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Another brick in the wall

| January 27, 2020 | 0 Comments

As South Africans, we can learn a lot from the Japanese Rugby World Cup experience.’ (Comment from virtually every returning spectator.)

Years ago, in one of my classes, a well travelled, hard-working South Korean pupil was asked to make a speech comparing his experiences of schooling in Korea and South Africa. With breezy disregard for gross generalisations, he summed up the differences very succinctly: ‘In South Africa, children are sent to school to be disciplined. In Korea, children are sent home to be disciplined.’ He was never punished in any way at his Korean school for being disruptive/ lazy/inattentive or whatever. It was not the school’s job. He was simply sent home. The disgrace at home for shaming the family was such that he was locked out of the house for the night. He felt the Korean discipline system was much better than Western discipline. Disruption in class was minimal.

A fiery debate followed, with three Chinese pupils and one Japanese child siding with the Korean. It polarised into East vs West, with the West, represented by South African teenagers unfazed by being inexperienced travellers, firing cannonballs about excessive conformism, police state, lack of individual freedom and civil rights. The Far East sniped back with salvos of machine-gun fire about crime, drugs, graffiti and litter. An international incident was only averted by the end of- school bell.

While draconian parenting is totally abhorrent, is it right that South African teachers still carry the greater burden of disciplining very disruptive pupils? Surely teaching shouldn’t be a battle against just too many ill-disciplined children? What about the well behaved rest of the class?


Teachers need more parental support. Or maybe a crash course on how to cross minefields. Why? To give them a better chance of being able to tiptoe
past the appalling number of ‘no-nos’ they can be accused of when disciplining pupils.

These can be called ‘no-no-isms’, because they often have ‘ism’ attached (like sexism and racism). They are anything a teacher says or does that can be twisted by those especially nasty kids, or parents – and, more and more often, the media – to make the teacher out to be an ‘Evil Torturing Monster’, or at the very least, the ‘Wicked Witch/Wizard of the West’. Apart from the old chestnuts, like being accused of favouritism, or victimisation-ism, there is a whole basketful of new ones. To name but a few, here is ‘school-uniform-ism’. Teachers get accused of imposing Nazi-style conformism for applying dress codes. For example, when skinny and tight long pants (repeatedly) become the fashion, woe betide the teachers who try to enforce the more appropriate pants dress code – incidentally saving boys from self-induced testicular strangulation. ‘Gestapo Nazi-ism!’ is the least of what they are called.

And ‘hair-style-ism’? (Say no more! Even suggest that a hairstyle is inappropriate, or impairs vision to the point of inducing blindness, and you are accused of killing individuality.)

Perhaps teachers need to fight back. What about confronting parents with some parental ‘no-noisms’? Near the top of the list would be ‘overexpectation- ism’. How many times have you not heard a parent say, ‘She’s very bright, you know – the primary school teacher/psychologist/her grandma… always said so. She should be getting distinctions, not failing in your subject.’ Or, ‘He was the best swimmer/runner/cricketer/all-rounder in his previous school – why is he not in the A-team?’

One of the more important parental ‘no-no-isms’ (after ‘sheer-neglect-ism’, of course, and ‘helicopterparenting- ism’) is ‘my-precious-child-ism’. Teachers find themselves effectively blocked from ever exposing their charges to experiences outside of the confinement of the school by safety rules and the threat of legal comebacks. Apparently, it is better to ruin the little darlings by instilling in them the neurotic fear of ever taking even the slightest risk. Brainwashing them with an overwhelming sense of their sheer cottonwool-wrapped preciousness is apparently more acceptable.

No doubt, experienced teachers and mature parents would agree that both home and school discipline are needed to create a better teaching environment, and therefore, a better future civil society of responsible citizens.

Category: Summer 2019

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