachers that you do not have work permits. If that is true, it doesn’t matter if you are called ‘assistants’ instead of ‘teachers’, or if your pay is called a ‘stipend’ instead of a ‘salary’. If you were doing the same job in another part of Taiwan, you would be deported. In fact, last summer, a foreign translator was deported for a much less serious visa violation.

Her reply completely ignored the main point of the comment that she is an illegal worker, and instead focused on the fact that I am Canadian and should therefore have no voice in education in Taiwan. She states, “I understand your concern perfectly. and to be sincerely honest, its not your problem. Its the Taiwan Government’s problem.” and if that wasn’t clear enough, she repeated the message in a different part of the mail, ” I think your ideas are good, but your not the one to carry them out. Your Canadian not Taiwanese.”

To be honest about this, when I read these remarks, I felt sick. I can only feel that my ATII contact has the impression that I have no right to have a public opinion about education in Taiwan because I am White. But I assure her that this is incorrect. I have lived in Taiwan for almost 10 years. My wife is Taiwanese, as will be my children. I am a full-time faculty member at a major university and have been examined by the Ministry of Education. Such positions in Taiwan are more akin to working in the civil service than are university instructors in the US or Canada — but then, why would I expect a 19-year-old Christian missionary in Taiwan for a couple of weeks to know such matters? There is also the issue of where I work. I teach in a program which has as its mission the preparation of teachers for commercial and public schools. So regardless of what my friend from ATII thinks, it is my job to be concerned about education in Taiwan and both the Ministry and my university expect this!

But this wasn’t the end of our friend’s interpretation of education in Taiwan. She wrote, “I really do understand your concerns. But no teachers WANT to come to (The place where she teaches), we are it.” This is quite a surprise to me. I had always believed that there were numerous public school teachers in the county in which she is teaching, as well as at least one national university with a department of over 100 students preparing to be English teachers. Not only have rural county governments had no problem finding teachers for their schools, there are thousands of licenced teachers left over. I guess what she really meant was White teachers of English, but I can assure her that local teachers are just as good and many of them can even teach English quite well. And what’s more is that many of them are willing to teach, at least temporarily in remote places.

But in the end, it all comes down to the question of whether or not their students want them there. Miss X. justifies her role here by claiming, “My students and my teachers want me here, of this I am sure.” Of course they do, they want anything they get, since the government is refusing to properly help rural regions. I’m just not sure that this justifies illegally employing poorly trained, marginally educated individuals to work in schools. Of course they want you, but it’s not you that they need. They need proper teachers and proper schools. They need schools like the ones that you attended and that students in urban Taiwan are attending right now. Of course they want you; they would accept English lessons from criminals if that was all they could get. This is a terrible argument used to justify all kinds of things from the sex industry to drug dealing, the only difference being that customers of prostitutes are a little more honest about the choices that prostitutes have.


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