Letter to the American Teacher

Actually I found out that corporal punishment is illegal in Thailand in all schools and for all circumstances. That was my problem, that I wished to follow the law, but I was told that some teachers don’t agree with the law and so they don’t follow it. I was given a trumped up evaluation by teachers who had a vendetta against me and 1 month’s notice.

The very next week were exams and half the student body were given sub-standard exams with anywhere from 20-30% of the questions incoherent with more than one or no correct answers. All these sub-standard exams were prepared by the teachers who use corporal punishment. I reviewed the exams and informed many of the students what they were dealing with.

The general culture of the school says that corporal punishment is the only form of punishment. So no matter what the infraction, kids get hit with a stick at the discretion of the teacher – which is sometimes extreme, where one girl was hit 20 times with a cane for not bringing homework.

To give some perspective, in Singapore, foreign drug offenders receive 3 lashes from a cane. I have not been entirely opposed to corporal punishment for extreme cases, but this business with my students is so excessive for trivial infractions, that it defeats any purpose. A kid can carry a knife to class and get fewer hits than a kid who drops his pencil at the wrong time while a teacher is talking.

It has just devolved into a big corrupt, unaccountable horror story with the worst effects being taken out on the students. They are mostly kids from poor families who don’t have much recourse and many who don’t know any different or any better. To their benefit, once they found out the law, and the position they were in, they took it upon themselves to make a very loud issue and take a stand, which I think led the administration to want to fire me, thinking it was all my doing, when it reality it was all the kids.

They were completely, overwhelmingly supportive of me in extraordinary ways I never could have imagined. All I wanted was for them to follow the law and stop caning students who were late at the front gate because of traffic or family matters, and it turned into a sort of revolution – mostly at the student’s behest and because of their efforts. I am very proud of them all. They certainly have learned about a lot more than English.

I worry that the Administration will try to just cane them all hyper-violently after I am gone. I know the personality of those administrators involved is inclined that way but I think that they probably will not be able to get away with it. And even if they try, many of the kids have inoculated themselves and their friends well enough to understand that the problem is primarily with the teachers and not with them, or their character, their ability, their self, their intelligence or their person. So at least some of the psychological fallout will be mitigated, at least I hope.

I am going to try to get another job locally so I can be around in case I am needed. But I always thought that my job first and foremost was to empower the kids and give them information and support regarding the range of their possibilities and supply them with valid alternatives, different ways to interpret and offer advice if asked. They really stepped up and, in the local cultural context, have made something of a grand slam home run. I have confidence that no matter what happens to me that they will be able to take care of themselves, which to my mind is a big part of  the whole point of doing the job anyway.

Some of my 12 and 13 year old students are spending considerable time and effort researching and quoting law to each other and debating ethics and demanding accountability. And they are setting up their own small unofficial ad-hoc committees to educate, inform and support each other. This is something I never could have dreamed of making happen before.

And it was the class that your students corresponded with that made the greatest impact. This was in many ways their self-directed inside and outside school  lesson plan which grew out of their own investigations and interest. They did important leg work on behalf of the entire student body, making translations and placing phone calls and holding conversations with the Education Minister’s office, other government offices and the police. And they personally took major flak from the administration for their non-lady-like audacity and independent thinking and initiative.  That’s the twelve 16-year-old girls your class corresponded with. All I can do is look on with wonder and awe.

Again, I apologize for the problems and inconvenience this has caused, as all I was hoping for was an easy going exchange…

Thank you for your patience and understanding and wishing you great success in everything.

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