Monday, July 14, 2003

furore over a video captured on a PDA in an RJC tutorial involving a teacher yelling at a student and then ripping up his homework. heated discussion with parents over whether this is the right thing to do -- mom is sort of upset because she feels like the two of us -meaning me and the brother- don't show the proper respect for teachers, her idea being that the very fact that this person is a teacher should command instant respect from us, because this is a person of authority. now i can't help but think that her thinking is influenced by the fact that this afternoon we watched The Road Home where the teacher was well-respected as a matter of course and mom seems to think that that is the way things should be.

well let it be stated for the record that i don't think the kid did the right thing. as far as i'm concerned, videoing people without their knowledge and consent is a no-no, much less posting it online for all the world to see. there're laws against this kind of thing, kiddo, regardless of how justified you feel in doing it. but having said that, i take issue with the idea that it's particularly heinous because this was a student filming a teacher, as if this were in any way more disrespectful or indicative of the collapse of the fabric of moral society than any other act.

as far as i'm concerned, being a teacher doesn't confer any special virtue on a person. GOOD teachers are of course worth their weight in gold and should be treated accordingly. however, you will find that in the majority, and i mean the very vastest of majorities, of cases, that is precisely what happens. children --students-- are very good at distinguishing between the people who are genuinely interested in their welfare, their education, their development as human beings and citizens, and they are willing to give credit where it is due. but god help you if all you want is to produce little clones who will score As and are willing to do anything -scream, give shitloads of homework, punish and humiliate- except put in real concern and effort and love into the class, because no one is better than your average student at spotting self-serving, lazy, incompetent and worst of all uncaring teachers, and mercilessly turning their lives into hell. look at it this way: if the TEACHER isn't interested in what's being taught, why on earth would a student be induced to care? if children learn by example, then by god the examples we're putting in front of them are really not very good ones, are they?

we always talk about how the teacher is one of the most important, motivating factors in a child's intellectual life: how a good teacher is important when children first enter school, because they're the ones who make our children want to learn, want to know more about the world, stimulate the curiosity and thirst for knowledge that is the mark of the scholar. and yet we seem curiously blind to and unconcerned about the fact that many many teachers in the system today are not up to the job; many of the teachers in the system today are filling spaces, plugging gaps, biding their time til their contracts are up and they can breathe a sigh of relief and leave for greener pastures. while i'm not saying that good teachers don't exist in our education system -- they must, because i've been lucky enough to have been taught by a whole slew of them in sucession -- i am saying that we need to be more deeply concerned with the fact that our system is unfortunately riddled with bad ones. we no longer live in times where teaching is a respected profession; because of that, we get teachers who don't always deserve automatic respect.

if i could, i would take a sledgehammer to the education system and recreate it from the ground up, filling it with the kind of teachers that i had: teachers who answered questions, all questions, who never ridiculed or rejected a point of view without argument or discussion, and most of all who got to know their students, who cared about us, made each one of us feel important. i would inculcate in the students a love of reading -a voracious, insatiable appetite for words and books and poetry and science- and a critical curiosity, a questioning of everything -well almost everything- they're told and that they read. and i would have them write or at least learn to write well, because everyone should be able to write and argue, it's good training for their logical minds. i wouldn't try and force kids to be what they didn't want to be, and i would do my best to make sure every child got to fulfil his potential in whatever field he chose.

but you know i can't do that. i'm not sure there exists a person in this country right now who can do that for our children.

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