"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Monday, October 1, 2012

Eating Paper in a Classroom

The previous post in this blog ended with:

"The true challenge to education is doing both; maintaining curiosity while instilling discipline, learning hard work while at play, and having one's eyes and ears wide open while standing on the shoulders of giants in the past."

Mark Mason wrote as a comment, 
" The confines of a modern Western school are fences and guards, teachers and principals, orders and punishments. The task of a teacher is to be present and engaging in the context of the curiosity of a child. Discipline is a fancy word for beating the dignity and spontaneity out of a child, for the purpose of producing a child who fits the needs of the economic system. Backwards. Education is the other way around. The presence of a teacher in response to the curiosity and needs of the child. Few people in the Western world have any idea what freedom is. Teachers and administrators of schools do not."
This comment resonates even loudly with the following recent incident in the Philippines reported in the Philippine Star of a teacher who made students eat paper for being noisy:

Teacher makes students eat paper 
By Flor Z.Perolina (The Freeman) Updated September 22, 2012 12:00 AM
CEBU, Philippines - An “Outstanding Teacher” of the Paknaan National High School in Mandaue city is now in hot water after she was accused by her students of letting them eat paper after they did not make what she told them to do. 
Josephine Babatuan, school principal, said the incident happened last September 5 yet but it was only reported to her last September 10.  
The teacher, in her explanation to the principal, said that she told her students to do a seatwork while she went out for a while to get her medicine in another room as she was suffering from high blood pressure. 
Photo downloaded from http://thechiefest.wordpress.com/2011/03/02/5-verses-in-psalm-119-were-glad-david-didnt-mean-literally/
The blog http://percivalontheverge.wordpress.com makes insightful comments on this story. While most people would focus on the unacceptable behavior of the teacher, "percivalontheverge" is asking the important question of why the students actually followed the order of the teacher to eat paper:
"...What is troubling is that most of the students chose to follow the ludicrous order. If Math is a subject that demands immaculate logic that stretches and strengthens the mental capacity of students, how come they succumbed to following something they know to be absurd at best and harmful at worst (or even fatal because of the possibility for choking)? How come most of them chose to be automatically obedient in the midst of a subject that requires them to think hard?" (http://percivalontheverge.wordpress.com/2012/09/25/6/)
"Following something they know to be absurd" is a key phrase.  The students knew that they did something wrong. My guess is that this guilt has dramatically changed their sense of right and wrong. The classroom, at this point, was no longer place of learning. It was no longer a class in logic but a place where punishment was about to be given and critical thinking had been suspended. The teacher, who represented authority, at this point, was now absolute. In society, blind obedience goes awry especially when the authority is corrupt. But there must be recognition and respect for those who learned before us.

Although the lack of poor judgment of the teacher in handling the situation is evident, the student's response to the punishment highlights a serious problem in education. This problem is in fact related to how society sometimes deals with issues. With an ever increasing presence of the internet, one can only lament at how easily hoaxes could spread, for example. This is likewise a manifestation of a lack of critical thinking. People can easily believe what they receive if their minds are already preconditioned. In the case of the students inside the classroom, this could be guilt. For others, these are prejudgments or biases. In all cases, thinking seems to have stopped.

"Instilling discipline", "hard work", and "standing on the shoulders of intellectual giants of the past" all refer to the rules. But these rules are not the same as fences and guards. The rule is simply not to stop thinking.

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