Monday, September 10, 2007

When 'dialogue' becomes 'talking back'

(Published - ST Forum. September 10, 2007)

I refer to the letter, 'Teen: Teachers must show respect to students if they want it in return' (ST Online Forum, Sept 7), by Woo Jia Qian.

The letter writer's viewpoint highlights a fundamental difference between the different generations on the notion of respect.

For the older generation, most see respect as something that could be inherited by default according to status, rank or age.

For the younger ones, most see respect as something that has to be earned, regardless of one's age or rank.

This is not to say that the young have little or lesser fear and respect of authority, but rather their approach to understanding authority is different from how the older generation understands it.

After all, the young are the product of today's parenting, which is far different from yesterday's. So it is inevitable for what the young see as 'dialogue' and 'negotiation' to be construed by their elders as 'talking back' and 'showing disrespect'.

Values and mentalities change. The fear and distrust of the younger generation highlights the change and shift from the comfort zones of the elders, built and maintained by institutional mechanisms and values of paternalism.

For the sake of integrating different generations to produce meaningful relationships, people of the older generation have a responsibility to make the change, given their larger experience and age advantage. In that sense, it is difficult to expect young students to ever understand or empathise with their teachers because they simply are not trained to do so.

We are beyond cane- and-shame parenting and schooling. There are better ways to inculcate responsibility in our children and it is up to us to continually and purposefully discover them.

Few may resort to the parenting methods their parents and their parents' parents used, but nothing can guarantee the child fitting in among other kids who have been brought up differently.

The onus is also on schools to explain the rationale for their rules openly and honestly.

At the same time, they must be receptive to students' feedback and queries instead of seeing them as anti-establishment.

Ho Chi Sam

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