A Manglish Argument On School.

Here is a response by Laurie A. Couture to CNN Article – What Teachers Really Want to Tell Parents.

My version of it in Plain Manglish. Please note interpretation is mine as a reader. 

Many parents are shaking their heads at the audacity and insolence of the CNN article, What Teachers Really Want to Tell Parentsby Disney-and-Oprah-endorsed teacher, Ron Clark. His article is dangerous because it represents how the majority of traditional school teachers view children, parents and teachers’ roles as authorities over children’s lives. In my post, What Teachers Really Need to Hear From Parents, I challenge Ron Clark to consider the dehumanization of children and the undermining of the parent-child bond in the institution he represents.

That article is stupid. It makes students feel like we are only robots. It also makes parents feel like we are second-class citizens who don’t care about our children. 

Most parents in industrialized societies are conditioned by their own schooling to be obedient and unquestioning of their children’s schools and the so-called authorities therein. A frightening majority of parents are unaware that most everything that traditional school teachers do is developmentally inappropriate and even harmful for youth of all ages. However, a growing movement of parents are parenting through awareness, consciousness and connection to their children’s needs. Many of these parents are opting out of public and traditional schools are are seeking refuge for their children in child-centered and democratic schools or through homeschooling and unschooling. As a mother of an unschooling teen son, and based on the years of complaints I have heard from parents and their children about traditional schools, I have compiled a list of  concerns and presented them to teachers in the context of their own education:

Parents are already brain-washed. So they don’t know that teachers and schools do things that harm their children. They scratch head when their children are depressed, unhappy and jump off building, runaway, have bad habits.  Your parents don’t know that what your school teachers do to you is harmful for your intelligence, growth, happiness and future success. That is why they force you to go to school. 

However, more and more parents are becoming clever liao. (Like me!) So we take our children out of school and we detox them (unschooling) from the torture and harm that school does. Here’s a list of complaints : (You can scroll down to the end for the Plain English version.)

Continue reading “A Manglish Argument On School.”


What a Parent Who Used To Be a Teacher Really Want to Say to Parents And Teachers.

I had a request from ********* to post the comments I had written on a fb comments thread on a CNN article What Teachers Really Want To Tell Parents.

In between the time it took for me to post this another article responding to it appeared here

The original responses I made on my fb comments thread on Sept 10 to the CNN article : What Teachers Really Want To Tell Parents  (as is) is in blue.  My expanded comments (for context) if necessary will be in Italics. 

I like the first line :

“I just cant deal with parents anymore; they’re killing us.”  

– Send the kids back to the parents. 😀  

Why don’t they? A parent is almost as qualified if not better qualified to teach their own children than a school teacher is – for many, many reasons outside the context of this article. Don’t believe me? Think about it logically : Both teachers and parents went through the same K-12 education. All things being equal they studied the same content. Unless you’re trying to tell me for 12 years of their education their teachers had pre-selected an elite bunch of students to teach better to knowing one day this elite bunch will become the next generation of teachers. – I doubt it!

Continue reading “What a Parent Who Used To Be a Teacher Really Want to Say to Parents And Teachers.”

Slowing the Paper Chase.

There are many things I know squat about. Like Romantic Love. Like Goddess Housekeeping. Like how to stay married beyond the 7-year itch. Like how to travel on a shoestring budget.  Or how to make an omelet in a ziplock bag while travelling by van without a stove. Or simply color-coordinating my clothes. (My principle for getting dressed is : (1) Is it clean? (2) Does it fit? (3) The more colors the better.)

Let’s cut to the chase. This is a post that gives me one of those, “I Told You So” moments.

I don’t usually read Malaysia MSM (mainstream media) but today I decided to buy the papers. On page 35 of the Nation section of The Star I saw an article that got me excited to post about : Slowing the Paper Chase.

The article begins with :

IN THE face of a changed labour market, Singapore may have decided to keep the local university population from increasing beyond current levels. The more cautious approach to higher education emerged from private talks that a senior education ministry official had with a US diplomat several years ago, according to WikiLeaks.

Key words : several years ago.

Continue reading “Slowing the Paper Chase.”

The Dropout Economy

When I took my daughter, then 9, out of school, her Headmistress asked, rather politely, “But what will her future be like if she’s a school dropout at 10?”  I responded almost instinctively, as if talking to an old friend, that by the time Thea reaches the age where she would be graduating from high-school, school “drop-outs” and home-schooled kids will be the new COOL, the first-choice for employment, partnerships and scholarships.

It’s obvious when you think about today’s world where most employers are no longer impressed by products of degree-mills; young people who are disconnected between the theories they regurgitated for a piece of paper and the real world they are supposed to bring value to.  In about 10 years, just about the time Thea and other unschooled children like her become young adults,  people are going to notice  that school drop-outs have all the desired qualities for the 21st Century Economy that others have been schooled out of in the 20th Century schooling machinery.

A Time magazine article on March 11th, 2010 brought back my enthusiasm about how I believe the future is going to unfold and how, with that knowledge, I am preparing those who would listen, for that future.

Middle-class kids are taught from an early age that they should work hard and finish school. Yet 3 out of 10 students dropped out of high school as recently as 2006, and less than a third of young people have finished college. …..But what if the millions of so-called dropouts are onto something? As conventional high schools and colleges prepare the next generation for jobs that won’t exist, we’re on the cusp of a dropout revolution, one that will spark an era of experimentation in new ways to learn and new ways to live.  (Italics are mine.)

It’s important to keep in mind that behavior that seems irrational from a middle-class perspective is perfectly rational in the face of straitened circumstances. People who feel obsolete in today’s information economy will be joined by millions more in the emerging post-information economy, in which routine professional work and even some high-end services will be more cheaply performed overseas or by machines. This doesn’t mean that work will vanish. It does mean, however, that it will take a new and unfamiliar form.

Rather than warehouse their children in factory schools invented to instill obedience in the future mill workers of America, bourgeois rebels will educate their kids in virtual schools tailored to different learning styles. Whereas only 1.5 million children were homeschooled in 2007, we can expect the number to explode in future years as distance education blows past the traditional variety in cost and quality.

Don’t forget to watch the short video by Reihan Salam (sorry, unable to embed video to show).  Here are some of the points I really loved :

  • We tend to think school dropouts are making a very big mistake with regards to their future – but what if school dropouts are on to something?
  • Good, solid, stable, middle-income jobs are vanishing regardless and it’s not kids’ fault they’re dropping out rather it’s the failure on the part of our schools.
  • Colleges and universities have evolved into diploma mills that really exist to perpetuate themselves and to expand their own budgets rather than deliver real value to the people they were meant to serve.
  • So in the future when your kids tell you they want to drop out of school it could be an indication that they’ve found a better of learning and preparing for the future.
If you liked this post you might also enjoy this article which includes a video of influential futurists Alvin and Heidi Toffler discussing how hopeless our school systems are in preparing for a future they predict is unfolding.

Self Actualization through language learning? Pt. 1 :Paradox of education.

  • We should teach people to be authentic, to be aware of their inner selves and to hear their inner-feeling voices.
  • We should teach people to transcend their cultural conditioning and become world citizens.
  • We should help people discover their vocation in life, their calling, fate or destiny. This is especially focused on finding the right career and the right mate.
  • We should teach people that life is precious, that there is joy to be experienced in life, and if people are open to seeing the good and joyous in all kinds of situations, it makes life worth living.
  • We must accept the person as he or she is and help the person learn their inner nature. From real knowledge of aptitudes and limitations we can know what to build upon, what potentials are really there.
  • We must see that the person’s basic needs are satisfied. This includes safety, belongingness, and esteem needs.
  • We should refreshen consciousness, teaching the person to appreciate beauty and the other good things in nature and in living.
  • We should teach people that controls are good, and complete abandon is bad. It takes control to improve the quality of life in all areas.
  • We should teach people to transcend the trifling problems and grapple with the serious problems in life. These include the problems of injustice, of pain, suffering, and death.
  • We must teach people to be good choosers. They must be given practice in making good choices.

Would you agree that those should be the goals of EDUCATION? And if so, which subjects are the best to teach these and if none are suitable, how must education be restructured in order for us to be able to teach these things?

The above points would be much easier to deliver if the goal of second language acquisition focuses on Language Acquisition, the bits of language, instead of a focus on Language Teaching, the atoms that build up our idea of language instruction. But is self-actualization the responsibility of the language teacher? Should it be?

Abraham Maslow believes that the only reason people would not move well in th direction of self-actualization is because of hindrances placed in their way by society. He states that education is one of these hindrances. He recommends ways education can switch from its usual person-stunting tactics to person-growing approaches. Maslow states that educators should respond to the potential an individual has for growing into a self-actualizing person of his/her own kind.

It is a paradox that education is a hindrance to Self-Actualization. “The current education system, in fact, has dissected and inverted Maslow’s hierarchy of needs so that belonging has been transformed from an unconditional need and right of all people into something that must be earned, something that can be achieved only by the “best” of us.”

“The perception that we must earn our right to belong permeates our society. A central tenet of our culture is that we value uniformity, and we make uniformity the criteria for belonging. Moreover, we exclude people because of their diversity.” [the full article here.]

Our schools, being a reflection of society, perpetuate this belief.  – When a school system makes belonging and acceptance conditional upon achievement, it basically leaves students with two options. They can either decide that they are incapable of attaining these expectation and therefore resign themselves to a feeling of personal inadequacy, or, they can decide to try to gain acceptance through achievement in a particular area (i.e. sports, academics, appearance). In either case, there are potential serious negative consequences for the students.

The question of attaining proficiency in ESL cannot be resolved independently of the problems facing education. Students wish to acquire English so that they feel a sense of belonging to the rest of our increasingly global and inter-connected world. But students should come into class equipped with the knowledge that the right to belong is already theirs and that pursuing a second language as part of a larger global community  is recreational as well as reflecting an innate motivation to learn for the sake of learning.  It is because students enter ESL classes with a sense of shame and failure that it becomes so much harder to immediately work on the language acquisition. My job as an ESL tutor becomes so much harder because I have to be counselor, therapist, motivator, role-model, instructor and surrogate parent all at once.  If I ignore the need to play all those roles, instruction alone would do nothing for learning. Isn’t our job as educators not to make sure teaching / instruction happens but instead to make sure learning happens?

However,  the things I have to do are negated in the wider scope of things because those hours of healing for learning are not reflected immediately in the barrage of standardized testing and world judgments students face on a quarterly or annual basis. I can understand that a student with low self-esteem would feel that a lack of outward representation of achievement (distinctions in certification, awards, etc) would mean they have actually failed in language learning. But what if the goals of education is about healing learners from their miseducation about learning, about life? If society becomes aware about the paradox of education and parents become aware of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs then only will the true meaning of education have value.

Should our goals, even as ESL practitioners, be about the bits that make up wholistic learning instead of the atoms that currently structure curricula around the world?

What is the purpose of going to school?

Excerpt from Sayling Wen’s 2000 book, the Future of Education. The same can be said of education throughout Asia.

Education’s greatest limitation today lies in its curriculum. Whether you like it or not you have got to study all the given subjects. Some students are forced to do what is clearly not their forte, and so they refuse to learn. Or perhaps we need not really delve so deeply into some subjects. If we can adopt the self-motivation method and give the curriculum more flexibility, we can both develop the students’ potential as well as enable him to learn what may be of practical use. We may reconcile the 2 theories (Knowledge-oriented Education & Multidirectional Balanced Development) even without the help of computer technology. But with the help of computer technology the results would be even better. For instance, a student with a great interest in vehicles could virtually handle cars on the computer, going through all the vehicle maintenance procedures.

Continue reading “What is the purpose of going to school?”

When parents and educators screw up, it’s you who pays with your future.

As both an educator and a parent, I can say this : When parents and teachers screw up, it’s the children who grow up and pay the price in the future. Give me one example of a person who says, “I am so lucky to have great, loving, supportive, strong and intelligent parents and teachers” but is not successful. You won’t be able to.

But among your friends who are fearful and frustrated in life, you’re going to be able to identify those who feel both their parents’ life and their education had failed them. All successful people are successful because their parents knew what they were doing. Successful people are successful because they didn’t choose the wrong mentors/teachers to listen to. Successful people often describe themselves as “lucky”. They made their own luck. Continue reading “When parents and educators screw up, it’s you who pays with your future.”

Investing in our Children’s Education – Part 2

I wonder if anyone reading the previous blog would have taken it out of context. Well, the fault lies in me because I assumed readers would know I was talking from the premise of the average parent that sends their child to public schools.

If I had a choice to invest time, money and effort in a speculative way or a productive way….guess which choice I’d make? A sound investment is one that takes in good info, sound fundamentals and smart models of calculation to arrive at a logical investment strategy.

All of us are investors, one way or another. By the choices we make in our lives, we’ve investing in a creation or destruction of a worldview or way of living. There is no escaping the fact that we invest in every aspect of life and since we are organic and not mineral forms of life, we either evolve or devolve. Continue reading “Investing in our Children’s Education – Part 2”

Investing in our Children’s Education – Part 1

This is part 1 of 2 of what I think is a gravely misinformed idea most parents have about  investing in their children’s future. Part 2 can be read here.

investment6There are several things parents need to be aware of when thinking along the lines of ‘investing in education’. ‘SAVING’ money in some kind of fund is not a form of investment, it is a form of saving, and when today’s socialnomics rules have changed, savers are losers.

An investment in something means that the amount we will reap will be many times the principle amount we invested. For instance, if we spend an average of $300 a month on books, uniform, transportation, school fees, tuition fees, school activities, etc over the course of 11 years, that would total (give and take) $50,000 once you factor in inflation and a devaluation of currency…. Continue reading “Investing in our Children’s Education – Part 1”

In defence of children against the tyranny of teachers and adults.

I’ve long held a thing against teachers who are intentionally or unconsciously cruel in their opinion of children. The Ms. Trunchbulls of the world! This is an email I wrote in response to one such Ms.Trunchbull. (Matilda, Roald Dahl). They outnumber me 100,000 to 1 but if I’m going to get crucified, this is one cause worthy of ex-communication by the whole teaching community. The teacher was responding to a series of complaints by parents about the cruel punishments inflicted by teachers, which really, is only skimming the surface on the extent of the problem in schools. 

I refer to the letter ‘Homework given for good reason’ (The Star, August 12th, 2008) from Practicum Teacher. It is not humiliating for a teacher to be called a hooligan. “A”, being a singular form, refers, in this case, to the particular individual who behaves like one and we shall call a spade nothing else but a spade. Not being able to perform under pressure and not being brave enough to make a decision to leave is not an excuse to take it out on the children, the parents or the system. You know the saying, if the kitchen gets too hot…..

We spend gruelling hours at teacher training colleges and many hours on writing lesson plans. Why can’t the students appreciate that?

An efficient teacher within an effective curriculum would not neeed to spend hours planning lessons and preparing for classes. It is the fault of the teacher training college or a teacher’s own if they cannot find methods that will enable them to plan an entire semester ahead. I understand that most teachers are not lucky enough to attend a decent business school or have a faculty for continuous learning but these things can be acquired. I also understand that students don’t always perform according to the lessons planned for them. That is where extensive reading, visualisations, case studies, reflections and becoming a self-directed learner and scientist of the classroom on the teacher’s part, comes in. Before we get frustrated by why students can’t learn and retain what we want them to, we have to ask ourselves whether we’ve been doing our homework reading teaching journals and keeping up with research on how learning happens, various classroom practices for different needs, etc?

We put in effort to prepare homework for them. Why can’t students complete it?

There are two reasons why students don’t do their homework. I should know. I’m famous for not doing mine. First, the student doesn’t know the work very well. Even if they are honest about it and tell the teacher week after week that they are falling behind in a class of 40, others won’t be. Their kiasi-kiasu classmates will get their older siblings and tuition teachers to do it for them or copy off the abler classmates. An honest and ethical student always takes the brunt of the teacher’s own sense of frustration.

A second reason is that the homework given makes sense only to the teacher. My 10-year old nephew slouches over and has to spend about 45minutes coloring pages of a workbook. I asks him why he looks so miserable. He says his teacher thinks he’s still a 5-year old and that coloring inside the lines of small pictures in a workbook that was meant to be colorless will make him a clever person in the future. The following week, he comes to ask dear aunty to help him complete 15 pages of English Science. His teacher tells them to do it at home. I asks him what does the teacher teach in class? He says he suspects his teacher is unable to teach in a way they can get it, so the teacher passes the buck to them.

What if a student doesn’t complete his homework, and comes back the next day without completing it again, and it goes on for weeks. Other students would follow them if the student got away with it. What should we do? Give them a pat on the back? 

Practicum Teacher believes that children are so naive as to imitate the behaviour of others for the sake of imitating it. But if that is so,it can also work to a teacher’s advantage. Motivate a few underachievers or inspire a few achievers. When the rest of the classmates see how much their friends have improved by subscribing to a particular teacher’s way, they will find an intrinsic motivation (familiar???) to do what is advantageous to them. I’ve seen it work many, many, many times. The onus is on the teacher to be the Highly Effective Manager the children need. Children need to model after highly effective, motivating, inspiring adults. They can definitely tell the difference between one who barks louder than their teaching message and the leader they are inspired by. 

We teachers are trained with methods to deal with these students. 

Practicum Teacher says that ‘we are trained (to deal with imperfect students) and that is why we have our methods when we deal with them’. I would suppose that these ‘methods’ are widely-recognised, globally effective methods with extensive and reputable empirical research behind them? I would like to see this list of studies which says that homework and ‘methods to deal with those who are imperfect students’ makes for the most effective learning. 

Ad lib : I wonder if these methods include, “Do as you wish with the children, even if it means inflicting irreversible psychological and emotional damage on them, because it was done to you when you were a student, and look what a champ you are now. It’s only fair that what you witnessed, you do unto others. Question not. You are a teacher after all.”

There’s not enough time in school. 

Not having enough time to complete the learning within the 6 hours, 5 days a week given to teachers is not the students’ problem. It is a reflection of a combination of highly ineffective management of a school, ineptness of teachers to troubleshoot a classroom situation and a curriculum that was not written taking into account learner needs and available resources to achieve those goals. 

Enough of wasting children’s time in schools. Bring the problem to a higher authority to rectify a situation where 6 hours, 5 days, 11 years is STILL not enough to produce a desirable result. Homeschoolers study an average of 4-6 hours a day or less and not more than 5 days a week and most of them achieve higher results in test scores for their age group than schooled children. How do we explain that? Smaller group? Better management of learning? Is it the child’s fault that the classes are overcrowded and learning material ineffective and inadequate? Is it the child’s fault that teachers are not hired from among the intellectuals and progressive thinkers this country produce(s)(d)? Is it the child’s fault the Schooling machinery cannot attract, retain and motivate the cream of intellectual creative thinkers like they do in less troubled schooling systems?

If we didn’t care, we would simply dish out the lessons and not care whether students understand it. 
There is a much more effective way to evaluate student understanding of materials taught. Organize quizzes. Let them have quiet time in class to do their work. Walk around and offer positive, constructive help when needed. Observe how many percent are able to complete on their own and note them. Jot your observations on the post-it you carry around and write a lesson plan on topics that need more learning. These are just a tiny fraction of ways to gauge learning. I’m sure you trained teachers have a lot more of those ‘methods you are trained for’ where it comes from. I’m sure I don’t have to write out an entire book on ‘Positive Ways of Gauging Learner Progress’ or ‘Motivating Students to Participate in Reporting Their Own Progress in Class.’

Homework should be done at home. I wonder then what the children are doing at home? And don’t their parents care enough to know what their children are doing in school?

An overgeneralised conclusion – homework should actually be done at home. – Just because a compound word is coined that way doesn’t make it legitimate in its definition. How about we call it ‘schoolwork’ instead of ‘homework’? Both are etymologicaly the same [schoolwork – the material studied in or for school, comprising homework and work done in class.] In this case, parents and students can then ask, “Why is there schoolwork? What were we doing in school then for those many hours if we didn’t learn what we were supposed to?”

If you are wondering what students are doing at home, they’re doing what they were not allowed to do in school – relax and be themselves. Hang out with family members. Chill out. Find their centre. Let their Chi-flow. 

The responsibility of teaching is that of the teacher. To say that parents ‘don’t care enough about what their children are learning in school’ is the same as saying the parents might as well not send them there if the parents have to function like a Quality-Control Supervisor at the end of the conveyor belt. The parent’s role is to love, protect and provide for the child. That includes checking in on the goings-on of school which contradicts the parent’s philosophies on loving, protecting and providing for the rights and potentials of the child. 

Students who do not complete their homework should be punished. The older generation received harsher punishments and their discipline was good.

If you believe so passionately that students who do not do their homework deserve to be punished, have you ever asked yourself where this belief sprung from? Was it from your own bitter experience of quiet terror when you were in school? Or is it a hidden sadism you need to deal with before we entrust our children to a teacher like you? Are you a happy, contented, fulfilled, loving person? Or are you, like many teachers nowadays, a bitter crusader of life because you feel lacking? 

You are sorely, sorely mistaken to equate subservience in children, which springs from a need to survive, with respectfulness. If we were to give in to these compulsions of authoritative teachers like you, we might as well forsake the progress we’ve made as human beings and go back to being slaves and plantation owners. That would be a major step forward for humanity, wouldn’t it? – Watched North and South? I did as a child and I swore that as long as I am a free person, no one is going to treat me like a slave. And as long as I am among free people I will not subject anyone to cruelty, violence and damaging fear. I will obtain respect through my intellectual strength and actions, not from being a classroom tyrant. You claim that the ‘older generations’ were whipped into discipline. I say they were whipped into emotionally unavailable people at best and perpetrators of the same violence unto others at worse. If punishing was such a popular and effective tool, why the decline in this approach? 

If teachers put in so much effort to prepare homework, why can’t students complete it?

You ask why students can’t complete homework which the teachers have painstakingly prepared. Students ask the same question – why can’t a teacher teach in a way which does not require us to waste so much ink / lead and paper? Not to mention, our free time? You’re making it sound like being a teacher is the only profession where one can get away without intimate knowledge and understanding of what you’re dealing with. To be a teacher is to understand your learners and what motivates them or impedes their learning motivation. Can you imagine a surgeon who doesn’t understand his patient’s anatomy? Or a dentist that doesn’t know why a tooth hurts? “Let’s cut out the entire heart since the pancreas isn’t working!” or “Let’s just pull each tooth out one by one, that way, we can avoid future problems with toothaches” is a scary, scary proposition. It’s not that much different when you approach teaching in a way where it is a struggle and a perpetual problem instead of applying observation and diagnosis the way a scientific mind would. Teaching, after all, is the sciece of how learning happens. Or at least, it should be! I believe that’s what every 4 year old believes when they go to school, that someone’s going to understand them and teach them how to learn. 

In life, when we find that something is a great struggle and causes great hardship, it is because it is the wrong way to pursue it. The right path is an undertaking filled with love,peace, joy, energy and purpose. It is a path of exponential learning and continuous appreciation of the value of learning. It creates a long value chain because it begins with the right premise and is undertaken in the right ways. And I say all of this now with great vindication because, 15 years later, I’ve answered my teachers’ challenge – “If you think being a teacher is so easy, then why don’t you go do it?”