"There have never been students that cannot be taught to be good, but there are teachers who fail in teaching the students." I don't know who coined this paradox but I think that person might be condemned by history.
For many years, China's education experts and media critics have reflected on our nation's traditional philosophy of teaching. Armed with ideas imported from the West, these experts have been calling for a change from a system where the teacher dominates the classroom while students passively listen.
Instead, they argue, the classroom should be student-centered and respect should be given to students' independent thinking. Otherwise, they say, such classrooms can only produce "slaves of books" who are incapable of creative thinking.
I seem to be sounding antagonistic to the new ideas. No, I'm not. I am a hundred percent in favor of the idea that greater freedom for students to think for themselves will benefit them in their future careers when it comes to creative accomplishments.
What I worry about is that things are moving to the other extreme, at least in part of China's education field.
Many teachers post their impressions online of the current state of education. They say that nowadays teachers are afraid of students. They dare not use any stern words to criticize the students who disrupt classroom order for fear of being accused of "hurting student's self respect".
School authorities have stopped disciplining students who treat their teachers with violence for fear of being sued by the parents for "violating the law of protecting minors". According to the online reports, disrespect for teachers has become common in schools.
China has a vast territory on which examples of various, and opposite social trends can be found. As far as I know nobody, including the education authorities, seems to have tried to investigate current relations between teachers and students. But frequent reports of teachers being humiliated by students at least prove that disrespect for teachers is not a rare happening.
Two such events reported recently were poignant reminders of this lamentable phenomenon.
Late last month, in a secondary vocational school in Beijing, a student snatched the cap of the teacher during a class to tease the 70-year-old man while another student threw an empty bottle at him amid the cheers of other students.
A girl made a video recording of the farce and posted it online. The video caused widespread anger across the nation.
Hardly had the outrage subsided when another - even worse - tragedy happened. A teacher in a vocational school in Chongqing died after being humiliated and abused by a student whom she tried to stop from playing cards in class.
I don't buy the explanations of the authorities in both schools, which claimed that the events were "an occasional happening". I believe they were the consequences of excessive emphasis on "teacher responsibility" in conflicts between teacher and student.
In recent years, there have been numerous media reports of such conflicts. But none of the media or the education authorities ever said that students violating school discipline should be punished. All criticism pointed to the teachers.
I don't intend to make a philosophical sounding comment such as "a nation without respect for teachers is one without a future." But I hope we forget the paradox I mentioned at the beginning, at least for a while, a long while.
(China Daily 06/06/2007 page10)