We have been taught from a young age that we must learn to become a responsible citizen when we grow up. To me, part of learning to be a good citizen is to learn how to stand up for what one perceives of as his/her own human rights and when such perceived rights are seen to be infringed upon, to take active steps to protest against such infringement in a rational manner ie. with arguments, supported by facts and evidence and in a non-violent way and if necessary with action, both for the protection of the interest and the right of oneself and where necessary and by extension for the protection of those interests and rights of others as members of the same society.
We must all remember that one of the most important functions of a government is to help a society to achieve a measure of justice (including social, economic and political justice) and in that context, the principle of "equality before the law" is absolutely essential. When the principle of such "equality before the law" is not respected by the government through any form of discrimination, then the "legitimacy" of any such laws so infringing this principle which is passed or intended to be passed by it can and should itself be called into question. It can be called into question because such a law, instead of helping to achieve justice for all, will itself have become an instrument of oppression. It has or may become an instrument of oppression for the simple reason that instead of promoting justice, it will help promote its very opposite, ie. injustices. If a good rational and sensible citizen perceives injustices, it will not only be his/her right to defend the principle of justice and hence equality before the law for all, it may even become his duty to do so. If the law itself becomes an unjust law eg. when it promotes inequality instead of equality,such a law itself will have become illegitimate and must be overthrown and repealed and if such an unjust law is impending, then all reasonable steps must be taken to prevent it from being passed. The justification is obvious: the law must serve justice and not itself become an instrument of injustice.
Recently, it has become a moot point whether our high school and college students should take part in sit-ins, teach-ins and protest marches because of the almost certain risk of the people of Hong Kong not getting what had been promised to them under the Basic Law, a democratically elected legislature and CE without any pre-selection by a nomination college which itself must be democratically elected.
To me, learning is a lifelong process. In all civilized societies, we start to learn once we have attained the age of reason (and for some even earlier). That is why primary school usually starts at age 7. It's common knowledge that we cannot not achieve rationality quickly and certainly not once and for all, as if we were consuming a breakfast, a lunch or a dinner. Observation shows that some may never have attained that goal even on their death bed. When people fail to learn to be rational in what they think and do and say, then in situations where there may be genuine differences of opinion on any controversial issue held by different social and political groups in the same community, they may resort to name calling, abusive language, even emotional and sometimes even physical violence or engage in some other irrational means to try to get their way. In a democratic society, people need to learn how to engage in a free and open discussion of the relevant issue by all relevant persons, with the final decision to be made on the basis of the better argument and never upon any form of coercion.
If we may rely upon our press, there are some who say that students should concentrate on their studies and not meddle in politics. On the face of it, this sounds reasonable. But upon closer inspection, there are good reasons to think that they may be wrong. Why? Politics concern everyone, students included. Politics concern their own future. Politics concern their own future rights and for some college students, their present political rights. There are some good grounds for arguing that learning about politics does not and should not start only when students attain the legal age of majority. One reason is that it may well be too late if they do not learn the basics of politics some time before they attain that age. Imagine a voter with little or no education on what an election may involve, what democracy and what representative government is, what to look for in a candidate and what to avoid etc.but are nonetheless asked to cast a vote which may affect their own future as well as the future of their family, their workmates and friends.Is it likely that in such a case, the relevant "adult" could arrive at a wise and rational decision in his/her voting behavior? It is simply unreasonable to try to argue that the students are much too young for politics because politics is too complicated and complex for them. This kind of argument is a false argument. It can be shown to be false because until they attain the age of 21, this kind of argument can always be used and if so, they will never learn. Can we reasonably expect that our students will suddenly become mature citizens capable of making good political decisions upon reaching the magical age of 21 without having had any real opportunity to learn about politics before then? It is more likely that if they do not learn about politics step by step well before attaining the age of 21, they will remain political toddlers forever.
As to what the proper age should be when students starts to learn about politics, opinions may well differ. But no matter what that age may be, I think few rational people will quarrel with the notion that the sooner students learn about the nuts and bolts of politics, the better, for the simple reason that learning inevitably includes making mistakes, mistakes which the wise will remember and learn not to repeat in future. The earlier one starts, the more time one will have to correct any mistakes one makes along the treacherous path of one's learning. In learning, one invariably falls, something we learned when we started learning how to walk when we were still a toddler. But the important thing is that after falling, we get up and learn to walk better in future and not for that reason stop learning merely because there will be an almost certain risk of further falls in the future. An additional advantage of earlier learning is that the penalty and the cost one has to pay for one's mistakes when one is younger will usually be much less heavy and one will also have much more time to gain experience in political decision making and if one were to make a mistake, to take the needed remedial measures.
In my opinion, one should never lightly give up any opportunity to learn because in the long run, it is much better to be educated than to remain ignorant, for the benefit of the relevant individual as well as for the benefit of society as a whole because ultimately what is a society if not an aggregate of individuals? One of the best ways to learn something is to learn it hands-on, through doing it. That is the basis of our age-old apprenticeship system. How does one learn to make good decisions? The same principle will apply: through learning to make actual choices and decisions. Students are
no exception. I don't think anyone can seriously argue that it is not
in the interest of our students to learn how to make responsible choices
and decisions for themselves. One of the choices now facing our students is whether to take part in the student strike movement to stop attending class as a protest against Hong Kong not being given "true democracy" and being forced to accept a "bird-cage" democracy and to weigh the pros and cons of whether they want to learn their politics now.
To me, one of the best ways to learn is to learn through doing, through learning how to make rational choices by weighing the pros and cons of whether they want to learn their politics now. In my opinion, when an opportunity presents itself for students to learn more about politics in a practical way, especially when the relevant issue touches and concerns their own future political right, it would be foolish for the relevant students to waste such a valuable opportunity.
But in the end, the relevant decisions should be left to the students themselves. The adults' and the teachers' role will be and should be restricted to laying before the students the relevant facts about the political choices facing the people of Hong Kong now. They may certainly also give their own personal opinions about the issue as part of the overall evidence relating to the issue but if they do, they must be careful to qualify it as their own personal opinion and remind the students to take that into account or reject it at their liberty because the students themselves must learn to weigh all the factors, positive and negative, affecting their own political future and learn to make up their own mind on the basis of such facts and to take the responsibility for making any "good" or "bad" choice. After all, if they don't learn to become the master of their own fate when they got the chance to do so, then they will only be fit to be slaves.