27 September 2005

Free Speech & Blogging

Sept 27, 2005
Schools act against students for 'flaming' teachers on blogs

By Sandra Davie and Liaw Wy-Cin
FREE speech may be the buzzword on the Internet - but libel is unacceptable everywhere.

The message has been sent out loud and clear, with five junior college students being punished for posting offensive remarks about two teachers and a vice-principal online.

The students, all girls, were made to remove the remarks from their Internet diaries, or blogs, and suspended for three days last month. Their parents were also informed.

The case is not an isolated one. Of the 31 secondary schools and junior colleges contacted, 18 said they were seeing more such incidents as the number of bloggers surges.

To Mr Wang, the case of the Naughty Student Bloggers is, in several ways, even more interesting than (gasp!) the case of the Seditious Bloggers. You see, in Mr Wang's mind, the Seditious Bloggers clearly crossed the line, as far as the content of their messages was concerned. Here, though, the young students' remarks, while no doubt annoying or hurtful to certain individuals, were not threatening and furthermore, in some instances, may well represent a justifiable opinion.

Mr Wang would be interested to know whether these schools ever take into account the idea that students ought to be allowed to have opinions. I can imagine that some students will cross the line, but imagine, for instance, a case where a student writes something like this:

"I cannot stand that Mrs Tan. She cannot even speak clearly in class. She's always mumbling to herself. And you can tell from the way she marks our essays that she's just not interested in her job. She never bothers to give any proper comments on our homework. I think that she is the worst teacher in the school. She's a real idiot."

Mr Wang can well imagine that there could be many teachers in Singapore who are like the above fictitious Mrs Tan. Furthermore Mr Wang believes that honest, brutal criticism may be the best way to make such students improve themselves. In addition, Mr Wang does not believe that teachers should expect respect from students, simply by virtue of their status as teachers. If you're not a self-respecting teacher, then you shouldn't expect students to respect you.

The question, however, is whether the school would tolerate students who blog like that. Knowing what I know about the culture of Singapore schools, I somewhat doubt it. This is unfortunate. I think that there is a larger issue here. Are we successfully training young Singaporeans to think independently, to form their own opinions, to challenge authority, if necessary? Or are we still repeating past mistakes - creating yet another generation of mindless robots, designed only to score well in standardised exams.

Naturally, the Straits Times, being what it is, never touches on all these issues which Mr Wang has just mentioned. Instead the ST article veers into all sorts of minor distractions, irrelevances and inaccuracies. Let's take a look.

Seven secondary schools and two JCs have asked bloggers who
criticise or insult their teachers online - 'flaming' in Internet jargon - to remove the offending remarks.

Inaccuracy Spotted: To criticise is not to flame. One can criticise without flaming. One can even flame without being critical. Ah, subtleties which elude ST journalists.
One such remark referred to a secondary school teacher as a 'prude' for disciplining a student for wearing a too-short skirt. 'Frustrated old spinster. Can't stand to see attractive girls,' the blog read.

Tanglin Secondary science and PE teacher Tham Kin Loong said: 'I've had vulgarities hurled against me, my parents and my whole family in some students' blogs.'

The 33-year-old added: 'Most of them do not realise the legal implications of what they are writing in such a public domain.'

If teachers wish to prosecute, they may have legal grounds to do so.
Not really. Only the Deputy Public Prosecutors can prosecute and I think most of them would laugh, if they were asked to prosecute such trivial matters as the Naughty Student Bloggers. "Sorry, I'm too busy with my murder cases," I can imagine the DPP saying.
Singapore Teachers' Union general secretary Swithun Lowe said the union is ready to back any teacher who wants to take legal action. It has offered legal help to a few members, but they did 'not want to affect the prospects of their young students'.

Lawyers say students can be sued for defamation, even if a teacher is not named. 'As long as someone is able to identify the teacher, and it is an untrue statement that affects his reputation or livelihood, then the student is liable,' said Ms Doris Chia of Harry Elias and Partners.

An injunction can be taken to get the student to remove the blog and issue an apology, she added.
What Ms Doris Chia didn't mention are the disadvantages of litigation. To me, you would be an extremely idiotic teacher to sue in a situation like this (so idiotic that you deserve students to be blogging nasty remarks about you).

Imagine, for example, that a student wrote this about you - "Frustrated old spinster. Can't stand to see attractive girls". You could forget about it, and in a few weeks, so would everyone else. Or you could kick up a big fuss, and sue, and attact more attention, and with a little luck, your case and your face may even appear in the newspapers, and everyone will say, "Oh, that's the one. She DOES look like a frustrated old spinster, doesn't she?"

(Clarification: Mr Wang is using the remark "frustrated old spinster" for illustrative purposes only. His above paragraph is not directed at any specific person).

It is also pretty idiotic to talk about legal suits by teachers against students. This is a school, for goodness sakes. What will the teachers do next? Apply for gag orders from the court, against students who talk too much in class? Make police reports against students who litter? Sue students for negligence if they are careless in their homework?
But none of the schools contacted by The Straits Times has banned blogging. Rather, many English and General Paper teachers encourage it to improve students' language and writing skills.
ST Dumb Comment spotted: How could the school possibly succeed in banning blogging? Even the Government of China and the Government of Iran can't do it.
The recent cases of two young men and a teen charged with making seditious and inflammatory remarks about Muslims on the Net have led to teachers discussing the dos and don'ts of blogging with students.

ST Irrelevant Nonsense Spotted: What has the anti-Muslim remarks have got to do with students remarks about individual teachers they don't like? Nothing.

35 comments:

Anthony said...

Agreed, Mr Wang. Both on the point that ST does -not- get it and that this form of censorship is arugably more indicative of the kind of FoS that we bloggers have been arguing so hard over.

I note a trend of ST equating blogger criticism with unacceptable speech - is it just because they don't get it, or is it something more sinister? A means to discredit potential alternative "press" perhaps?

takchek said...
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takchek said...

Is Singapore becoming a more litigious country? Respect is earned, and not a given. This doesn't bode well for the country.

Huichieh said...

Trackback From a Singapore Angle: "latest: more from Mr. Wang (who does not suffer fools lightly) and Mr. Brown (who thinks that the natural solution is simple...)"

A.Ball.of.Yarn said...

while students should have their own opinions, you must admit that some people, students included, do have a very warped sense of personal injustice.

anyway this comment I read in today's TNP is just as amusing, a 15 yr old student was quoted as saying, "Being students, teachers are a natural part of what we write about in our blogs. Schools should lay down the ground rules on what's acceptable and what's not, so we don't get taken by surprise."

If they even need to be taught on what and what not to say, I really do think a measure of internal disciplinary action is appropriate for those who still believe they have the right to wilfully defame anyone online, not to mention that the lesson taught will be good for their futures as well.

Mr Wang Says So said...

I'd like to see some of these student blogs for myself, just to see what kind of stuff they actually write about their teachers.

If anyone knows some URLs, please post them here ...

locky2ky said...

Wow teachers are learning from the Mentor, wanting to sue for defamation!

In Singapore, unless you're rich and powerful it's best to avoid litigation.

chrischoo said...

I think they just don't get it. It is difficult to understand what goes on in the Internet if one's life revolves around writing newspaper articles for the next day. Likewise, it's pretty difficult to comprehend what goes on in the newsroom if one's time is mostly spent on reading blogs and alternative online news sources. I think it'll take some time before the mainstream media and internet media (e.g. blogs) will live peacefully side by side.

xenoboysg said...

Cannot post the blogs here lah, will get the kids into trouble. Saw one (incidentally, a friend of the seditious holocaust blogger) who ranted against his teacher, got suspended from skool and his VP intervenes and channels his creative writing energies to various endeavours. He is still angsty about school but seems to like skool more now.

Agagooga said...

Yay, more thoughtcrime! Criticism is bad. Criticism is evil. We cannot say anything bad.

ehtwoc said...

We used to make these kind of remarks about our teachers all the time. What's so different about posting it in a personal blog visited by your classmates? These comments are mostly harmless and well-intentioned, after all.

veii said...

Reminds me of two fairly recent news reports:

1) About a schoolboy recorded video footage of a teacher disciplining students in class.

2) About school-leavers who returned to collect their exam results and were then turned away for having dyed hair.

It almost appears that today's kids have totally baffled their schoolmasters. I think these are the symptoms of a generation gap that's never been wider and more significant than it is today.

tstar said...

i was pissed off when i first read the article, now after reading your analysis and thoughts, I feel so much better.

singaporean said...

I wonder if Mr Wang thinks the issue is trivial if you substitute the characters involved. What would happen if a lawyer calls a judge a "frustrated old spinster" in his blog? Contempt, bailiffs, handcuffs, cell time?

No judge can afford to let his or her authority be undermined in any way, no matter how small, or the legal system will not work. A judge must be respected, so that their judgements will be respected too.

While teachers may not breathe the same rarefied air as judges, teachers need some respect too, to get their job done.

It is one thing to know you are hated, it is quite another thing when the hate speech is broadcasted worldwide in detail which may or may not be fair or accurate.

How would parents feel about sending their kids to a teacher who is widely known as a "frustrated spinster" or "horny bachelor"? Somebody's teaching career can end this way.

Or imagine teachers take up mrbrown's idea and blog about the students. Student A cheated in the exam, Student B started a fight again, Student C stole a calculator, Student D groped his classmate. All your dirty laundry available with a google search. Before you know it, we are going to need a yellow ribbon project to fix the damage too.

Remember, scribblings on toilet walls can be painted over, tables with carvings can be thrown away, but the internet never forgets.

Teenagers these days like to talk about their "rights", but are they ready to take the responsibilities that comes with the rights?

Anthony said...

Okay, here's the reason why I find this article disturbing.

There's -no- mention of WHAT was mentioned in the blogs, save for a single comment.

"One such remark referred to a secondary school teacher as a 'prude' for disciplining a student for wearing a too-short skirt. 'Frustrated old spinster. Can't stand to see attractive girls,' the blog read."

I have no idea why this quote was selected, especially since the newspapers would be incentivised to print as sensational a quote as possible.

If this is the high-water mark then we have an issue here. I mean really. Litigation over this?

There's also some commentary to be made over the people who end up teachers in Singapore. Mind you I'm not slamming the -choice- of teaching as a profession, only the societal impetus to use NIE as a dumping ground for grads who can't find a job otherwise.

singaporean said...
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singaporean said...

Quote
==================================================================================================
Anthony said...

Okay, here's the reason why I find this article disturbing.

There's -no- mention of WHAT was mentioned in the blogs, save for a single comment.

"One such remark referred to a secondary school teacher as a 'prude' for disciplining a student for wearing a too-short skirt. 'Frustrated old spinster. Can't stand to see attractive girls,' the blog read."

I have no idea why this quote was selected, especially since the newspapers would be incentivised to print as sensational a quote as possible.

If this is the high-water mark then we have an issue here. I mean really. Litigation over this?

There's also some commentary to be made over the people who end up teachers in Singapore. Mind you I'm not slamming the -choice- of teaching as a profession, only the societal impetus to use NIE as a dumping ground for grads who can't find a job otherwise.

9/28/2005 1:46 AM
===========================================================================================================
Unquote

Since when was there ever a societal impetus to use NIE as a dumping ground for grads? Your remark is extremely offensive and ignorant.

Teaching is a very labour intensive industry, with a very high attrition rate. If NIE cannot meet the numbers, what are schools to do? Ask students to take a year or two off from studies? With the pressure of meeting that numbers, NIE may not have the luxury to be too discerning in certain years especially when the employment market was booming. But when the job market went downhill, when MOE was spoilt for choice, many applicants do get turned away.

You speak as though MOE is some sort of welfare organisation that will employ any moron with a degree and there are thousands of teachers out there with no student to teach. Why then do we still have third world student to teacher ratio of over 40 to 1 in our classrooms?

When was the last time you were in Singapore? Next time you open your gap, try talking about something you actually know something about. Like Teletubbies perhaps.

Anthony said...

Singaporean,

I was last in Singapore 3 months ago, leaving after 28 years of being born, living in, being educated and working in Singapore. I have friends who are teachers, have been teachers and have gone through the NIE system.

I like to call a spade a spade.

Sure, it's a labour intensive profession. My point is that it is a dumping ground because people entering the hallowed gates of NIE -TREAT- it like a dumping ground. It shouldn't be - as you and I both agree on.

Let's just assume for a moment that I am a person that only knows about teletubbies and the gospel truth you preach.

QUOTE

---

With the pressure of meeting that numbers, NIE may not have the luxury to be too discerning in certain years especially when the employment market was booming. But when the job market went downhill, when MOE was spoilt for choice, many applicants do get turned away.

---


UNQUOTE

Explain to me like a person that only knows about teletubbies why NIE gets grads only when the employment market is going downhill?

Ask yourself, and take a cross-section of NIE and tell me how many people are there because they -WANT- to be teachers, and how many are there because they didn't qualify for something else they'd rather be in? You've alluded to the societal impetus yourself - people treat teaching as an alternative profession. Given ideal market conditions, they'd rather not be teachers. As I've alluded to - no more, no less.

Now, -if- what I say is true, how do you expect a society that treats teaching as a dumping ground to inculcate respect for teachers in their younglings?

In short, we reap what we sow.

singaporean said...

You have actually spent time in Singapore? Wow...that's really hard to tell. Your friends who teach must be consummate losers for you to have such disdain for them.

In the ideal world, students fight to enter NIE, and only those who fail to qualify end up reading law. In the ideal world, teaching is a protected profession that admits only 100 a year, while the law faculty takes in thousands, because the state needs that many lawyers to keep the cost of legal services affordable. In the ideal world, teachers charge you by the minute for their professional services, while you pay 10 dollars a month miscellaneous fees to get legal advice from a state employed lawyer.

In reality, it is one thing to cross the gates into NIE, it is quite another thing to stay as a teacher. As much of half of the teachers leave the profession when their 3 year bonds are up. Now, I wonder, what alternative alternative jobs are there for such lowest of low graduates?

In a forgotten era, our parents hardly went to school and had awesome amount of respect for teachers. In the real world today, everybody has a degree or diploma, and the respect for teachers had deflated. I am sure when you return, a US educated lawyer will have little need to respect such beings with lesser qualifications.

Maids, waitresses, teachers...what is the difference? You pay them a salary, they provide a service for you. If they had more self respect and worked harder, they would be in a more dignified profession, like a lawyer perhaps. So go ahead and look down on them. You have earned it.

In short, your teachers must have been really bad sowers to reap a fruit like you, Anthony.

Anthony said...

Singaporean,

Good grief. Read carefully - I'm saying that teaching as a profession -deserves- more respect than it is -getting-, and it isn't -getting- the respect because people treat it like an alternative career, and society treats it like an alternative career.

There's one thing to construct an argument, another to put words into my mouth, and yet another to pick a fight. Since you've done nothing to address my argument (my point about you contradicting yourself remains unaddressed, and that was the crux of your own complaint I add), I can't make a good faith effort to continue this.

Congrats, Singaporean, you've reminded me why leaving Singapore is a good reason.

singaporean said...

What contradiction is there? You made an ignorant derogatory stereotyping comment about teachers. What kind of rebuttal do you want me to make? Why dont you try proving that your assertion that there is a "societal impetus to use NIE as a dumping ground for grads who can't find a job otherwise" is not a lie to begin with?

How can you claim to try to solve a problem of respect for teachers when you are the problem?

Anthony said...

Nice argument, Teacher Singaporean. I rest my case.

Mr Wang Says So said...

Well, the two of you have certainly veered off into areas that I didn't quite expect. :)

But since those areas are not directly related to my post, I shall not comment.

thewanker said...

The exchange has been kind of strange...

I had a very good and dedicated art teacher once. Her sole ambition since high school was to be an art teacher.

When she finished her bond however, it wasn't her students that cracked her. It was the system that cracked her. She lost all her passion because it was the system that was uncompromising and refusing criticism (note again, that criticism is not equal to flaming) to take a lighter approach to education.

So she left at the end of her bond.

As for her 8 years worth of students? We all still visit her for Chinese New Year.

I don't think it's a typical problem of having no respect for teachers. I think it's a typical problem of seeing education as having one approach only -- being paternalistic about it.

Which is of course, what singaporean seems to be defending.


kh

Kang said...
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nicole said...

these people in the singapore education system seem to have forgotten that students have a mind of their own too. they're not robots.

Kang said...

"You have actually spent time in Singapore? Wow...that's really hard to tell. Your friends who teach must be consummate losers for you to have such disdain for them."

Then, can his friends sue you?

"In short, your teachers must have been really bad sowers to reap a fruit like you, Anthony."

Can his teachers sue you?

"How would parents feel about sending their kids to a teacher who is widely known as a "frustrated spinster" or "horny bachelor"?"

Did this happen? No, it's a hypothetical situation. In fact, most parents don't have the slightest idea about what's going on in school.

"teachers need some respect too, to get their job done. "

As a student, (ya I'm actually one, not someone who has an opinion, we already have 5.999 billion of those. Oh wait, I just insulted the world. So sue me.), I treat every teacher I see for the first time the same. I don't immediately go "ee, this teacher looks bitchy, or this teacher looks arrogant." Do you really think we're that childish? Only through the lessons that we decide that certain teachers ARE indeed lousy. Go ask around, more specifically, ask students. Most of them would be able to tell you how a teacher is, in terms of character and ability to teach. I have this teacher whom at the start of the year, we all agreed was horrible. Slowly however, she stopped acting arrogant and condescending, and now most of us acknowledge that she IS a good teacher, and even her attitude towards us has improved. (see, this is a REAL example, not some overgeneralisation or some fictitious concept) So if my this teacher is able to gain respect again (like I said, everyone starts off from zero, then we plus or minus), I don't see why other teachers can't.

Yes, some comments about teachers are made based on first impressions, but the real comments come after extended periods of exposure to their character and teaching styles. We don't just go around making defamatory remarks. We are confused, perhaps angry, we're not idiots. And while there are 'senior' teachers, we also do get those fresh out from NIE. I have a few of those myself. Being in the education system for 11 years, I believe my skills of discerning the good from bad teachers are pretty well-honed. Sometimes, it doesn't even take a student to tell a lousy teacher from a good one. In fact, most of the times, teachers are lousy not because they can't teach, but because they have terrible characters. Which explains why one of my fresh-out-of-NIE teachers who has been teaching my class all of 3 months, has gained more respect than one of my other teachers, who throughout her 9 months of teaching us, has only caused us to dislike her more. I would go into details, but I'm afraid I'll get sued.

Yes, I am afraid. How to progress as a nation if all we create are uncreative, uninspired students who are afraid?
And no, I wasn't afraid before. I did somewhat post distasteful comments about a teacher, and I got lambasted for it. So yes, now I'm afraid to speak my mind. I'm sure people say bad things about me as well. I'm sure there are some people who dislike me. Heck, I KNOW there are teachers who don't like me. And plenty of times they have said things about me to others, said things TO MY FACE, and probably even blogged about it. But I don't go around suing them. Neither do I go around asking my parents to complain to the school.

The bottom line: You can't please everyone. Students have disliked teachers for as long as there have been teachers. If students cannot have an opinion of teachers, then let's not have a free market. Let's not say I prefer Coffee Bean over Starbucks, lest I get sued. Let's just not say anything.

singaporean said...

First of all, why do I take offence at what Anthony Lim said, about the "societal impetus to use NIE as a dumping ground for grads who can't find a job otherwise."?

Consider this: if I were to say Mr A is an alcoholic wife beater, would you have a racial profile appearing in your head already? Such stereotypes are repeated with impunity till people accept it as a fact for all members of the race, which is certainly untrue. Make no mistake, such stereotyping are essentially hate speech, unacceptable here or in America.

If Anthony Lim's friends and teachers know what we wrote here, I suspect they are more likely feel deeply disappointed with Anthony Lim than be busy filing a lawsuit.

On the larger issue of teachers suing students, I dont believe I had taken a stand. I was merely urging readers to look at the issue from a different point of view. I certainly agree that anybody in the service industry, not just teachers, ought to grow a thicker skin and take criticisms in their stride. Lawsuits should only be a last resort in career threatening circumstances. Believe me, some parents do make complaints against teachers based on hearsay.

I was once a very bad student, the troublemaker of the class. I had managed to make more than a few teachers stormed out of the class. I couldnt understand why they were so angry, how they can abandon a class of 40 because of one rascal like me. Now that I have teaching experience, I can understand why. Teachers are not robots either. It only takes one bad student to make a good teacher ineffective. I was a teenager once, I know how cruel teenagers can be, to each other, to teachers. So I dont know how anybody can confidently assume all students will be fair, balanced or factual in their blogging.

Remember the ITE student who falsely accused her lecturer of sexual harassment and showing pornographic material? There are no lack of students who would lie to get back at their teachers. And not hypothetically for example, a student caught stealing can accuse the teacher of planting the evidence. In this day and age where parents dont respect teachers and principals dont protect them, a teacher can lose his or her job quite easily. And this is not hypothetical.

Who is a good teacher? A good teacher at branded school may be reduced to a sobbing mess if he or she were made to teach a Normal Technical class. I myself never encountered difficulty in mathematics and I find it truly painful to explain maths in simple terms, to weak students who simply dont "get it". Sometimes, only a genuiely weak student can be a good teacher of weak students because he or she can better understand the processes involved. Similarly, only a misbehaving student like me, can better understand why some students misbehave. There is no need to describe such teachers as "dumping ground" junk.

And lastly, I am not the type of teacher focussed in the article, although I am married to one. My wife only ever applied for one job in her life, btw. I had a teaching stint at a polytechnic that has since ended, because I have decided I can make more money sticking to my old line. I have never stepped into NIE, and I am not working for the time being, which explains why I am so free.

I can gladly proclaimed that in my second student feedback, I didnt receive a single negative remark, quite a drastic change from my first student feedback. If all those criticisms of me were made public on the internet, and if I were to emotional type, I might have slit my wrist or jumped off a building already.

Anthony said...

Okay, here's the deal.

"Make no mistake, such stereotyping are essentially hate speech, unacceptable here or in America."

Two noticeable errors in this statement. First of all, one must make a distinction between the drawing of a discernable trend and stereotyping.

If I were to say that african-americans are more likely to be sent to death row than other races, I'd be accused of racial stereotyping, both in the attitudes of jurors -and- the accused. But the numbers don't lie - they do indeed show that an African American -is- twice as likely to be sent to death row as people of any other race. It doesn't follow that I hate African-Americans, or jurors or the death sentence.

Secondly, just to correct a factual error - hate speech is -barely- tolerated in the States, and only because of 1st Amendment Protection.

Let's take a step back and see what the problem is.

YOUR QUOTES

---

"In this day and age where parents dont respect teachers and principals dont protect them, a teacher can lose his or her job quite easily. And this is not hypothetical."

---

"With the pressure of meeting that numbers, NIE may not have the luxury to be too discerning in certain years especially when the employment market was booming. But when the job market went downhill, when MOE was spoilt for choice, many applicants do get turned away."

---

You've essentially hit the nail on the head - society does not respect teachers as a profession. It's pretty discernable as a trend based off what you're saying. People don't pick teaching first - they'd rather pick some other profession. Parents don't support teachers. Principals don't.

MY QUOTES

---

"Ask yourself, and take a cross-section of NIE and tell me how many people are there because they -WANT- to be teachers, and how many are there because they didn't qualify for something else they'd rather be in? You've alluded to the societal impetus yourself - people treat teaching as an alternative profession. Given ideal market conditions, they'd rather not be teachers. As I've alluded to - no more, no less."

---

"Good grief. Read carefully - I'm saying that teaching as a profession -deserves- more respect than it is -getting-, and it isn't -getting- the respect because people treat it like an alternative career, and society treats it like an alternative career."

---

Now, before more mud gets slung my way, I've stated before and I'll state it again. I don't agree with the way the system and society treats teachers. My question to you, Singaporean, is how else are we going to be able to recognise that there's a problem here without someone being able to wave his hand and point out there's a problem in the first place?

So please, Singaporean. If you wish to continue being antagonistic over what you think I've said, by all means. I just hope you realise that you're alienating a person that's sympathetic to your views - and being increasingly less so with every antagonistic comment hurled my way.

singaporean said...

First of all, is it possible for you to show me some numbers to support your claim that there is a "societal impetus to use NIE as a dumping ground for grads who can't find a job otherwise."? I doubt so. What you expressed, is an unprovable and demeaning opinion.

What essentially you said, was that teachers do not deserve respect because the profession is full of graduates who are at the bottom of the heap who will remain a jobless statistic but for the MOE.

Using your analogy, the equivalent is may more like resemble that one should be wary of African Americans because they commit violent capital crime - and I certainly find that an unfounded unprovable unacceptable racist slur. (And just because it is legal to say so doesnt make it socially acceptable.)

Second, even if your claim is true, is it a problem? Do you really need a first class honours grad to teach primary 1 maths?

It takes years to tell if a person can be a good teacher, and many do drop out after the third year, when the bond is completed. Is it so wrong for NIE to take a long shot and accept some graduates with less than stellar grades? Do you have to reduce a thousand NIE students of diverse abilities to the lowest common denominator?

You may also like to know that it is civil service policy to rank all teachers every year and weed out the bottom rung teachers, new or old.
It is a constant struggle to stay as a teacher, but you are probably only interested in their university grades. Which is really sad.

As much as you want to be a critic of the Singapore "system", your mindset is really in perfect harmony with it.

Anthony said...

Okay, I think there's been a huge misunderstanding between what I said and what you -think- I said.

QUOTE

"What essentially you said, was that teachers do not deserve respect because the profession is full of graduates who are at the bottom of the heap who will remain a jobless statistic but for the MOE."

UNQUOTE

I said no such thing.

As a matter of fact, I've alluded to the exact reverse - teachers have a thankless job, and people don't want to be teachers because it's a thankless job.

What I am alluding to is a cycle of mistakes each fueling the next. School rankings, MOE reports, school hooliganism, all these are factors that discourage people from choosing teaching as a profession.

QUOTE

"Using your analogy, the equivalent is may more like resemble that one should be wary of African Americans because they commit violent capital crime - and I certainly find that an unfounded unprovable unacceptable racist slur."

UNQUOTE

Well, you can do a google search or some research on this issue. Fact is, if you look at a given community (I've only looked at California's numbers), you'll notice a far larger arrest and conviction ratio of African-Americans than any other race, far in disproportion of their population breakdown in California.

Here's the part I think I didn't explain properly and why I think there was misunderstanding - I don't think that African-Americans are necessarily more violent or more prone to criminal behaviour - that's a bad conclusion to draw simply from conviction/arrest ratios. What I see from these numbers is evidence of HOW the American legal system is rigged AGAINST African-Americans.

You see, there's an incredible amount of pressure on American cops to make arrests - and "coincidentally", guess which are the most patrolled areas? You've got it, the areas where African-Americans reside. Higher arrest rates ensue, fueling the public preception that African-Americans are more prone to crime and violence. Public perception ensures that the same African-Americans arrested will be more likely to be convicted from an arrest than a person of any other race.

I don't think it's right or fair that the system works this way. What I think the criminal justice system is experiencing is what's known in network economics as "tipping". The more African-Americans get arrested, the more they get convicted. The more they get convicted, the more incentive police officers have to focus their limited resources on arresting African-Americans. Each mistake fuels the next generation of mistakes. In short, we reap what we sow.

How does this apply to our current example?

Take the situation with teachers. Teachers nowadays are a pretty disempowered bunch. They don't have fear on their side (which I think is a bad thing). They have parents who would (unreasonably) shield their children. They have principals that don't support them.

Coming out of school, grads have a choice - they can be teachers or something else. Having seen the horrors of being a modern teacher, this creates a disincentive to be a teachers. This is true regardles of the grades they have gotten or IF THE PERSON WOULD OTHERWISE HAVE MADE A GREAT TEACHER (the alternative careers problem). This creates the effect you've so aptly noted in your previous examples, to wit

QUOTE

"With the pressure of meeting that numbers, NIE may not have the luxury to be too discerning in certain years especially when the employment market was booming. But when the job market went downhill, when MOE was spoilt for choice, many applicants do get turned away."

UNQUOTE

You've described something with the characteristics of an inferior good - an economic term of art used to describe a good/choice which a consumer switches out of IF THEY ARE ABLE.

So we have a situation where people consider teaching a less-than-ideal career. Chances are, people who end up teaching DON'T WANT TO BE THERE. (dumping-ground effect, as I've tried many many times to explain). This effect, again, has nothing to do with a grad's grades. It has everything to do with the perception of teaching as a career, and as I've explained, the disincentives to being a teacher.

So we have these teachers who don't want to be there, teaching students who also don't want to be taught. What happens now? Students nowadays aren't stupid. They can see that if their teacher genuinely wants to be there. And because they can see how much shit a teacher takes, they TOO will not want to be teachers.

Hence continues a vicious race to the bottom. Teachers don't want to be there but there they are. Even if they start out wanting to be there, they grow to hate it. They head out - fueling more demand for teachers. Meanwhile, teachers who don't want to be there encourage a generation of students who don't want to be teachers. Supply drops. Race to bottom ensues.

Now, I've gone through the entire explanation of a social impetus without once calling into question the grades of the of the teacher. How does academics fit in?

"Is it so wrong for NIE to take a long shot and accept some graduates with less than stellar grades?"

No it isn't, and that shouldn't be the policy. In fact, I lay a lot of the blame for creating disincentives to becoming teachers squarely at the feet of MOE and NIE (and Straits Times for that matter). School rankings. Linking teacher performance to popularity and exam results. Focus on report-writing and question-spotting. I can name a few more but these are the ones that come to mind easily.

This innane focus on grades for teachers, translating to performance as a teacher is insane, and just another disincentive for a person to becoming a teacher. Why do I have to suffer to get good grades, then suffer even more as a teacher?

Is what I've proposed based on a focus on grades? Absolutely not - it focuses on societal perceptions on being a teacher, with grades being a small but non-integral component. Is what I said unproveable? Not at all - a survey on NIE (empirical of course, not government sponsored) will tell you what you need to know. Specifically, you should be looking at what NIE students are in NIE for, and what, if they had the choice, of actually doing.

The question of whether its proveable is not the point.

The point is, I'm no grades-crazed overeducated egghead trying to denegrate NIE to get a rise. I'm pointing out a very real societal problem here - a problem that could possibly be used to explain (but not justify) why the student bloggers and teachers acted the way they did.

Sleepless in Singapore said...

I completely agree with Singaporean's views expressed in his first post.

"While teachers may not breathe the same rarefied air as judges, teachers need some respect too, to get their job done.

It is one thing to know you are hated, it is quite another thing when the hate speech is broadcasted worldwide in detail which may or may not be fair or accurate."

I too think that, it is one thing to 'gossip' in private about the teachers we dislike; but to broadcast it to the whole world is another. There is an element of malice here. To slander and cause hurt knowing that the remarks will be known to the target of our disdain. If such an atmosphere is allowed to fester, how can our teachers do their job effectively.

I have no experience as a teacher, but I do conduct a lot of training for adults. In recent years, I have had opportunity to train professionals from neighbouring Asean countries. I find that their attitude towards the trainer is so respectful and appreciative. I really enjoy teaching them and am motivated to go the extra mile even though the fee I get from them is much lower.

Singaporeans, on the other hand tend to treat trainers like other service providers like waiters, or taxi drivers. If you read Br BL Ogs, blog, you will see that they treat doctors in much the same way.

In conclusion, I think this is an unhealthy trend. If principals don;t do something about it, they are not doing their jobs. And you parents out there, if you do not do something about it, the next blog you read could be about what a rotten dad or mum you are.

singaporean said...

Thanks Anthony, for taking the time to explain to me. I sincerely apologise for the harsh words I used against you.

Anthony said...

Singaporean,

No offence taken - I'm just glad we can resolve this by debate rather than harsh words. I'm very concerned about this phenomenon myself, being of the age where I have to seriously think of where to send my (currently-nonexistant) kids to school.

Kelvin said...

Nice semi economic analysis, I will look carefully at Anthony's "model" later.

My only comment is that the question, "What would you have done had you not been a teacher?" is not the right question to ask to check whether teaching is a dumping ground.

After all, if I wanted to be a PAP minister but find that I miss the President's scholarship when I was 18 and thus am now a lawyer, saying that Law is a "dumping ground" does not make sense.

Rather, the right question I believe should be "How much more do I earn being a teacher compared to the minimum it would take for me to stay in teaching?"

Or to put it in more precise economic terms, what is the economic rent from staying in teaching?

If a teacher earns a lot of economic rent being a teacher, then teaching is hardly said to be a dumping ground.

He will stay as a teacher simply because the alternatives do not offer him that same surplus income. He is better off being a teacher than in some other occupation.

If people are still reading this exchange, I will offer my comments on Anthony's model later.