Friday, August 24, 2012

When a haircut becomes breaking news

So by now, I think most of you would have read the Straits Times story of a mother who was so outraged by the teacher who cut her son's hair that she filed a police report.

I was asked how I felt about it and my initial thought was huh? Come on, this is non-news. Must be a slow news day at ST.

But if you really want to know, I think it was simply a case of overreaction all around.
The teacher taking matters into her own hands and cutting the boy's hair - overreaction

The mother making a police report - overreaction

The boy crying and staying home from wushu for 2 days - overreaction

MOE making the teacher apologise and asking the parents to forgive her - overreaction
Really, do we take ourselves so seriously these days that we have to respond so drastically to every small matter? Or is it just a result of too much stress that we have lost all sense of reason?

I have great empathy for teachers - they don't have an easy job and the hardest part is probably dealing with parents. However, I do think this teacher didn't pick the smartest course of action. It's just before the crucial PSLE oral exam - why would you mess with the boy's mental state then? I agree that if the boy had been given warnings beforehand, he probably had it coming. It was a common punishment a generation ago and I just found out that some schools in Singapore still practise this. I disagree less with the act than the timing.

As for the mother, well, I don't think she did herself any favours by going to the police. Auntie ah, police report is for criminal cases hor. Next time your handphone gets stolen, may the police be too busy questioning a teacher for not letting a student go for PE.

Her mention of the $60 haircut for her son also cemented in people's minds, stereotypes about rich parents and their brats. I don't want to judge cos I don't know them. All I can say is, maybe she should sue Reds Hair Salon for an overpriced haircut that didn't meet school standards.

You want to know the irony of ironies? The PSLE Chinese oral conversation topic that day was, "Which is the school rule you dislike the most?" I shouldn't laugh. I really shouldn't.

This incident has created an uproar among netizens and I see many comments along the lines of "in my time, we would accept our punishment uncomplainingly and we all turned out fine! The new generation is a bunch of wussies!"

I always get impatient with "in my time stories" because people somehow like to romanticise the past. The past was not all rainbows and Care Bears. I still have emotional scars from tyrannic teachers who thought it was fun to terrorise kids because they knew we'd be too afraid to tell our parents. Or maybe our parents didn't file police reports cos it's hard to take seriously mata who wore shorts.

But back to serious business. I think the reason why people are so indignant is that this incident is symptomatic of the increasing lack of respect for teachers... and that's a real problem. Some parents don't just question teachers, they teach their kids that it's ok to defy teachers. In this case, even the principal and MOE seem to be condoning the mother's disdain for the teacher.

What parents don't realise is that by undermining the teacher's authority, they're actually sabotaging their kids' education. Compounding this problem is the fact that some parents (and even principals) expect teachers to treat their students as customers. This is just wrong. Students are not customers, they are charges. You give a customer what he wants, you give a charge what he needs. If the charge needs to be disciplined, he should be, in a fair and appropriate manner.

I think people often confuse respect with rightness. Students should learn respect for their teachers, not because the latter is always right. The same way that we expect our kids to respect us, even though we sometimes make wrong decisions or do stupid things, so should our kids accord respect to teachers. It's a right teachers have earned simply for who they are and what they do.

Only when we understand and abide by this principle, then can our teachers be empowered to do the enormous job they've been tasked with - educate our kids.


Anonymous said...

honestly, i thot that both teacher and mother should have better self-control. anyway, i just came back from Australia having stayed with my friend for a few days. her Aussie friend, a retired school teacher, told me that few men want to go into teaching there - same thing, parents don't respect the teachers. - kjj

Anonymous said...

In my time... ah, forget it, its too long ago.. haha..

thanks for the well written piece.

honestly, i share your concerns. when society reach that point where the status of teachers is deemed so lowly, the profession will have difficulty recruiting better people into it. the downward spiral will cause the quality of teaching to deteriorate over time and children will be the casualties in the process.

so maybe all other parents and future should report this Serene Ong to the police for jeapordising the education and future of their kids.

Quince Pan said...

My reaction was: Why would a P6 boy need a $60 haircut? My haircut is just $7.

BTW, how are the PSLE Oral Examinations? I took MT on 16/8 (Day 1) and EL on 17/8 (Day 2). According to my other classmates who did EL on Day 1 and MT on Day 2, the orals are more diffucult for them than for me.

Anonymous said...

perfect,very fair and balanced view.and the irony of ironies? for all you know,the boy did extra well for his Chinese oral bcos of the so-called taruma he went throughjust before that.

monlim said...

Quince: oral was ok for andre. you can read about it in the previous post :)

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

I don't agree that teachers should automatically be respected. As a matter of fact, I don't think that anyone should automatically be respected, whether he is a teacher, or a doctor, or a judge or the Prime Minister.

Respect has to be earned. In some contexts, it should not be very difficult to earn it. In the school context - the average teacher has much more experience, knowledge and maturity than the average student, and therefore it is common and usual for students to respect teachers. Still the respect develops, not because the teacher is a teacher, but because the teacher has more experience, knowledge and maturity.

What about parents and teachers? Well, you know that in older generations, eg back in the 1980s, the average Singaporean parent had much more respect for the average Singapore teacher.

Why? well one reason is that back then, Singaporeans generally were less educated than they are today, and if you were a school teacher, you at least had some decent level of education. The average parent, being less educated, would respect the teacher for at least that much.

Things are different now. Many parents are sufficiently educated and well-informed to make their assessment of right and wrong and quality and standards. They don't necessarily feel any inclination to agree with a teacher just because a teacher is a teacher. I don't think that they should either.

You do your child an injustice, if you genuinely feel that the teacher is doing the wrong thing, but you still refuse to speak up.


Oh, before anyone asks, I sport a crewcut and so does my son. Neither of us will ever be accused of having hair that's too long. However that's not the point.

monlim said...

Gilbert: I think maybe the word "respect" is construed differently by you. For me, respect is akin to "being respectful". Like I said, it's not about whether you agree with the teacher or whether the teacher is right. Just like we should always be respectful to our grandparents even though they're often not smarter than us nor do we always do what they say.

I find it a problem when students (esp primary school students, who are often too immature to make discerning choices) decide they can be rude to the teacher or demand their own way because they don't agree with this or that.

Again, it's not about agreeing unthinkingly or not speaking up when you feel the teacher is wrong. That's not the definition of respect - that's blind obedience. I have many times spoken with my child's teachers on where I disagree with them but respect means I do so in a consultative manner, not a demanding one.

Of course you will have your rogue teachers, just as you have your abusive parents. I think common sense dictates that there can never be a blanket rule in any situation but that doesn't mean some general guidelines can't exist. Teachers have a tough enough job. If students don't respect them, it's extremely different for them to do it well.

Chono said...

I heard they spent another 60 bucks to restyle. and warnings were given before the teacher cut. Makes me wonder if the family forks out the same amount at every haircut. Anyway i think the mum should've waited until after psle. Then cut and colour all she wants. At least until sec school then have to go back again.

Stancat said...


elles. said...

shame that this has become headline news. it says 2 things: our journalists really have nothing to report ah? standards are dropping? and it's a sad sad day for our educators.

Agree, we can't "judge" fairly - there must be a lot of missing context. I.e. was the boy rude? was the mum even ruder? was the teacher equally unreasonable? were the parents and the boy given ample notice and warnings that his hair needs to be cut before a state exam?

but it is indeed easy to conclude that both mum and kid are, in the stereotypical sense, rich, spoilt and bratty.

and im incensed at the mention of wushu. none of these actions by mum or son speak of the values that wushu, and chinese culture in general. are meant to impart.

as you say, as we have our abusive parents, we do have rogue teachers. in fact, i do hear my fair bit of stories about some rogue teachers are in fact rude parents to their children's teachers, and are even worse children/in-laws.

so, where does this cycle of 道德 begin? perhaps MOE's screening should be even more thorough in awarding places in NIE - not doling out awards and places just because we have a lack of teaching staff.

that said, i'm very consoled that we have our fair share of teacher-parents who are content with what their kids' school teachers do for them. their only requirement was to help the kids along wherever they are weak.

kudos to the parents who trust the teacher's enough to nurture and punish them if they deserve it. not romanticising the past: but if the parents won't be the disciplinarian, who will? not looking forward to see these self-entitled kids become the new face of singapore in the next 20 years.

brandybottle said...

Students should not be treated like charges, they should be treated as equals. This is something many teachers fail to recognize. It is arguable that treating a student exactly like a customer, by giving him or her only what he wants and not what he needs, is not beneficial. If students are viewed as charges, you are not "empowering teachers to do the enormous job they've been tasked with- educate our kids", no. You are giving teachers the ability to undermine students, viewing them not as intelligent equals but as inferior charges. Ultimately, the education of our children can only be done by mutual respect, not just one-sided respect for teachers. Parents are not undermining teachers' authority, they are merely keeping the teachers' authority in check. Students should be given what they need, undoubtedly, but this does not mean you should suggest that we deprive students of what they want.

monlim said...

Brandybottle: Sorry, I don't buy that argument at all. Mutual respect, sure but a 9-year-old cannot be treated as an equal by a teacher. Otherwise the mindset inevitably will be, why do I bother coming to school? If you accept that you go to school to learn, then there is the expectation that you know less than the teacher (perhaps not everything but most things).

This has nothing to do with how "important" the child is. I find it puzzling that because kids have become so precious to their parents, some parents think this entitles the kid to be viewed as superior beings. Kids, esp at primary school, still need boundaries. To say in one sweeping statement that empowering teachers means giving them the ability to undermine students is insulting to the many dedicated teachers and the teaching profession.

brandybottle said...

Students go to school to learn. True, they may be less educated and know less than the teachers. But lesser knowledge does not mean students should be treated as inferior and lesser beings. Is an educated man given the right to treat the un-educated others without respect, is it justified for him to discriminate and look down on others by virtue of his higher qualifications? Yes(I'm being sarcastic), but only in the colonial past where slavery exists or in ancient china where discrimination was the social norm. In the modern world, equality exists by virtue that we are all humans, we are all living beings with the ability to think and feel emotions, an educated man does not have the right to look down on others. Hence, in my humble opinion, students should not be treated as inferior or as charges. Neither should students be treated as superior. They should be treated as equals.

Furthermore, i would like to point out that not all 9-year olds want to skip school.. Many Singaporean children are self-motivated and have a genuine zeal for gaining knowledge and this is another reason why students should not be treated as charges. Students who are treated as equals have the right to express their wants and their wills, "charges" only accept what the teachers deem to be "necessary" for them. I think students should be given what they want and need, the term "charge" is way too extreme. A student will say "I want to get 70 for my examinations", a charge will say "Teacher, do you want me to get 90 in my examinations?".Degrading a student to a "charge" is robbing him of his ability to make his own decisions and subsequently, his self-confidence and independence. Ultimately, only if students are treated as equals, can there be a compromise and a balance between what a student wants and what a student needs. Teachers, having the benefit of experience, can suggest and work with parents and the student to develop the student, but should not be given the sole decision making ability to implement what the teacher deems to be necessary for the child. Students also have the ability to think and not all students have suicidal or self-harming thoughts, most students have the ability to see what is beneficial to them and they know what they need. Who would understand a person more clearly than the person himself? Therefore, equality above old-fashioned and outdated (for good reasons) mentality.

monlim said...

Brandybottle: I find it odd that you consider the word "charge" for students as extreme, yet you think simply the act of simply giving respect to teachers equates having the teacher discriminate against students, robbing them of the ability to make their own decisions and dictating what they can do! Now THAT'S extreme (and a lot of theoretical hogwash).

The fact is not whether students would choose to go to school, the fact is people simply will not learn from somebody they don't respect. Choosing to label something as "old-fashioned" to give it an undesirable connotation doesn't mean it's any less right. By the same token, I can label what you're saying as "new age mumbo jumbo".

As it's clear that we don't see eye to eye on this issue, let's just agree to disagree.

Anonymous said...

I'm a silent lurker of your blog and you have hit the nail on the head as usual, Monica. I've seen some outrageous comments from parents demanding respect for their children when they walk all over teachers' heads, not giving them an ounce of respect. Monkey see monkey do. When parents treat teachers like dirt, their children will too.

No wonder so many are leaving the teaching profession. Thank you for speaking up for teachers.


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