As you know, I rarely talk about my private life. That’s mostly because I think such anecdotes are pretty boring to innocent bystanders. But I really did want to make an exception in this particular case, because I’m inordinately proud of our son, The Wast.
He’s a good boy, a 9yo A-/B+ student who’s class monitor. He has a wicked sense of humour and takes his responsibilities seriously. He is of a mind that there are problems he can handle himself, much to my occasional chagrin, and takes everything in life — finances in particular — very seriously.
Recently, we’ve had A Situation with one of his language teachers. (Both The Wast and Little Dinosaur currently learn English, Malay and Chinese. At home, they also get the occasional bout of haphazard Polish.) This language teacher — let’s call her Teach — is obviously inexperienced. Or it could be that she couldn’t score one of the many scholarships in other career areas and so decided to join the teacher’s training college. This career path is a common one, one that is eased for a particular race due to the prevailing policies of the country, making it a shoo-in for them to graduate and be assigned to schools, regardless of their actual level of expertise.
The Situation involves verbal abuse. It appears that Teach is not very good at controlling the class. As a result, the boys in particular tend to play up. This is exacerbated by the fact that, after perusing The Wast’s worksheets and exams, it’s obvious to me that she isn’t even a very good teacher. (And I say this as an ex-teacher, ex-lecturer, and ex-corporate trainer.)
The inexperience and counter-productive attitude of Teach manifests itself by reducing herself to the level of her charges and verbally abusing the children, literally making them cry, and then taunting them afterwards.
After almost a year of such behaviour that was related to me by The Wast, and which skirted the boundaries of proper behaviour (I’ll admit it, I thought she had only herself to blame for reducing the classroom to an absolute battlefield, and that she deserved every bit of backtalk she got), it finally went too far when it was related to me that she told one of her misbehaving students in class (after making him cry) to, “Go to hell!”.
The Wast and I had this conversation over the dinner table.
Me: And what do you think about that? I know that Wong was misbehaving, but do you think the teacher had the right to say that to him?
The Wast: No.
Me: Do you think something should be done about it? Bearing in mind that she is the teacher?
TW: Yes, I think something should be done about it.
Me: Right now, I’m thinking that I’d like to write a letter to the Principal and Vice-Principal, pointing out that this is unacceptable behaviour.
Me: The problem is, I’d have to put down in the letter exactly who it was who told me about it.
Me: And, if the letters go the Principal and Vice-Principal, you could be called up by them and asked to repeat what you’ve just told me.
TW: To the Principal?
Me: (nodding) Could be. Now, bearing in mind that the teacher has never had to correct you, and that you personally have never had any problem with her, are you prepared for that? After all, Wong isn’t my child. Because it doesn’t affect us as a family, I could just ignore it.
TW: (after a pause) No, do it. If the Principal calls me into his office, I’m prepared to tell them what she said.
Me: Are you sure? You want me to write the letter?
TW: Yes I’m sure.
After dinner, I had The Wast stand behind me while I typed out what I wanted to say so he could see exactly what kind of trouble he’d be getting into! The next morning, as I handed him the two envelopes, I asked him one more time if he wanted to see this through.
Me: Wong may not even thank you for this. He might not even know we’ve said or done anything. Do you understand?
Me: And are you still happy to take this to the office?
As he was waiting for the school bus to arrive, I told The Wast that there comes a time when we have to stand up for what is right, even if it’s on behalf of someone else, and even if we don’t get thanked for it. He nodded and said he understood, although I really doubt that he’ll thank me for the pithy sermon when he gets older.
(UPDATE: Two days later, the school called in all the teachers to explain proper classroom behaviour and to remind them that the words they use in the classroom can be used outside the classroom and will give the school a bad reputation. That’s not quite the spin I would’ve put on it, but this is Asia, where the #1 activity is always saving face. We’ll see if it works.)
It’s obvious to me, especially in the world as it’s currently morphing, that standing up for what is right is the equivalent of painting a giant red bullseye on your chest. I keep telling myself that I won’t ever do it again. Never speak up for a situation I feel is grossly unfair, especially when there’s no chance the victim/s will even know who I am or what I’ve done. “It just isn’t worth it,” I keep telling J. “And don’t we have enough problems to cope with, without giving ourselves more? Why should I put myself in a position where I could be persecuted, just for telling the bloody truth?”
In all honesty, I still don’t know if I’ve done the right thing with The Wast. The reality is that a strong ethical streak is enough to land you in jail in most countries of the world, democracies or otherwise. In the extreme balance of contraries (shifty-but-survives versus stalwart-but-suffering), I’m still not sure that I’d want my children to grow up fearless and strongly principled. That way, literally, lies death, as the corpses of humanitarians, principled journalists, activists, and others of their ilk, assassinated by righteous, bleating governments of every stripe, readily attest.
I suppose, in order to balance his streak of morality, the next lesson The Wast needs to learn is how to keep his mouth shut, and I’m the worst person to teach him that one. But, in the meantime, I’m so proud of him I could burst.