Thursday, May 06, 2004

Dumbarse Letters Part Deux.

I AM all sympathy and admiration for Mr Ng Lee Huat, former principal of Nan Chiau High School. The life of an educator is not an easy one.

The call from the school's students and their parents for his reinstatement bears testimony to his skill and dedication. All the more reason why I salute Mr Ng's decision to resign after hitting a student with a soft-cover book.

The principle of the matter is simple. It is wrong if an employer hits his employee. It is wrong if a sergeant hits his men. So why should it suddenly become correct for a principal to hit his student in the heat of the moment?

I accept that corporal punishment for children may be effective in solving disciplinary problems in certain circumstances. But children are relatively powerless and inherently vulnerable vis-a-vis adults. The potential harm that can be caused by physical violence is so grave that they should be accorded protection from discretionary and unregulated physical assault.

When corporal punishment is judged to be an appropriate response in a particular situation, it should be carried out in accordance with the guidelines set out by the Ministry of Education (MOE).

Students can be exasperating, difficult, recalcitrant and insubordinate. They can stretch the patience of the saintliest principal.

If necessary, the student can be sent for detention, suspended, or expelled. But no matter how angry the student makes the principal, he should not cross the line and take it upon himself to hit the student. Physical assault should not become acceptable just because it is a principal hitting a student.

Finally, as Miss Seah Jiak Choo, director of schools at MOE, pointed out in her letter ('MOE acted to preserve authority of school leaders'; ST, April 30), principals are role flung out windows, ears and hair pulled, arms pinched' during her school days. Mr Lawrence Seow Kuan Yong ('Without discipline there is no learning, teaching'; ST, April 30) writes that 'a teacher, by virtue of his position, has every right to discipline a student', and that without the iron application of authority in schools, 'our nation will soon go to the dogs'.

With all due respect, I believe these readers are wrong. Studies in child-rearing and psychology show that it is not an authoritarian but an authoritative approach that is most desirable.

Rather than relying on hard punishment and force to instil fear in students, we should encourage them to understand the rationale behind rules. We should help them to reach their own, independent, appreciation of the norms we treasure, so that they are self-motivated to adhere to them.

No one deserves respect 'by virtue of his position', only by virtue of his behaviour. I fail to see why we would want our children to grow up deferring simply to whoever happens to be in possession of a title or the ability to inflict pain.

Students can have a genuine, deep-seated respect for a teacher only if the teacher has a genuine, deep-seated respect for them. This means reasoning with them and showing an appreciation of their status as rational individuals, not beating them into submission.

Using physical force on children will not produce genuine respect. It will only make them fearful and resentful, and the only thing it teaches them is that the strong may do whatever they like to the weak.

Cambridge, Britain


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