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Eroded moral values – children not to blame

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For how long are those in power going to keep on bluffing themselves that there is no discipline problem in our schools and trying to make the nation believe their bluff, wonders Ravinder Singh.


Justice Zamani Abdul Rahim who recused himself from hearing a case in the Penang High Court concerning a young man’s insulting behaviour towards the Queen was quoted as having said:

I am worried about the younger generation today … I am worried because the younger generation does not respect older people … The Chinese should respect the Malays, and the Malays should respect the Chinese, the Malays should respect the Indians, and the Indians should respect the Malays and Chinese … Saya risau apa yang akan berlaku kepada cucu saya, cicit saya (I am worried for what will happen to my grandchildren) (The Star, 15 June 2013).

Well, I couldn’t agree more with the feelings of the honourable judge on the question of the moral values of the younger generation. He is not alone in having these feelings. However, the voices of those who are worried about this problem in our society are very few, and they are not the voices of those in authority to do something about it. So their cries remain voices in the wilderness, even though they are very true.

Ironically, those who have the power to make changes to effectively bring about the inculcation of moral values in our school children are in denial mode of the situation spoken of by the judge, i.e. the eroded moral values of our younger generation. They see no discipline problem in our schools. They see no relationship between indiscipline in the schools and indiscipline among the younger generation of adults.

So they don’t want to hear about it, let alone talk about it seriously. They are blind to the fact that what behaviour children are allowed to practise in school is the behaviour they will practise in adult life. For how long are they going to keep on bluffing themselves that there is no discipline problem in our schools and trying to make the nation believe their bluff?

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The Education Review Blueprint that was prepared by so-called experts last year does not say a word about the prevailing discipline situation in the schools, why it happened and how to remedy it. Why this total avoidance of a problem that lies at the root of character development in early childhood, that determines the character of children entering adulthood, that determines the character of a nation?

Who is to blame for this situation? How did the erosion of the good moral values of the 1950s and 60s happen? The erosion did not happen like a landslide and the children did not bring it upon themselves. So children, even those who have grown up and become indisciplined adults, must not be blamed because they have not known better behaviour right from childhood.

Some 20 years or so ago a case was reported in a local newspaper of a teenager who told his crying parents in court that they should not cry for him but for themselves. He had been found guilty of being violent and causing bodily injury to someone and was sentenced. He told his parents that he had grown up to be violent because they had not corrected his violent behaviour when he was small.

In other words, he was saying that as a child he did not know it was wrong to hit someone, but when he was doing it they had failed to stop him and help change his behaviour. So he grew up doing what he had been doing as a child and believing that was the way to live life. These words must have hit the parents like a bolt, but they were very true words.

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In another case, there was this 20-something, big-sized young man who had got into a teacher training college. The first time he entered a certain lecturer’s class, he was wearing very dark sunglasses.

The lecturer asked if he was having sore eyes.

He answered ‘no’.

Then why was he wearing dark glasses?

Nonchalantly, he said he had always been wearing them for the past three years at his previous workplace and no one had said anything.

Where was he working?

Supervisor at a construction site.

The lecturer told him that that job was under the blazing sun while now he was in an air-conditioned room with dark tinted window panes and curtains. It was rude to be wearing dark glasses in a class unless he had sore eyes.

The trainee took off the glasses, but with resentment.

It was observed that after this the student only took off the glasses in this lecturer’s class and not in the others’ classes. Reason: the other lecturers’ had not bothered about this guy sitting in their classes with the dark glasses on. So much for inculcating moral values in our institutions of learning!

If you do not teach a child to know right from wrong from a very young age, the child will absorb whatever is around him as he simply does not know right from wrong. He does not have a built-in filtration system that will keep the bad out and allow only the good to pass through and be absorbed. Repeatedly practising what he has picked up, be it language or physical behaviour, internalises it in him. Once internalised, it is very difficult to change. So the bad must be recognised by the adults as soon as the child starts showing it and removed immediately, even if need be by a smack or two. The adults who should do this are the parents and teachers.

Thus it is vital for the adults in the child’s life to ensure he internalises the good and discards the bad as soon as he picks it up. And mind you, today, children are exposed to a lot of negative input and need more vigilance on the part of the adults responsible for their upbringing and education, but the opposite is happening.

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Schools are the main culprits of character development neglect. They point fingers at the parents, but a large number of parents today lack parenting skills and know next to nothing about child psychology and how children learn values and internalise them without even knowing it is happening. Parents lament when the kids have become teenagers and embarrass them, etc. But at that time, it is too late to change.

The Prime Minister has been talking a lot about “reformation”. All the talk about educational reformation will merely be the releasing of hot air if nothing concrete is done to bring back the discipline of the schools as it was in the 1950s and 60s. Teachers were allowed to use the cane and parents supported this for the good of their children. None of the children who received a few whacks of the cane became psychos or suffered other conditions. Banning the cane was the biggest mistake which has resulted in the indisciplined society of today and the uncontrollable discipline situation in the schools, where the teachers fear the students.

The powers that be must see the difference between judicious use of the cane (when other ways fail) to change bad behaviour in young children as against improper use that results in injuries. The answer is not to put a blanket ban on the use of the cane but to train teachers and parents on the proper use of it, just like surgeons are trained to use a very dangerous weapon in the course of their work – the scalpel.

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