Shitstorm over Thai textbook praising dictatorship ignores the facts

A child celebrates the
Children’s Day in 2014 at the Royal Thai Armed Forces Headquarters. Photo: Kajonsak Intarapong / Coconuts
A child celebrates the Children’s Day in 2014 at the Royal Thai Armed Forces Headquarters. Photo: Kajonsak Intarapong / Coconuts

Update: This story has been updated with a comment from education consultant and former Move Forward MP Kunthida Rungruengkiat.

A former opposition lawmaker said she will file a complaint over a 13-year-old grammar text teaching middle schoolers the “virtue” of dictatorship.

Education consultant Kunthida Rungruengkiat, a former MP with the Move Forward Party, said she would complain to education authorities over a lesson extolling dictatorship over “corrupt” democracy – despite the fact the book is no longer approved for use.

“Anyone who sees a textbook with content that deviates from the facts, deviates from academic principles and contains content that contradicts democratic principles, please forward to me,” Kunthida tweeted last night. 

The pearl-clutching furor began with a simple Facebook post from someone calling out the offending passage: a lesson on writing complex Thai sentences using one pro-authoritarian example.

“Somchai will choose democracy where politicians are corrupt, or Somchai will choose dictatorship where the leader holds great virtue in his heart,” it read. 

The most recent edition of 2008’s Thai Grammar Usage for Mathayom 3, published in 2012, hasn’t been approved for use in classrooms since 2016, though it remains listed and available for sale from the Office of Basic Education for THB82. 

After this story was published, Kunthida said that while it’s not known if schools are using the book, the Education Ministry should not approve such content.

That hasn’t stopped people from holding it up as a shining example of today’s military-backed government’s assault on democratic values.

“This is real brainwashing. Because this is a textbook for basic education level, every child has to learn this,” tweeted @MsParkjijoy. “Anyways, the centuries-old turtles in the Education Ministry won’t do anything about it.”

The outrage and ensuing media coverage can be traced to a single post.

“For anyone who has kids, this is the quality of education that awaits your children,” Tanadol Veerapattana wrote in the original post on Facebook, also neglecting to mention the book’s publication date of 2008.

His post was subsequently shared tens of thousands of times, amplified by online media chasing digital catnip for clicks on social media platforms wired for outrage.

Bottom line-challenged media agencies have taken to running with whatever is popular on social media without adding any reporting or fact-checking. None of the stories which could be found online referenced the textbook’s age or decertification from the curriculum.

Reached for comment, Tanadol told Coconuts that he came across the photos in a private group chat. He said he didn’t know whether the book was still in use and certainly did not expect so much interest from the media.

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