Saturday, 11 March 2017

Subtle Racism in the Malaysian Classroom

Hello reader hope you're conquering mountains this weekend.. Literal or figurative!

A while ago, R.A.G.E posted  a video about how racism was rampant in the property market, and I was suddenly reminded of how teachers shoulder such an enormous role in shaping human beings of tomorrow. Everything we complain about in the attitude of grownup Malaysians today are traits that were not checked or corrected by a teacher 20 years ago!
As teachers, we are a pretty huge, if not biggest influence on a child's formative years. We build good habits, and character traits. It goes without saying therefore, that we should practise what we preach. What if we don't realise when we're being hypocrites?

I was having a delightful conversation over kuaci and coffee with some of my most treasured comrades, and was quite surprised to hear a story related by one of them, regarding an officer in the the education dept who, while demonstrating a poetry lesson, had used a large fair boy to represent an Albino buffalo, and a dark skinned boy to represent a regular buffalo. Although it was done in good humour, and the kids who were compared to the beasts, took it lightly, it made me think about some of the subtle messages that we give off through the simplest of actions in the classroom.

A few months back, I was having a conversation with a fellow teacher on what we could do to quieten some of the hyperactive ones in class. Quite frankly, I was at my wits end on how to deal with him! And something she said took me by surprise. She would make the misbehaving Chinese student sit among the Indians as punishment. This, she told me, was a sure way of getting him to zip it, because "the Chinese students don't mix with the Indians."
Why make it a punishment then? Aren't we only justifying their hatred towards the other race by forcing them to sit there only when they misbehave? She had no answer. It was, after-all a quick-fix and no one was ready to give that up.
 But what do we get in return? "Quiet" kids who grow up with a roaring disgust towards their brother from another mother.
 We speak of a 21st century education system, and as terms like "open minded" and "modern thinking" are bandied about and used to describe generation Y, teachers too try to separate themselves from our rather "narrow-minded"  grandparents. But honestly how different are we from the old aunties who used to say "I will let the Keling man catch you if you are naughty"?

I have always thought about her actions and wondered why it would be considered okay to anyone. In fact, today, many complain about the kids who never mingle with other races in their vernacular schools. But what about the teachers who studied exactly the same way and had not experienced living and interacting with different races till they reached the tertiary level of education? What are they bringing to the table...or rather the classroom? How equipped are they to handle the multiracial adolescent learning environment, never having tasted it themselves?

At this point my head usually starts to hurt.

In another incident, I had accompanied my school track and field team for the district level sporting event, and during the closing ceremony, I overheard two teachers talking loudly... Apparently one was speaking too fast, because the other said "cakap slow sikit, macam keling betul ko cakap" (speak slowly, you're speaking like a real keling). Now don't even try to tell me that Keling isn't a derogatory term, because just the context of this teacher's dialogue proves otherwise. The other immediately hushed her and they sheepishly glanced around to see an Indian teacher from my school sitting close by. Fortunately for them, he hadn't seemed to hear, and they burst into a fit of relieved giggles. But we haven't come to the saddest part of this story. Sitting and gaping at their teachers banter, were at least 5 students who then proceeded to laugh and share in this disgusting brand of humour endorsed by none other than their mentors and educators. And THAT, my dear reader, is simply heartbreaking.

We don't realise that as we sit and laugh, we are educating, as we talk and tell stories we are educating, as we chide, scold, and punish, we are also educating. So, it is a constant reminder to be mindful of what we impart every second of the day. As my afternoon school supervisor once very aptly put; in all our actions, we are being watched not by one, but eight hundred pairs of eyes. Eyes that remember, and eyes that learn.
Every day I am  humbled by this profession, in the weight it carries in shaping the biggest assets of the future!

"Nasty littering adults, were once grimy littering, snot-nosed children, who were not checked because their parents and teachers were nasty litter bugs as well."