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Where were the parents?




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Maruah Singapore Debate

Human rights organisation Maruah observed Children’s Day with a debate by school students on a provocative topic: Parents are subverting the development of their child’s potential. This was followed by a panel discussion. Educationist Mary George was one of the panellists. Here she talks about the students’ passion, the parents’ absence, the blame game and finally and where the grandparents’ fit in.
1. What were the highlights of last Saturday’s session?

The youthful passion with which the debaters spoke was the highlight for me.

2. There was hardly any parent present. Why was that so?

Saturday afternoons are precious. A parent who has nothing to do with either Maruah or the Debating Association would have many other attractive enough options, hopefully having fun with their kids. In which case, why would parents want to come to a debate with a motion that clearly singles them out in a negative way, referring to them as “the main culprits”?

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Many parents are tired of being blamed for every other thing that goes wrong with children. I am concerned by the unprecedented level of parent bashing going on all around us. Even people with absolutely no professional grounding in child development take their shots at parents: anything seen as undesirable in a child is so quickly attributed to parenting styles, genes (from parents, of course) or a combination of both. With all that finger pointing in their direction, why would parents want to come, knowing that at least half the debate will be villianising them?

3. You are an educationist. Is it possible to see visible changes in the way our children are educated?

Every time I step into a school, I see wonderful changes that have already taken place. Enlightened ways of guiding and counselling students, far more hands-on activities, student-run events and student councils that do actually have a voice.

I see more than enough evidence that our children are being educated in warm and caring ways by teachers and school leaders. Unfortunately, we still hear occasional accounts of punitive practices. As in any profession, there are rogue teachers – human beings whom I suspect would have anger management issues or be bullies in whatever jobs they hold. It takes only a single teacher like that to strike enough fear in kids, making school a negative experience. That is the one change I would like to see – school leaders being alerted more quickly to rogue teachers’ actions so that they can be dealt with. These teachers give the teaching profession a bad name and that is unfortunate because I believe they really are a tiny minority.

4. Parents blame government, government blames parents. Who do the children blame?

Children are less prone to looking for targets to blame in the way we adults do. They may grumble but that tends to be not as deep rooted. Because younger children are more egocentric, some land up blaming themselves when they see parents or teachers getting upset.  Blame is appropriate when there is a wrongdoing. But, otherwise, it would be good to resist our inclinations to blame and instead work together – schools, families and the larger community – on addressing issues.

5. Where do the grandparents fit into this?

Grandparents are the one truly been-there-done-that group we have. I can see grandparents being amused by the debate’s motion because they know how much schools (and ways of parenting) have changed. Also, many of them are tickled by today’s superhuman expectations of parents. I would love to see the microphone being passed to grandparents. Wouldn’t it be fun to have them debate this motion? They would bring a degree of depth beyond the reach of children and even younger adults. And, because grandparents get to step out and look in, we would benefit so much from their wisdom… and humour.

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