My 10-year-old Thea has braved through half a school year and is asking me when I can pull her out of school. We were very close to pulling out of school at the beginning of Std.4 but was persuaded by a well-intentioned school counsellor to give Thea a try, as this year she would be in a better class where lessons would be moving at a faster pace. Perhaps that had been the problem last year; school seemed pointless and boring because the teachers had to move at a slower pace to accomodate students from the 2nd class. Thea was optimistic, until she realized that the students in the first class were not that much brighter, just doing better academically. The attitude of mediocre people having been given the impression they are first class compounds the sobering and depressing idea of getting up to face a miserable imprisonment every day.
Her Math teacher had asked to see me regarding a note I’d written in response to the teacher’s note in Thea’s many pages of uncompleted work. I’m asked to go to school an average of 3-4 times a year by well-meaning teachers. But what do I tell them, where do I start? Last year, no amount of explaining to her native Kelantan class-teacher that completing schooling is not the ultimate objective I have for Thea nor her for herself could make her see the idea that there is life and purpose outside of the brainwashing sequence of being schooled for academic inflation.
Talking to the HM made it seem like such a shocking and surprising thing if Thea decides not to be schooled. There is only one definition for that : a school dropout. It comes with all the negative connotations of socially unacceptable norms. I find it a little amusing despite understanding the fact that the school institution is an unevolving relic of a colonial past; a child who chooses not to go to school is nothing more than a dropout. Period. *chuckles*They do not seem to have any insight or knowledge about the history of schooling or a critical mind to assess why children are finding schools more and more irrelevant as an absolute institution they put their faith in for their “after life”. (To children, completing schooling is like a form of reincarnation……school as a purgatory before you get to experience “real life”, or in out context nowadays, “second life”. )
But then again, those are the only people who can retain a rose-tinted perception of school. If one knows the truth, one would become jaded, disillussioned, and short of quitting altogether, would not be a champion of this highly bureaucratic, highly irrelevant, intellectual liability known as schooling.
There seems to be 2 schools of thought within the school admin themselves regarding absenteeism. The lesser schools use the punitive approach, shaming and then expelling those who ‘play truant’. It’s like the Boss who takes one to be an example for others to toe the line -taking away the privilege of allowing a person to be a worker in the company. The schools who seem more sincere but equally as ignorant about the wave of change, seem to go all out to ‘save a child’. Both thoughts are highly misguided. First, the sort of students they expel are exactly the type that should have a school to go to. It is a cry for attention and an act of rebellion against the sense of neglect they feel at home. Second, the sort who do not want to go to school in spite of all persuasion, are exactly the ones you need to let go of, for schools are inadequate in fulfilling their intellectual and emotional needs.
I wonder if the lack of action by schools to expel Thea for truancy has anything to do with the perception of her social-intellectual standing. Schools, being not too different from factories, are quick to take out products that will not fetch a price in the market. Those labelled ‘damaged’ and ‘rejected’ go through a different conveyer belt and exit the assembly line, the sooner, the more cost effective. Would this enthusiasm, care and concern be extended to Thea if she was completely inept and had ‘behavioural problems’, i.e. fleshed out ADHD symptoms or if she did not have, what they described “such a pleasant disposition”? Can you believe that schools judge people based on their appearance and what their parents’ social-economic background is? That is the reason why I told Thea to say her mom is a “tukang cuci”, a janitor and that is why I don’t like making appearances at school. I know this sounds so stupid but what sort of parent would want their child to be given leeway and privileges just because the school knows that this child has a parent that has something to leverage in larger society? Isn’t the whole point of donning a horrible uniform to make everyone “equal”? Schools, be they local public schools or foreign universities are not the bedrock of creating an egalitarian society. Without leverage, you’re a victim.
We hear of so many school administratives who are very quick in telling parents to withdraw their children from school. And here I am, being faced with an equally difficult task in getting the school authorities to issue the ultimatum : buck up or get expelled. Is it because Thea shows great potential, is well-behaved and pleasant looking? Can our schools be that discriminatory? Or Thea is just fortunate to have been in less competitive schools which are hoping to overlook Thea’s lack of enthusiasm? Are modern schools really scared of expelling students nowadays? Had they begun to realize that expulsion is a kind of reward – a Chance pass to freedom and real life?
To have concerned and sincere people deal with the schooling of our children is definitely a more positive thing than to have overzealous, insensitive people at the helm. Perhaps that was why I chose these two schools in the beginning : for their sensitivity and sincerity in educating, even if they’ve got it all wrong from the get-go. The attitudes and values of the people that makes up one’s environment takes precedence over any superficial yardstick of academic competence.
I find it inappropriate to go into a school and give my lectures on my philosophies about education and schools. Yet I feel I lack the wisdom, eloquence and performance skills to deliver a profound, succinct summary which would do justice to our philosophies about school. It seems that the only other alternative to delivering many-part monologues on my philosophies is to take the position of the ignorant, defensive, single-parent who should be ‘helped’ in dealing with a child with a knack for truancy. I’ve never known how not to be completely honest, often confrontational and absolutely sincere and passionate when making a stand. Sometimes I wonder if not being able to stand up for any beliefs is a blessing, or at least, to stand up simply as a mute pillar instead of a preaching activist.
I’ve had several false starts in wanting to pull Thea out of school. I end up feeling guilty for being grateful to still be in a comfort zone each time I don’t fall through in pulling her out. I suppose the answer is really within me : why have I not pulled her out yet? It’s probably the lack of readiness to take on the full responsibility for her life and her education. Leaving something that needs to get done doesn’t always make it more convenient to do later on, does it? I gave Thea a line from T.Harv Ecker, “If it doesn’t kill you (going to school), just do it.” Thea’s response, “I’m going to jump off a building one day from all that stress of going to school. Why do you think so many children kill themselves?”. I suppose she has a point. And if I were to turn T.Harv’s question on myself – pulling Thea out of school and being completely responsible for her is not likely to kill me either.