We Will Not Be Silent in Thailand
We Will Not Be Silent in Thailand
I recently finished a 2 year employment stint at a high school in Thailand. The first year was actually good, sometimes fun, with some great, hard-working students and relatively low pressure. I was very happy to be able to experiment on my own with not too much administrative oversight. Over the past few years I studied some very progressive education theories and methods from Paulo Freire, Alfie Kohn, John Dewey and Steve Krashen, which I researched extensively. And I was offering my low income Thai students, the kids of restaurant workers, cleaners, maids and motorcycle taxi drivers, the same sort of course structure and progressive curriculum that comes out of elite level schools in the US like Sidwell Friends in Washington DC, where the Obama and Biden offspring attend. Needless to say my students were mostly thrilled and their productivity soared.
This past year, however, the school started caning or hitting the kids at the front gate if they came to school late. I was quite upset to see this the first time, with a crusty old beer bellied frumpy late middle age male PE teacher physically striking 13, 14, 15 and 16 year old girls and boys with a bamboo cane.
After research, I found out that this practice is actually illegal in Thailand. But the Thai teachers at my school didn’t seem to know or care at all, and were, according to testimonies of my students sometimes quite belligerently and brutally subjecting kids to up to 20 and sometimes 30 lashes for not bringing homework. Or doling out lashes for not putting on the correct pair of shoes, and one girl was hit across her head for not showing proper ‘wai’ or respect for a teacher.
In Singapore several years ago, a Canadian kid was given 3 lashes for dealing drugs. My students were getting 7-10 times that for missing homework.
After a while it seemed like the atmosphere of the school changed, to become the most radically violent and intimidating school I ever experienced. I was never so shocked or dismayed in my life at seeing young people subjected to this kind of regime. It was like the Thai teachers and the administration now held the students in absolute, brutal, vicious contempt. Any perceived slight or existent or non-existent insult was met with physical violence, either smacking the back of their head hard enough to make them nearly fall down, or hitting with a rod, a cane or a switch. No other form of punishment seemed to be imaginably possible. No extra work, no detention, no time out, no physical exercise or extra homework. Only physical intimidation and hitting. It was like if there was no violence against the student then it did not count as punishment. Every morning, Thai teachers would patrol the student lineup and sometimes viciously strike kids for what looked to me like meaningless or trivial infractions. Almost no Thai teacher went to class without a stick or a sword cane.
It was staring to make me sick and pissed off because my students were beginning to act out and become rowdy and fight a lot more in class. Several students started breaking off tree branches and finding pieces of wood and coming into class and beating each other up with them. Other students who last year were fine started to exhibit trauma symptoms – withdrawal from class, depression, trouble concentrating, social withdrawal, jumping over the walls to cut class, losing interest, not paying attention and just generally not caring about being in school. I tried to make my classes a safe zone where kids understood that they would not be stalked or attacked or physically threatened. I shut the doors to the classroom and let them know that the Thai teachers could not get to them here.
After a lot of online research I found out this corporal punishment was all illegal. I had one of my better students (who was later witchhunted by the administrators) place a call to the local Education Ministry to ask if it was legal or illegal. That person said “just obey your teacher”. Unsatisfied, we called the Ministry in Bangkok and found that – yes – it is entirely illegal and forbidden by statutory law and Ministry guidelines.
Well, nevermind. This is Thailand, and the teachers have some sort of collective butch military hate-and-fear Obsessive Compulsive Impulse Control Disorder which causes them to stalk, intimidate, physically coerce, beat and flat out assault the students. And my administrators were not about to stop any of it, and were highly annoyed that I would interfere in what they claimed was Thai “culture”.
This is the 7th Thai school I have worked in, and I have never seen a regime of brutality like this against students. I have to think that it sometimes resembled a POW camp more than a school. And I know plenty of Thai people – many, from high to low -who disapprove and have told me personally, bitterly that they are disgusted by that kind of so-called “teaching”. An attorney told me that she went through it and she called it “child abuse”. Another professional Thai man told me that these teachers were being “idiots”. To claim that it is Thai “culture” is about as insulting, derogatory and contemptible of Thailand as one could possibly be.
I took video of kids getting caned at the front gate, over several days, and kids getting caned in the hallways and courtyard. As soon as I did this one teacher started raising her cane at me. I stood my ground and told her it was illegal. I couldn’t even walk between classes or out to get coffee without seeing some teacher wielding a stick against a poor kid. One Thai teacher even came into my class and threatened a boy for what she claimed was “dancing”. She didn’t hit him because I was there. But that gives the kind of climate and atmosphere the students were in.
Finally I showed my video evidence to the police and local Education Ministry. That complaint intimidated the Thai teachers for a few weeks, but ultimately not much happened except that they stopped hitting the kids at the front gate. The Thai teachers were livid at me and vengeful for not being able to displace their personal issues onto the students with sticks and canes. At least for a while the students had some room to breathe.
I took the relevant pieces of Thai law to class and explained them to the students. Told them to tell their parents if they were hit or didn’t want to see their friends hit so much. That was fine and many of the students were relieved and sort of uplifted to hear it. To at least find out that they were not crazy, or in fact all that awful and deserving of such ongoing physical intimidation. But, being kids, they were most too scared and intimidated by the institution, the stick wielding teachers and the apathetic grown ups to tell their parents anything, much less take any action themselves. One girl told me that she could not tell her parents anything because her parents hit her too.
Many students were grateful to find that they had an ally – at least if only in me ( I must say that the other foreign teachers were only interested in looking the other way about this and covering for themselves. And no Thai teachers – none – despite knowing it was illegal, did anything at all to help me or the kids).
My connection with the kids, even the most troublesome, shot through the roof. Never in my life have I had so much success in teaching large classes as I did for those several weeks. They had so much respect for me that all I had to do was give a glance, a word, or hold up my hand, or move one finger and a class of 50 students would shut up, sit down and listen in absolute silence.
Well, the administration couldn’t take any of that. Two months previous they gave me a printed evaluation grade of my teaching from students and teachers that was great. It had no grade below Fair, and the overwhelming majority pegged at Excellent. But now suddenly, I was told that everyone was complaining about me and my classes – and that I would need to be fired immediately.
So I was. But in my give notice interview I was offered information about corporal punishment, which, if I was being fired for being a bad teacher, should have nothing to do with my performance or work as an instructor. I was fed a line about the “law” being “flexible”, something I know not to be true. That schools can make agreements with individual parents, again I know not true, and no database of students who can and cannot be hit was ever produced or shown to me in 2 years. I was also threatened that if I did not delete the photo evidence I showed to the police that I would be “blackballed” from ever working at a government school again in Thailand.
My students showed overwhelming support for me when I was given notice. Many of them broke down crying in my class and other teachers’ classes. My desk was piled to overflow with supportive notes from students, making it completely obvious – to the people that fired me and everyone else who hated me – that whatever they claimed about students’ gripes was a complete fiction. Several – 12 and 13 year olds – went to the director to complain. This is unheard of in Thai culture. Most of them understood everything that was happening top to bottom. I even had kids who were never in any of my classes come up, crying and wanted to hug me. It was a really terrible and emotional time.
After my final paycheck, I filed a formal complaint with the ASEAN Commission on Human Rights in Jakarta and the Asian Commission on Human Rights in Hong Kong. I took a copy of this complaint to the City Mayor and some people in the media. I am going to pursue other avenues as time permits. This is ongoing on behalf of the students. But I am not holding my breath. The important thing to do is make a public record and example for those kids who have practically no advocates to be found anywhere.
This story is absolutely true. Names have been removed. I am not sure how the admins might react. This information was submitted in affidavit form, along with other evidence to the above organizations – available by request. I stand by it. And, while I am not sure that other Thai schools were nearly as over the top with the corporal punishment and intimidation of students as the one I suffered through, I am sure that more than a few are, and I am offering this to let people know what they can or may expect to find – in what may be the worst of circumstances I have ever experienced in over 10 years as an ESL teacher.
Complaint Finally arrives at ASEAN Commission on Human Rights in Jakarta
Complaint made today to UNESCO in Bangkok and to the Asian Commission on Human Rights in Hong Kong
Dear Asian Commission on Human Rights สำนักงานคณะกรรมการกำกับเอเชียสิทธิมนุษยชน Westley Square, Hoi Yuen Road Hong Kong, China –
I was an English teacher in Pattaya, Thailand for 2 years. In the past 6 months, the Thai teachers at the school began to strike and hit the students more and more, to the point that I could not walk around the campus without seeing students struck with canes. I found that this practice is illegal by Thai law and has been for over 8 years. I started documenting instances of teachers hitting students, and I complained to teachers, the administration and the police. Nothing happened and the assaults on students continued, with belligerent contempt on the part of teachers and the administration. They trumped up a bad review on me a fired me, despite exceptionally good documented reports delivered to me only weeks before.
I complained to the mayor, the newspapers and the media, and I have also filed a complaint, affidavit and video evidence with the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights.
I would also like to make you aware of what is happening, and respectfully request any additional advice or support you might be able to provide.
Copy of AFFIDAVIT-signed
Copy of Complaint-to-ASEAN
Copy of AbuseRecord Affifavit
Copies of Evidence delivered to police and mayor.
All data available in this directory
I am not worried about my job, I simply want the abuse against my students to be addressed and to stop.