Opinion: Why Isn’t Thai History Being Taught at International Schools in Thailand?

250 Senators. What was the buzz around the “250 senators”? It took me 2 hours scrolling through Twitter, only to later hear the answers to my own questions through a 2 minute song: 250 Bootlickers by Rap Against Dictatorship.  

My first formal introduction to Thai history in high school was in a 10th grade Thai class when we were taught about the 1932 revolution that overthrew the absolute monarchy and transformed Thailand into a “constitutional monarchy.”

And… that’s about all I remember, really. Surely, there were a plethora of other historical events that were taught in the timeline of Thai history from the reign of Rama V to the current monarch, Rama X. However, the more we learnt, the more diluted I felt the content became. It was as if the deeper we dove into the detailed accounts of the events, the more such sensitive topics were to be avoided. Because maybe it was safer that way. 

But was it really?

I found myself questioning many events that went down in history, plot holes that I swept over, only for it to reemerge after conversations with a friend about Thai politics. During the COVID-19 lockdown, the summer of my junior year, my quadrupling screen time on twitter had led to my discovery of the flawed democracy in Thailand and what schools didn’t teach: how history actually went down. The highly revered uprising on October 14, 1973 that sent the, then, military government into exile, was only short lived, as the subsequent Thammasat massacre in 1976 resulted in a massive bloodshed, only now to be casually referred to as the 6th of October. 

Why hadn’t I ever known about this?

As a 17 year-old privileged Thai living in Thailand, I am utterly embarrassed by my indifference, or rather my lack of education around the political events in Thailand. Being taught to think “critically” my whole life, it wasn’t until discussions with my friend that I realized that there were many historical events and many social issues in my own country that I simply did not know about. This can be attributed to the lack of accessibility to such events being discussed and taught in school.

Seeing people out on the streets protesting, posts on social media engendering discussion, or viral mainstream hip-hop group rapping about real-world issues, showed that significant changes were happening in Thailand. All the voices were being amplified in my country, yet the overbearing silence of one group still remains: international schools. 

How is it that with such important events going on in Thailand, the school has not given room for discussions within classrooms? Why have we not been given ’safe spaces’ to become “informed and educated” individuals?

I was 11 when the coup was orchestrated by the Royal Thai Armed Forces, led by General Prayut Chan-O-Cha. TV channels were censored, curfews were imposed, and activists were detained. At 11, I believed this seizure of power was an attempt to “protect us.” Because we were vulnerable to the political turmoil, endangered by the protests in 2010, and at risk by the preceding corrupt government. Because, we were too naive as a people.

But I am 17 now, watching the broadcasted democracy protests at Ratchadamnoen avenue, seeing tens of thousands of people unite for one cause. People are calling out for freedom of speech, calling out for an end to media censorship, and demanding the constitution be redrafted and an overdue democratic election to finally take place. 

After 6 years in the dark, maybe I was too naive. 

Or maybe if there were room for these discussions, people wouldn’t have to resort to rap songs to learn about Thai history anymore, unsure what to trust or who to trust.

It’s about time. We shouldn’t have to be cradled like children and thought too young and too naive to know any better. It’s about time Thai history and politics be taught in classrooms, to hold as much value as any core subjects in school, because learning about Thai history is the core of our democracy.   

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