“The world is ever evolving; how do we prepare for the future?”
“Without compassion and an open mind, democracy would be in vain”
In light of Lung Yingtai Cultural Foundation’s commitment to cultivate a global perspective in the youth of Taiwan, “Thinker School” (思學堂) was launched in January 2022. The content includes sustainability, democracy, technology, and future. It was a 5-day 4-night workshop held in Taitung, attended by 40 youth under the age of 25 (including 3 high schoolers from Junyi) and 14 distinguished speakers from various fields.
The theme of the program was "Preparing for 2030". This is in response to the United Nations' 2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which consists of 17 goals covering three major dimensions: economic, social, and environmental. The year 2030 has become an important date for academics, governments, and advocacy organizations to reflect on the future of mankind.
The Seed in the heart of the Youth (opening statement: Tzu-hsien Tung)
Today’s social elites were young once. The program especially invite Tzu-hsien Tung, Chairman of Pegatron Corpto deliver the opening statement. When Tung was young, he often participated in literature camps, where youth gathered to discuss literature, art, social issues, and politics; his youthful passion was extraordinary. Tung served as the editor of the school paper when he was in college. In 2009, Tung supported the launch of Fisfisa Media (目宿媒體), with a mission to preserve the heritage of writers who influenced multi generations of Taiwanese literature. In 2015, he co-found The Reporter (報導者), by public fundraising to avoid commercial influence, to conduct in-depth social issue reporting. In 2007, along with Lung Yingtai, Kimbo Hu and Stanley Yenand friends, they worked together to oppose the project to build Suhua Highway Improvement Project. This effort prevented people from speculating on monetary land value in anticipation of transportation development, resulting in the loss of land by the locals, and profiting the elite few land speculators.
A youth’s dream of the future drives their subsequent behavior and direction. Tung encourages the youth to open their heart and remain optimistic, strive to care about important issues, keep learning, and reflect often.
Starting with the Music on both sides of the strait (First night：Chung Yung-Feng) The keynote of the first night was delivered by award winning lyricist Chung Yung-Feng, on a message relatable with the youth: one may understand an era by observing the trend of popular music. However, when he mentioned the names of popular Chinese singers such as JiuLianZhenRen (九連真人), Tan Weiwei (譚維維), most people in the audience had not heard of them. Aren’t we in the era of social media? Or have we confined ourselves in our own echo chamber? Chung, trained as a civil engineer, having served as director of the Bureau of Water Resources in Kaohsiung County and Commissioner of Taipei City's Department of Cultural Affairs, has ample experience handling voices of “opposition”. He believes that dialogue should be based on a wide variety of perspectives and broad vision; and that potential dissonance from conflicting views can sometimes contribute to a more well-rounded analysis. The process of a dialogue is not about expressing one’s opinion but to contemplate through listening. Previously, there were three major newspapers in Taiwan. They each took their own position, but ultimately readers were able to form their own viewpoint. With today’s information being dominated by social media, the landscape of journalism has changed.
Deliberately take the opposing view – a critical thinking exercise
Lung’s critical thinking class is based on the topic “Enmity and Friendship” from the book “Encounter” by the Czech-French author Milan Kundera. It’s about friendship and politics; what to think when friendship conflicts with political beliefs. Lung begins the class by asking questions about the source of information such as who is the author? What era is he from? What types of social transformations has he experienced? Lung notes that validating the source of the information, knowing the author’s background, and objectively identifying the facts before reading will enable you to better grasp the content and objectively consider it.
This was followed by a discussion on current affairs. Lung based the discussion on a news article involving the author J.K. Rowling. Since 2020, J.K. Rowling had publicly expressed her views on gender issues, stirring controversy in Europe, the English-speaking showbiz community, and literary circles. Lung presented J.K. Rowling’s original text and related public remarks from social media, so that the students can understand her point of view and reasoning. Next the public opinions opposing her view were presented so that the students may defend the opposing view with supporting examples. That is, everyone would have contemplated J.K. Rowling’s perspective and that of the opposing view. As in many of the critical thinking discussions, the teacher does not look for opinions from the students but focuses instead on: where do the diverse voices and ideas come from? How are they expressed? Can there be other forms of expression? Let “critical thinking” be about the “process” rather than the “result” of judgement.
When humans cease to exist, there would be no point to talk about sustainability. Editor in Chief, Chinese Edition of SCIENTIFIC AMERICANChia-Wei Li, Ph. D., shared a cutting edge technology “The Carbon Rocks of Oman”. On the Arabian Peninsula, in Oman, scientists discovered vast mantle rocks with strong carbon sequestration capacity. The scientific community is trying to capture carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and collect it as water vapor, and then pour the water into the ground to mineralize carbon dioxide. If this becomes a solution to the carbon emissions problem, it will require a huge infrastructure, involving not only technology but also cross-domain expertise and policy.
“The future generations must adapt multi-discipline learning” said former minister of the Interior Hong-Yuan Lee, who had worked in the frontline of national land planning. Lee shared that if Taiwan is to achieve sustainable development and balance between urban and rural areas, then all regions must agree to integrate and share resource. This requires cross-discipline dialogue and functional integration. He also stated that energy and land issues should not be voted upon, but today we seem to have been taken hostage by democracy.
While looking into the future, one can’t help but wonder what the world was like before the concept of State let alone science and technology. The program thoughtfully arranged a field visit to Beinan Cultural Park, prehistoric relicsandPinaski Tribe in Beinan Township which was former minister of the Council for Indigenous Peoples and former President of the Control Yuan Ta-Chuan Sun’s birthplace. Sun led everyone to rethink the meaning of modern economy, technology and culture. Humanity fundamentally identifies with the unit of a tribe, within which people maintain emotions and moral norms while co-existing with nature. While contemplating the topic of sustainability, one must bear in mind the most primitive ways human help each other, their gratitude for the land, and their reverence for nature.
AMA (Ask Me Anything)
The AMA session on the third evening was not on the agenda, it was a planned surprise! Lung Yingtai, Ta-Chuan Sun, Kimbo Hu and Stanley Yenall appeared to take questions from the audience. As approachable as they are, the students were still inevitably timid to speak up. This question was addressed toYen: “What can our generation do about Taiwan’s education system?” Yen shared the philosophy of Junyi and quoted from R. Buckminster Fuller “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
Before the AMA came to an end, Hu sang for the students. The spirit of his voice lit up the audience. “Regardless of the occasion, music is always relevant; art brings people together.” Said research assistant of Academia Sinica Yu Hsuan, Liu, a pianist.
Youth are a part of the mainstream
The youngest attendee, a 10th grader from Junyi, shared her experience.
At first I was hesitant to speak up because I was afraid that I would waste everyone’s time by asking irrelevant questions. An older girl from my table kindly encouraged me. She was always active in discussions and inspired me to ask questions. Even if I could not fully understand the answers, I gradually found the confidence to be part of this group of my seniors. I felt privileged to be among this knowledgeable and experienced group, and felt I was well taken care of by them. Reflecting on my past mindset, perhaps for fear of making mistakes, I was too passive and pessimistic. This reminds me of what Mr. Sun said: “Human society is a gift for self-reflection. By being a part of it, one would be humbled while finding the meaning of one’s existence.”
While working on the presentation on “How activists combat digital authoritarianism “, I found that my group presentation experience in Junyi had prepared me well. I was able to contribute interesting ideas and meaningfully participate even on topics I have little knowledge in.
She found the lecture on sustainability by Lee most impressionable. “Mr. Lee touched upon topics I had not been aware of, for example, converting a sewer system into an aesthetic landscape. The professor used illustrations that were easy to understand. The solutions often require cross-discipline knowledge, which presents a challenge.”
I would not have become aware of the topics if it were not for this opportunity. Founding Director for NVIDIA AI Lab (NTU) Professor Winston H. Hsu shared an interesting example of an AI horror movie and AI composition of poem; which inspired my imagination to ask: "can AI be creative?" and "can AI make corporate decisions." It sparked my curiosity to uncover the mystery of the future."
From Taitung city to the Pinaski tribe, to China, to J.K. Rowling’s England, and to Oman of the Arabian Peninsula, the 14 speakers led the students on a world exploration. Yet the starting point of the critical thinking journey was our daily surroundings. One month after the Think School, Russia invaded Ukraine. In answer to the question: Do you observe any change in yourself after the Think School? Yu Hsuan replied: I used to not pay much attention to international events; I thought it was good enough to keep up with social media. Now I try my best to read news reports from difference sources in various languages. As Lung said, “language is authority, different languages give you different worldviews.” (English translation by Angela Chin)
The speakers brought us not only the wonders of their knowledge and the significance of Taiwan’s history, but a different and diverse worldview: (Here is Lung Yingtai Cultural Foundation’s facebook page where a summary of each speech is listed.)