LiBeL Column

Teacher Training

Columns from The Nation newspaper

A more peculiar approach to discipline

This week’s column is dedicated to Kru Lakhanee. The woman who introduced Thai students to a new punishment – the “foot wai”. People have spoken out id support and condemnation of her slightly odd, but highly amusing to outsiders, method of disciplining kids.

Defenders say that because her school was in a remote hamlet it shouldn’t matter what went on there. Living in a backwater can’t be used as an excuse to do whatever you like though. Although it can have its advantages as the local headman discovered following an approach by a hazardous waste disposal firm of dubious reputation in the early 90’s. But even in this backwater, the ‘Lead, the metal you can chew!’ posters have long since disappeared from sight now visitors will be pleased to learn. Although, it’s only recently that the miracle of ‘The eternal cremation of Khun Yai’, which has been drawing them in at the local temple for the past 9 years, has been put down to an asbestos casket.

The outraged moral majority search for a good reason to condemn and the best they can come up with is ‘loss of face’ and the ‘children didn’t like it’. Addressing the first point, you can’t go through life never having to experience loss of face. On second thoughts you can, but if you do then you’ve obviously never made a decision in your life. Which unfortunately, would be the norm here and I guess supports the moral majority’s view. As for ‘the children didn’t like it’ – oddly enough I always thought that was the idea of a punishment. “Do that again and you can play Counterstrike on the computer all lesson!” doesn’t have the same effect in my limited experience.

Added to the mix is the revelation that there’s nothing in the Thai Education law that covers this type of bizarre twisted punishment. And you know what? There’s probably nothing in there that says teachers can’t dress up as David Bowie in his Ziggy Stardust period, force feed a Grade 6 student with donuts until they vomit and then toss them off the roof of a building attached to a bungee cord made from boy scout bandanas. But I still guess it’d be frowned upon if any teacher went ‘postal’ and attempted it.

Kru Lakhanee says ” It’s OK because everyone was treated in the same manner.” If I remember correctly Hitler did a similar thing with the Jews. So Kru Lakhanee, from my prospective your heart’s in the right place I’m sure, it’s just a pity your brain isn’t.

The root of a lot of problems in school is teacher training. Many teachers have a fixed mindset that automatically rejects anything new as ‘a bad thing’ and anything they’re used to doing as a ‘good thing’. By pure chance, I was shown an email that a friend at work had received relating to how corporate policy is formed. This seemed to lend itself to an educational adaptation :

Let’s go back in time. Start with a classroom in the first teacher training university in the country. In the room there are a select band of five hopeful undergraduates, all keen & eager to venture into the brave new world of education. Their hearts are full of creative ideas and activities that would one day, far in the future, become known as ‘student centered’. In charge is one dictatorial old guy, with a reputation for cruel and unusual punishments.

When an undergrad had an idea that didn’t conform to the respected Ajarn’s ideas he turned on a hose and all the other would be teachers were blasted with ice-cold water. After a while another of the undergrads offered a novel solution to a problem and the same thing happened – the other undergrads received a soaking from their respected elder. When another of the class ventured to speak out fellow class members, guessing what might happen next, leapt on her and prevented her from speaking.

The following day one of the original class dropped out and was replaced by a new idealistic undergrad. The Ajarn threw out a request for suggested activities, she began to pipe up and, to her surprise, all her classmates virtually mugged her. An hour later and after another classroom mugging, she realized what would happen if she stated her own opinions. The next day, another of the original group calls it a day and is replaced, the following day a fourth and finally the fifth and final member of the original class is replaced.

Every time the newest undergrad attempts to question the teacher or state an opinion they get the proverbial shit kicked out of them. Most of the undergrads beating them have no idea why they aren’t permitted to speak out or why they are giving their classmate a good hiding.

After replacing all the original undergrads, none of those in the class have ever undergone punishment by ice-old water cannon. However, none of them venture of speak their mind.

Why not?

Because as far as they’re concerned that’s the way it’s always been done and that’s the only way they know.

And that’s what’s got to change.