Being out of a race has never felt this good. That rat-race where children are drilled, tested and ranked for 11 years of their life. We gave ourselves an extended holiday from school until we received a letter from school asking us to inform them of the absence, as a way for them to make sure the child isn’t playing truant behind their parents’ back. We gave it a few days, and then we went to school. The HM was expecting us. The HM was expecting the withdrawal.
I believe the HM has spoken to the Counselling teacher, English teacher, Math teacher, class teacher, etc about why Thea is withdrawing from school. We’d even approached the HM a couple of times before to talk about withdrawing Thea. She has an idea that Thea is bored to death and we have tried our best and Thea would be better off in another school system. She admits the shortcomings of the school, and I was generous in my praise for the teachers and the school administration. I think the HM felt very appreciated. She says she was very happy to have known someone like me and Thea, that we are very special in our philosophies in upholding the virtues of education.
Of course she knows nothing about my objections to schooling as a totalitarian mechanism in ‘shaping the minds of our young’. And I don’t think that’s important. Schools can sometimes be the only safe place left for children who come from very poor economic backgrounds. We shared opinions on how the school is striving to be the last sanctuary to teach children how to have actual moral values, to have a higher level of literacy, to be nurtured where at home they would be neglected completely in a family of several siblings.
I believe it’s hard to convince people that schooling is bad for our mental health. And I don’t intend to. The truth is not many people out there have the insane drive to push education to a higher level. They had to struggle through school and their children are too. Struggling through school extends to their struggling in life to make ends meet, struggling to send their children to school in the hope that the children would not have to struggle like them. For sure this belief is misguided but not everyone can probe our current existence the way my mind was given to.
When I teach, I aim to teach not merely the contents of the book and the structure of a language. I am using language teaching as a platform to plant seeds of big dreams, enthusiasm, learning to learn skills, knowing how to motivate yourself and creative thinking, to view things from more than one narrow, traditional perception. I am, essentially, connecting my learners to their world, so that they will own the feeling that the world is their oyster. I believe this sense of enthusiam and passion, instead of fear and insecurity, is the key that can end the cycle of fear and struggle. Life can be lived with challenge and enthusiasm or struggle and insecurities. It is a simple choice that is difficult to internalise. But then again there is a conflict that arises in me when it comes to teaching these things : It isn’t my place to teach these things. I should be teaching facts and skills not teaching thinking and being. That is supposed to be the role of the Home. That is why they are being sent for learning – that we teach them what their parents could not.
Those who are capable, those who can downgrade their lifestyles so that one parent can stay at home, or both parents can work flexi hours, should do so. Those who are confident, literate, skillful – should educate their children. Those who are affluent should hire the best tutors and also be directly involved in moulding the character of their children. It would seem like I am propagating an elitist attitude – those who are academically or economically capable, to separate themselves from the working class. To the contrary.
Downgrading individuals with great potential to fit into the lowest-denomination of an egalitarian society is not going to do anyone any favours. If you aim and focus on the curb, you’re going to drive into it. We need to self-direct our future. When the group of academically and economically strong start achieving greater potential in their humanity, they will set the platform for a higher denomination for the rest of society. It is not likely that highly intellectual and affluent people will intentionally create a divide to exploit the poor. The great sense of empowerment, confidence and fulfillment that they have achieved would inspire in them great feelings of benevolence and generosity towards the rest of the human race. We can take a look at history and say that something like this has never happened before and invalidate the premise I am talking about. But it is because history keeps repeating itself that we cannot be mere consumers of history – we have to be observers and drivers of a new history we will write for our human race.
Throughout history, it is the ignorant landowner and the victorious invaders that have set up monarchies and systems which exploit the lower levels of society. Never before in the history of man have the awakened and inspired take over the rule of society. In today’s political landscape, we can see a few activists who have awakened to take up their role as leaders. Slowly, we will replace the ignorant and morally corrupt ‘landowners’ who have used money to create money and sustain a decadent dynasty living off the labours of the more ignorant. Slowly, we need righteous people to awaken and claim their throne instead of sitting by the sidelines watching corruption and hegemony exploit and repress the people while shouting for “JUSTICE, JUSTICE”.
If those who can do not awaken, if those who can do not inspire action by taking action, the momentum of the dark energy of those who are corrupt will blanket us like a dark shadow that covers us even during the day. While we sit in our armchairs and dish out our philosophies and observations, who do we think are our readers? The exact people who think like us? It is one thing to get our philosophies out there through the written and spoken word but I have a feeling that time is running out. The darkness is closing in upon us, multiplying faster than our ability to muster our courage into action.
While all of us, the intellectual and philosophical kind, are being the sort of people who cannot organize others and create a platform, while all of us are being afraid of being corruptible, those who are perfectly corrupt are fighting for positions to LEAD us. If the herding dogs will not herd the lamb, the wolves shall lead them to their ends.
Would I have been able to contribute more if I didn’t have so many issues against Malaysian schools and how they are run? Would I have been able to do more for Thea and others if I had volunteered to run a literacy programme inside the school instead of pulling Thea out? Was I short-sighted, the way I always seem to be? Would I have made a bigger impact if I had stayed in the ICS system or volunteered at Thea’s school? These are battles I wish I could fight but I did not see a path with a shining light leading me there. It might not be where my battles are to be fought.
I took one action – taking Thea out and hoping that preserving her sanity, mental and physical health, will at least free her to discover some currently hidden purpose of being here. We will know in another 20 years.