Saturday, July 15, 2017
I was, initially, excited when I moved from 3rd class (year 3) to 4th class. Our new teacher was a Mr. Nugent. He seemed pleasant enough and at the beginning of the class he brought out a guitar. He strummed his guitar and he sang two songs to us. The first song was 'Screwball was a racehorse' followed by 'It Never rains in Southern California'. On the first day this seemed like a real novelty. The songs were interesting and his singing was quite tuneful. Mr. Nugent got us to discuss the lyrics of the songs and it was my first introduction to the idea that a song could have a multilayered meaning. At this point in my tale you may expect me to espouse the value of music in the class room and for me to wax lyrical about Mr. Nugent or to remember him through the warm lens of nostalgia. If that were the end of the story then that may well have been the case. The story continues because on the second day Mr. Nugent pulled out his guitar and played us two songs…'Screwball was a racehorse' and 'It never rains in Southern California'. It seemed as if we were going to listen to these songs until we learnt them all the way through. Every day the guitar came out and every day the same two songs were played. It seems that one of the lessons that we were to learn was that these were the only two songs that Mr. Nugent knew how to play. The story could end here, but unfortunately Mr. Nugent had several more things to teach us. These things are important to learn, but it could be argued that his methods were (at the very least) inappropriate for year 4 students. Mr. Nugent taught me that not all teachers/adults act responsibly, that cruelty can be a powerful persuader, but should never be seen as the only tool in a teacher's tool belt. Mr. Nugent would not tolerate any talking or muttering in class (I have been a teacher for many years so I am aware that it is important to control the volume of speech within a classroom and that it can be a struggle to keep a group focused on the task at hand). If anyone spoke out of turn they would be ordered to sit in a chair out the front of the class, off to one side, with both legs held out in a horizontal position. If you're muscles became fatigued (as they inevitably would) your legs would begin to drop as your heels sought the feeling of blessed relief that the support of the floor could offer. If your legs were seen to dip. Mr. Nugent would be at the ready to strike your shins with the metal stripped edge of his wooden ruler. The choice was between aching discomfort and sharp searing pain (or perhaps not talking in class in the first place). When I was the person in the chair (this would only be occasionally) it was very apparent to me that this method was cruel and totally unnecessary. When it was another child in the chair the unnecessary cruelty was even more apparent. It taught me that feelings of empathy can be almost as strong as the emotion that you are witnessing in others. It taught me that one lesson that cruelty can teach is that cruelty is wrong. The other lesson that Mr. Nugent taught me was that humiliation and torture were ineffective and unacceptable. There was a boy in our class called Guy H (I won't use his full name as this story should not be about him and everyone else in that class will know of whom I am speaking of). Guy sucked his thumb. He would not be the first or last primary student to do so. Mr. Nugent took it upon himself to be the one person that was going to stop Guy and change his behaviour. Mr. Nugent set up a roster. Each day a student was assigned chili deseeding duty. Mr. Nugent would bring in a long red chili and the seeds would be removed so that the soft inner flesh of the chili could be rubbed on Guy's thumb. It was meant to act as a deterrent. It seldom worked. The whole process backfired when one of the seeds flew up and went in the eye of the de-seeder du jour Craig G. Craig was in so much pain that the incident came to the attention of the Principal (Mr. Evans). The Principal brought a halt to the chili roster and the case of the fiery thumb. A few days passed before Mr. Nugent tried his second method…public humiliation. He wrote a large note and pinned it to Guy's back. It read "My name is Guy H. I am in 4th Class and I suck my Thumb!" Guy was made to wear the sign out in the playground and around the school. Thankfully Mr. Evans saw the sign and ordered that it be removed. I don't think any of Mr. Nugent' methods were very effective and I hope that he learned something about his behaviour by the way it was received by Mr. Evans. I learnt destain for Mr. Nugent and I gained respect for Mr. Evans. I also learnt the importance that variety plays in a musical repertoire and that cruelty, torture, and humiliation are wrong. https://g.co/kgs/4rwpuo
Saturday, August 13, 2016
Sunday, June 07, 2015
The abandonment of empathy. We've all had moments when we've "turned a blind eye". It could be said that, on any given day, we turn away from what goes on around us or what is going on in the far reaches of the world. In most cases we have no ill intent. We're caught in our own crises, lost in our own cosmos. Our neglect is not completely thoughtless. We know that we can be attentive when it really matters. Empathy is a spectrum, a sliding scale. Our "blindness" is akin to the petty crime of the "white lie". When we are presented with human behaviour at its darkest, we can rise to the challenge (when we choose too), and bring an end to the suffering. We don't always act in a timely fashion. Sometimes were culpable, sometimes we're a party to the crimes, and other times we find ourselves powerless or immobilized by timing or circumstance. Every situation is complex and there can't be a tidy solution for every problem. We try our best to fix whatever's broken (even when we are the ones that are doing the breaking). We feel guilt when we don't act. Remorse is just empathy catching up with us. We know that suffering is wrong because empathy allows us to feel the pain of others.we want our lives to be free of suffering. We can see that hope in others too. Our "blind eye" should only be a temporary condition. We justify our turning away because we know that we can turn back to look when we really need to. A flexible relationship to empathy allows for a considered approach to each situation. The greatest danger comes when we decide to abandon empathy. It starts small when we begin to describe empathy as a weakness. When we ridicule people for daring to be sympathetic. When compassion is derided. When a social conscience is seen as a liability. When callousness is admired. When greed is championed. When suffering is legislated. When torture is hidden. When hatred is overt. When oppression is enshrined in law. When empathy is abandoned. When every eye is blind and no one is looking.
Sunday, May 24, 2015
Monday, July 21, 2014
Some time ago I wrote a small piece about Trust. http://myideasman.blogspot.com.au/2012/10/some-thoughts-about-truston-several.html It was a reflection on the the notion of 'not trusting anyone'. The basic premise of the piece was that we all trust a myriad of people, and things, and if we didn't we wouldn't get very far in life. This doesn't mean that there are plenty of people that we shouldn't, or can't, trust. I still believe that the people we can trust are in far greater numbers than the ones that we can't. There are always going to be untrustworthy people and the level of mistrust is always going to be a sliding scale that depends on the actions of the other, their reputation, and our expectations that we put upon them. When trust is lost there is always the possibility that trust can be regained. Sometimes that possibility is faint or remote. It usually takes a lot of work by the person, or persons that acted in a way that resulted in trust being lost. It is also very hard work for the person who was betrayed. Forgiveness sounds like it is so very easy but we all know from experience that forgiveness is one of humanities greatest challenges. I think that the worst betrayal of all is when children put their trust in adults, and the adult world that they find themselves in, and that trust is shattered. Small children are so open and trusting in everything that adults tell them. They absorb all manner of information from adults. Sometimes that information is in the form of a lie. The 'white lie' can serve a practical purpose, but as lies slide into darkness they become far more destructive. The instances of children being betrayed by adults are so numerous that they can't all be listed here. Not every loss of trust has to be a direct betrayal. Many children trust that their parents will protect them. Many parents die doing just that. Many parents die with their children from circumstances that are out of their control. Every tiny hand that reaches out to be held is an act of trust. Children trust that their Mum will get them across the road. They trust that Dad won't swing them too high. Many children trust that there will be food on the table. They trust that their house will keep them safe. Their parent's assure them that it's OK to ride their bike or that there are no sharks where they are swimming. We tell our children that 'there are no monsters...not really.' and it's safe to go back to sleep. The Children trust us so much that they follow us, almost, anywhere. We trust in others too and we trust in 'fate' that no harm will come to them. Many people trust in their god or some higher order of things. We tell our children it is safe to play soccer on the beach...we assume that it should be. We send them off to school, or on a trip away, and assume that they will be fine. They hop in a boat or a car and trust that we will take them safely from A to B. We hold their hands and assure them that science and physics will keep the plane in the air. Is all that trust misplaced? Should we trust more in the random nature of things? Should we trust in the greater plan that our gods have for us...even if the plan may seem cruel and heartless? Should we tell our children to expect the worst and be surprised by the best? Is it really our job to crush the wide eyed optimism we see in our children's eyes? Can we trust ourselves to build a better world? I trust that we can do it. I don't pretend it can be easy. It will take love, compassion, understanding, and openness. It will take a lot of hard work by so many generations. The hardest part of all will be to forgive. Our children are trusting in us. Let's take their hand and lead them into a brighter future. image source https://au.news.yahoo.com/world/a/24508409/bodies-litter-crash-site-mh17/