Accused of indoctrinating its students with distorted Thai history and monarchy, Thammasat University High School defended itself over the past few days through a statement denying the allegation which hits the headline when Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-o-cha said he will send related agencies to look into the school’s syllabus and more.
The allegation came after the school recently invited noted historian and critic of the monarchy and Thai nationalist history Thongchai Winichakul for consultation about its teaching pedagogy.
The school welcomed some curious journalists, and I had the opportunity to do a long Facebook Live interview with the school’s chairman of administration committee Anuchat Poungsomlee and some students on Friday.
After having visited the school and pondered about the issue earlier, here are a few reasons why I think the school is now being targeted by Prayut and ultra-conservative royalists.
First, the powers that be fear children having a different set of understanding and knowledge about Thai history and the monarchy.
Anuchat told me when it comes to history and other subjects, the school, which is barely six years old, does not stress on rote memorization. One student, by the name of Anakin, told me he and his classmates are taught to consider different versions of history.
I can see how those in power may feel threatened and paranoid by it for their hold on power is based of handing out just one version of nationalistic history.
One dominant narrative about Thai history and the monarchy is where virtually almost all past monarchs were outstanding leaders and Thailand, or Siam, was never the villain or evil aggressors while some of our neighbours were the bad guys, either outright aggressors or treacherous, or both.
So if anyone is indoctrinating anybody, it is most likely the state through its rigid singular version of the history of Thailand and its Kings.
Second, they are afraid of youths who can think for themselves and pose critical questions, be it to oneself, but more critically when questions are being posted publicly.
One most recent example is a protest by a new young group called “Thalu Wang” (Shattering the Palace), which demonstrated on Tuesday. Twenty-two young protesters staged a protest in front of Sirivannavari boutique, a fashion label owned by the King’s daughter Princess Sirivannavari, inside Siam Paragon Shopping Mall and later near the gate of Princess Sirindhorn’s Sra Pathum Palace.
The protesters held one placard asking only one question: “Do royal motorcades cause inconveniences to the public?”
Passersby were asked to put a round green sticker on either a yes or no side of the placard.
Third, they are afraid of people who are different from them on some key issues. For example, in virtually all Thai schools, students assemble in orderly rows in front of the flagpole and sing the national anthem together as the flag is raised at 8am – not at Thammasat High School, however.
Opponents say children will grow up not becoming patriotic or disciplined. Anuchat told me the weather is hot in Thailand and the sun is strong, and the school believes the time is better used allowing students to remain indoors and update with friends. Students told me this does not make them less patriotic.
Again, conservative Thais believe in indoctrination and the ritual is so deeply ingrained that most adults would freeze when hearing the national anthem played from a distance in a semi-public area through loudspeakers at 8m and 6pm. I personally do not freeze and think this is not just an absolute waste of time for adults and how the state indoctrinates children and adults to become automatically unthinking and docile.
Fourth and last but not the least, they are disturbed by the Thammasat brand. The fact that there is the Thammasat brand name attached to the school makes it even more disturbing as many monarchy-reform protest leaders are university students at Thammasat or a graduates of the university.
Think of Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, Panassaya “Rung” Sitchirawatanakul, and Benja Apan – all current Thammasat university students, and many Thammasat graduates among the movement, and you get the idea.
If you are the powers that be, it would be truly disturbing to have more of them being educated by Thammasat, be it at tertiary or secondary levels.