China Turns to Online Courses, and Mao, in Pursuit of Soft Power

Javier C. Hernandez, CC BY-SA, Nov 04, 2015
Commentary by Stephen Downes

I got a call from Inside Higher Ed today on this item, and I'm not sure what their article will look like, but I can provide some context. The article in the Times cites criticisms of the course because it is a "whitewash" of Mao's time in office. "Several students said they found the course to be closed-minded, adding that it glossed over more controversial aspects of Mao’s tenure, like the famine caused by the Great Leap Forward and the chaos of the Cultural Revolution." But why should this course be any different from the thousands of other courses, online and offline, that similarly 'gloss' over one aspect or another of a subject. I am reminded, for example, of the protest by economics students a couple of years ago over the free market syllabus that dominates their curriculum. I mentioned the many courses sponsored by advertisers and corporations, lauded in the Wall Street Journal. Any why should every reference to Mao (or anything else) carry some obligatory disclaimer? Why should every course carry the standard 'western' perspective on things? There's no such thing as objective courseware. And students should have the means, and the capacity, to create a world view from exposure to a wide variety of perspectives. If you think the Mao course is a whitewash, offer your own.

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