Having come from a not-so-standard path in education, I feel very strongly about the topic, and so it was with some mixed feelings that I read about a Pennsylvanian high school teacher who has been suspended for calling her students “disengaged, lazy whiners”, amongst other disparaging comments. It has been a few days since the news, and the blogosphere is probably abuzz with commentaries on whether what she did was right/wrong, detrimental/harmless etc, but it set me thinking a little about the education system here.
It’s no secret that with the exception of some scholarship holders, many of our brightest generally do not go on to a career in teaching. Perhaps they’ve done some relief teaching before, or heard horror stories about how unruly the kids can be from their friends who have trodden the path. In any case, the exhortation to inspire the children under their charge sounds about as realistic as an army recruitment poster.
And it is very understandable – nobody wants to go in there full of hope and ideals, only to be beaten down by the system that they believe (rightly or wrongly) stifles their creativity and curbs their enthusiasm, or by the children who truly believe the world owes them a living, or worse, by the trigger-happy parents who are only too quick to raise complaints and consider litigation against them for saying something negative about their precious prima donnas. No one wants to enter a system where they feel they’re restrained on all fronts and still be expected to deliver and discharge in good faith all the noble duties expected of teachers.
At a recent gathering, a friend who now teaches in a prestigious school, recounted her experiences in having to sweet-talk and mollycoddle her kids, who would simply refuse to do anything when criticised. Once, when a student got out of hand and was punished by being made to stand, his parents promptly wrote in to complain about the embarrassment and humiliation their son had to “endure”. Certainly, we have come a long way since I had to endure a slap from my teacher for not bringing my Chinese textbook when I was in primary 5.
As Don Mills puts it so eloquently in his satirical post, In praise of young people, they “demand” for all sorts of things while conveniently forgetting the supply side of the equation, and they are very confident, in the euphemistic sense of the word, when they ask for respect while “parading around with dinner plates in [their] ears and chains dangling from [their] nostrils while sporting a plume of underpants…”. There’s more, but I’ll leave it to the readers to discover the gems.
For all the talk and disdain about kids in school, there is a problem we must not ignore. Civics and moral education is part of the school curriculum, the responsibility falls on both parents and teachers alike. The line is not being defined clearly when it needs to be, and even when there is a line, the guiding hand of the teacher is being tied to the chair, effectively killing off the instrumental tool that is needed to mold the environment necessary for the child’s development. Of what use then, is moral education when the teacher cannot even set the precedent for good conduct?
The chasm between parents and teachers is widening, and it is our kids who are falling through the cracks.