One of the latest brouhaha has got to be the case whereby a mother made a police report over the matter of a teacher taking her son to a haircut.
I had many discussions with separate friends on the matter of education and discipline in school. One of the things we all agreed on: if we were to let our parents know we have been punished / disciplined in school, we will be given a perhaps even more unpleasant “2nd helping” at home. It doesn’t matter whether we are in the right or wrong, because in our parents opinion, such things simply shouldn’t happen. If the school / teacher chooses to punish us – we must have done something in the wrong. In other words, our parents defer to the decision of the school. Perhaps they believed that above teaching us about how to read and write, and on science and humanities, a school also teaches us on how to be proper human beings. Respecting order and authority was the rule of the day back then, even though as youngsters we often resent that. Yet, as we grew older, we understand the necessity of that even though it maybe fraught with abuse. While abuse must be stopped, it is not by means of ‘throwing out the baby with the bath water’.
At the present, society has downgraded the role of teachers from being a mentor and a moral example to nothing more than an instructor or a trainer. Granted, teachers are definitely no paragon of virtue, but I can bet those of us who remember their teachers fondly would recall how some of the sterner ones left a mark on our values and our world views to shape us into what we have become. These days teachers are no longer accorded a lot of respect because parents with equal or better education no longer think highly of them. Teachers and the school have lost the parents’ backing on disciplinary actions. With that, the meaning of education has been completely redefined to mean nothing more than instructing a person the knowledge to work in society, instead of teaching them what it meant to be a person and to live in harmony with one another and the environment. If we take away the religious aspect of some teachings, like those of Buddha and Jesus, we can see their basic objective was simply to ensure that all human beings follow certain guidelines and recognise what is good and evil. Even the Age of Philosophy which sprouted in China during the Spring and Autumn period of the Eastern Zhou dynasty, was a response to the collapse of order and traditions in that period whereby learned people and scholars (such as Confucius) present their ideas on how order can be restored (either through education, philosophical enlightenment or harsh laws) where man can live in mutual respect of one another and with civility. That is why Confucius is lauded as an educator – because education is not only about understanding the science (e.g. the natural order of the world around us), but also about proper behavior and social order. My point is simply, we have long lost our understanding of what education really should be.
The teaching of values and building character has long been completely displaced in schools. That is why these days we even hear arguments that students are ‘customers’, complete with a sleep inducing narrative on that matter. Thus, the modern day school has generally stopped doing so to avoid unnecessary confrontation with parents. After all, some parents argued that the mentoring of a child, teaching them manners and what is good and evil, and discipline is the department of parenting. In their opinion, the school and / or the teachers should have nothing to do with it. Just teach children the ABCs, the mathematics and the science and ensure they get the straight As and be done with it. In extension, the government has also retreated from that arena as any attempt to do so will be followed by accusation of fascism, and it will be decried for imposing its values on the next generation or attempting to indoctrinate the young.
That maybe partially true, considering how some of us born in the formative years of Singapore are raised and how we have been taught in school. Unfortunately, a lot of parents are unaware of the role they have to play and has thus failed dismally. What follows is that the young and impressionable has no one at home or in school to look up to, and whatever that awes and inspires them – in most cases idols of popular culture, which are some of the worst examples – moved in to fill that vacuum. Worst yet, parents try to make up for the lack of presence in their children’s lives, and to demonstrate their love, by showering their children with material wants. It is of no surprise that some children even refused to sit still to consume their meals without a tablet computer playing their favorite cartoon placed before them.
A sense of entitlement thus take hold, and as children grow older and become bolder in expressing their views, parents find it even harder to punish what is wrong. They believed that the best way to love their children is to make them fell good. Even though I am not a parent, I see that as a kind of dereliction of duty. In my opinion that parents should never shirk from the responsibility of teaching a child what is right apart from what is wrong. In many cases, not only is the wrong not punished but rewarded – for e.g. a father trying to make peace with his son by buying him the latest gadget – which thus renders the purpose of rewarding success and doing right entirely meaningless. Just what incentive is there to make the effort to do the different thing when the current method of getting their way simply works? Even when parents may be rewarding a child for his success, the offer to reward is given before hand to entice the child to do so which thus gives them the impression that there is no reason to do better unless there is a reward. It has become quite a norm for children to demand for a reward when asked to do something. Isn’t it sad, that we need to entice people to do what should be done with rewards, and thus made doing what is right or good the exception other than the norm?
To avoid punishing a child for fear of hurting the child momentarily is not love, it is giving them the false impression that the world which is harsh in nature is a warm and fuzzy place. In effect, parents have denied their children the true joy of learning and growing up. Parents failed to see that they are only setting their children up for greater failures in the future – whereby one simple setback would be good enough to cause them to despair and never to pick themselves up again. For e.g. Eagles pushed their chicks off their nests on high cliffs, and then pick them up at the last moment, to teach them how to fly. If eagles feared that their chicks will fall to their deaths, then the chicks will never grow up to soar the skies.
This is how I see it when I read that the child in this case locked himself up for days after that haircut (a standard 4×2 according to some), which in my opinion was really not so bad at all from the few photos shown on the papers. The mother seems to have simply just allowed the child to throw his tantrums for days without giving him guidance on how to handle the matter or to smoothen things out. While I agree it is within the mother’s right to express her concern for her child and even to protest what she perceived to be the high-handedness of the teacher in handling the matter, a police report was an over-reaction and completely unnecessary. Furthermore, I felt there was no need for the teacher to apologise, since the child was not singled out to be discriminated or punished. To force the teacher to do so would simply immobilise the other teachers, depriving them of the power to act when necessary. While the letter to inform the parent did not effectively reach her, that was a matter of communication failure and not so much the fault of the school or the teacher. In fact, this poor teacher had the very unpleasant task of enforcing the school rules only to be hang out to dry by the school and the Ministry of Education, which clearly has not only failed to provide the guidelines to back the teacher, but also to show them where the line is.
An old classmate who has been in the teaching profession for many years mentioned this, “Why is everyone focussing on the hair? It is just a snip. Did it occur to you that the teacher didn’t want to see the student get kicked out of the exam hall and bit the bullet?”. He has a good point. After all, the teacher has taken an action which is in the best interest of the child. In Article 3 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, it is stated that: “In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.”.
It is of no wonder that my friends who has previously been teachers or police constables have such low morale. Other than the teacher, the police constable who had to record the complaints of the parent probably felt he has better things to do in service of the public. From a certain point of view, I felt even getting caught for sleeping in a patrol car in a deserted corner of a multi-storey carpark would have been better for morale than to handle the mother’s police report.
It is of no surprise why more people seems unable to act, or simply refused to do the right thing. After all, if doing something comes with the risks of taking the rap when it goes wrong, then it is best to just do nothing. It reminds me of Pigsy in the “Journey to the West” story, which often did nothing and is the fastest to take credit. Meanwhile, Wukong (the monkey god) often gets the rap and punishment from the Monk Tripitaka (Xuanzang) for doing what is right and necessary, and in the best interest of the party. But that will be for another post, when I get my thoughts more organised to put that down in writing.