Imagine yourself on the shores of your ancestral homeland, where your parents and grandparents grew up, where the stories you heard as a child took place. Imagine that you’ve returned to find new opportunities and old connections. Imagine the soaring hopes such a rare and wonderful chance might give a young person in search of their place in the world. Now imagine being turned down for every job simply because of the color of your skin.
Unfortunately, this is not just an imagined story – it is one of many real stories. There is an all too common phenomenon in Taiwan, and across much of Asia, whereby English teachers are chosen more for their looks than their abilities. “Caucasians Only,” read job adverts online. “No ABCs (American-born Chinese).” These explicitly discriminatory practices result in many skilled, willing and able foreigners being passed over for teaching jobs in favour of their white counterparts. Teachers of Asian, Latin or African heritage find themselves at a disadvantage even when English is their first language. But there is another set of people that are losing out terribly when we stand back and watch as unapologetic discrimination twists our classrooms into a narrow shape: our students.
I could describe to you the problems that inevitably occur when inexperienced teachers hired more for their skin color than their qualifications take the lectern across Taiwan, but there’s something much worse to worry about. What bothers me the most about the racism in private education is the message this sends to our younger generation.
Anyone who has worked in the educational field can tell you all about modelling, about how children learn most of their life lessons through simple observation. Teachers, parents, older siblings, and all adults across the community hand down thousands of lessons to children each day and they aren’t even aware of it! “Do as I say, not as I do,” is an instructional strategy long abandoned, and for good reason. Students need role models. And it’s up to us—all of us—to provide the best example we can.
Giving students of Asian heritage the false impression that teachers of Asian heritage are unable to teach them English is not an inspiring way to begin the day, every day. It only serves to reinforce a notion that appears to be buried deep in the psyche of many Taiwanese: that white skin is somehow ‘better,’ a mark of a success that can be emulated but never quite attained. At Teachers Against Discrimination in Taiwan (TADIT), we have a different vision: a vision of a world and of a Taiwan that is inclusive, welcoming, supportive, and uplifting for all members of the community. We believe that children know and understand the essential values of fairness and equitability—but we also know that they need our guidance to learn how to put these values into practice.
Each of us who is a part of Teachers Against Discrimination in Taiwan has a personal story that has brought us towards working together. Some of us faced rejection after rejection, despite our high hopes in embracing the land of our parents. Some of us left difficult job markets back home in order to find new opportunities in a dynamic and growing region, only to discover that the old civil rights struggles haven’t ended—or seemingly even begun—in our host country. Some of us have simply grown tired of working in environments that do not sit comfortably with our most deeply held beliefs. We know that things can change, and that Taiwan can be stronger and better and more inclusive. That’s why we have set out to share our positive message. We’re not here to cast stones. We’re here to build a new house, with room for all of us.
At the end of the day, a teacher’s mission is to empower their learners to succeed. If the adults in the Taiwanese community are denied access to success despite possessing the exact same tools—the English language—we are giving our students, what sense does it make to teach these skills in the first place? Further, it is very damaging to teach our children to take on an “us vs. them” mentality. The world is full of all kinds of people, and English is a language that has the potential to unite us across our differences. Eliminating those differences at a child’s first exposure to the language is not an effective preparation for experience in the world. Instead, we have an invaluable opportunity to open doors for our children as they take their first big steps from the classroom door to the massive and diverse international community waiting for them. I know that no matter what happens, teachers of all backgrounds in Taiwan will continue to work their hardest to elevate their students, and I hope all of us can reach back and do the same for our teachers.