Friday, May 07, 2004


Jnet was right. Straits Times screwed up and mixed the letters according to Jolene Tan Siyu (MS) Cambridge Britain. I hereby retract the phhhpt and would like to actually address the issues raised in her original letter, copied and reproduced here:

Dear Editor,

I write with regard to the spate of letters in ST forum responding to the departure of Nan Chiau's principal.

The details of this particular case aside, I am dismayed to see the support expressed by some readers for the corporal punishment of children. Ms. Loh Lay San, for instance, recounts with some relish the experiences she had with "books flung out windows, ears and hair pulled" and "arms pinched" during her schooling days. Similarly, Mr. Lawrence Seow Kuan Yong 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 of child-rearing and psychology show consistently that it is not an authoritarian but an authoritative approach that is most desirable. This means that rather than relying on hard punishment and force to instil fear in students, we should encourage them to understand the rationales 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 whomever happens to be in possession of a title or to have the ability to inflict pain upon them. Students can only have a genuine, deep-seated respect for a teacher 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 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, without regard for moral consensus and mutual respect.

Yours, etc.

I agree that you can't make students respect you through corporal punishment. It doesn't work. All you produce are machines who just do what you do because you said it. There has to be understanding to be instilled into the miscreant in question. The problem is that there has to be a line drawn. We punish criminals in our society. It's what's done to balance the scales so to speak. And there are criminal elements in our little mini-societies known as schools. Children aren't the innocent little things that we have conceptualised in our heads anymore. They aren't the kids we grew up with or we grew up as. It's a brand new world and it ain't all shiny and happy.
Theories work in an ideal situation and I'm sure that they'll work on most of the students we have today. It's the rare ones who don't adhere to the rules who unfortunately are the ones who tend to get punished by the teachers...and also harm their fellow classmates in many unfortunate ways. I recall an incident where a kid was caught stealing from his classmates and was caught. He'd been stealing for about 3-4 years and even when confronted by witnesses and other little tattletalers, spun stories that would make your head spin. He showed little sign of remorse and felt that he was only taking his due, playing pranks or, like an addict, supporting his extravagent lifestyle. And the true extent of his crimes truly came to light when we found out that he'd been blackmailing his classmates to keep quiet. This kid was 12 going on 13. Go figure. These kids are self aware enough to manage to worm their way around psychology. They are the ones who know all the answers that you want to hear and these are the ones who will always find some way around the system. They also tend to be the ones who get smacked with a soft cover book.

I think that the public opinion to reinstill corporal punishment into our schools may have some kind of merit. We are teachers. We do not have the time to explain both the writes as well as the wrongs to our students. ( know...) In an ideal world, I would have the time to get through all the "important curriculum stuff" as well as counsel all my students about the problems that they have in life as well as work through their issues with them...then again, in a real world, I would have 1 lesson a day and not have to keep up with all the administrative shit that I have piling on me...but it's not going to happen. The people who should be talking to these kids about rules and the appreciation of the norms of society are their parents. The teachers? Well they should just bring a cane in to class.

Disclaimer: I don't actually have a large discipline problem in my school...the extent of corporal punishment in my case would be squirting the students with their water bottles...But I have taught in classes before where I wish I had a meter ruler, a cane or maybe even a sidearm just to shut the kids up.
Life's not ideal. It's not a book and it's not Mr Palmer's ideal teacher world. It's real. It's gritty and there are shitty students that we see every day who deserve to get whacked. But then again, that's not the issue at all. The fact is that the Ministry figuratively castrated the entire teaching profession in general view of the public. I think any teacher would feel that our ministry has once again turned its backs on us and shat on us once again. I think that's the issue that should be addressed.


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