Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Punitive teachers

This was my column yesterday. I didn't have internet connection at home yesterday, thus the late post.

The four students from the Quezon City Science High School who were meted out a 10-day suspension by their principal will be coming to school today. Hopefully, they will be allowed entry into the school since their suspension had been blocked last Friday by the regional director for the National Capital Region Department of Education, pending an official probe of the controversy.

There are many issues riding on the controversy. Some are central to the case at hand; others are simply static that gets in the way. And as usual, many among us get fixated on the static rather than on the critical issues.

The controversy has yet again sparked spirited discussion on what some people call “responsible blogging.” This particular controversy comes high on the heels of a series of controversies that trace their roots to the blogosphere, among them the politically incorrect diaries of a college senior at the Ateneo and that mauling incident at a golf course.

Thus, there’s now a whole bunch of people out there who are frothing in the mouth about the need to regulate the blogosphere. There are many things that are wrong with this advocacy but like I said, they represent static that only confuse the issues at hand.
The whole controversy started because the four students posted entries in their Multiply sites that were critical of the policies and actions of their principal, Dr. Zenaida Panti Sadsad.

But first, let me help the four students and their friends and supporters clarify something that has aggravated their case. Some newspapers (not the Manila Standard Today) and bloggers have provided links to a Multiply site that carries the banner “God Save The Queen—Oust Sadsad” and contains rather incendiary exhortations including statements that border on the violent. This particular Multiply site is not owned by any of the four students and is not the subject of the suspension. This particular site is managed by a person or persons who remain/s anonymous as of this date.

Most of the blogs in question, the ones owned by the four students and which caught the ire of Sadsad, and became the subject of the disciplinary case, have been taken down.

But some of the blogs can still be accessed in the Net. One of the four students continues to provide helpful links to the blogs he wrote that became the subject of Sadsad’s fury, including his subsequent apology. I had the privilege of reading some of the other blogs courtesy of a student at the high school.

My personal opinion is that the blogs in question are child’s play compared to the kind of skewering that many columnists and more established bloggers subject government officials to everyday. Heck, they are nothing compared to the name-calling and insult-trading that happens in the comments section in the blogs of noted pundits.

But perhaps that’s where the problem lies: Many people are uncomfortable with young people who speak their minds. I know that there are many people in this country who still cling to the notion that a young person who speaks his mind and asserts his rights is insolent or disrespectful of his seniors. Unfortunately, that’s an outmoded paradigm.

What I find even more appalling is how some people tend to criticize the behavior of kids without taking some responsibility. Who taught these kids to assert their rights? Who exposed them to a series of people power rebellions that essentially confirmed in their minds that being critical of leaders accused of incompetence and advocating their removal from office is valid?

Who taught these kids that it is okay to ridicule government officials, call them names, demonize them, and shame them everyday?

Whether the blogs in question deserve condemnation and punishment or this simply is a case of an overly sensitive education official is a matter of opinion.

But I do not agree with Sadsad’s assertion that the blogs in question put the reputation of the school to shame. I do not see how producing students who can think for themselves can be a cause of shame.

Moreover, the subsequent actions of Sadsad, including meting out the punishment of a 10-day suspension on the students as well as her pronouncements about how she is willing to have the charges against the students dropped provided they apologize publicly and promise not to write about the issue again, are indicative of something else. It seems this principal is not just overly sensitive after all. She seems like a firm believer in the wisdom of punitive discipline.

What I find even more tragic is the way Sadsad seems to exculpate herself from the problem that she is allegedly trying to address with her punitive measures. If we are to go by the tons of commentaries from other students and alumni in various blogs, a number of the issues are valid.

There are problems in the school. Sadsad is in denial and is acting like an ostrich who is burying her head in the sand instead of confronting the problems proactively.

And more importantly, if Sadsad thinks the actions of the four students are contemptible and deserves grave punishment, what does it say about herself as a teacher and as the principal of the school that is nurturing the minds of these students?

To my mind, if Sadsad is a teacher worth her name, the better course of action in this particular case is for her to teach the students through proactive ways and by creating a positive nurturing environment that precisely breeds the kind of behavior she thinks are necessary. By meting out punitive discipline, which in this case happens to be excessive, Sadsad only reveals what kind of a teacher and administrator she really is.

3 comments:

Antonio Pe Yang III said...

While I haven't read into this issue yet (a couple of links would be mighty handy), Sadsad sounds less like an educator and more like a control freak *cough*administration*cough*. Hypersensitive to ANY criticism, real or percieved, levelled against them, and will often resort to browbeating and powerplay to get the offending party to shut up. How immature.

As the supposedly older, wiser person here, you'd think she would have at least opened up dialogue with these kids instead of opening up the proverbial can of worms by suspending them.

Bong C. Austero said...

Exactly, anton.

Anonymous said...

Very well said Mr. Austero. I am glad to have read your insights on this issue, which is protective of the basic human right to free expression. Best of all, you are correct in stating that the principal's reactions to the issue is excessive, if not illegal given the fact the suspension - it seems - is not allowed in public schools. I talked with a neighbor of mine who is also a principal in a public school and I was surprised when she told me that the maximum number of days for a suspension that they are allowed to give is THREE days, not TEN as what Ms Sadsad wanted. Plain abusive, and vindictive not just punitive.