Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

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Written by johnleemk on 11:14:25 am Jun 22, 2005.

Going with the flow, I thought it couldn't possibly be harmful to keep up our daily dosage of mindless incessant (sorry) infernal ramblings. So, instead of setting a topic, I'll let my mind drift over to some things I've been having on my mind...let's see...

Oh, yes, in case you haven't noticed, this website has a message board. You may be wondering what this is. Basically, it's like an e-group. Generally, the average age of our posters is about 15, so it might be a good idea to raise that. *wink, nudge*

Hm...oh, have you ever wondered what exactly the phrase "mean feat" mean? I keep seeing it in the newspaper, but it strikes me as a very odd phrase to use. The context it is frequently used in is something like "Scaling a hundred-storey building is certainly no mean feat". What I want to know is, how come nobody ever says "Ha, eating two large Big Macs! What a mean feat!" In the first place, what is "mean" supposed to imply here? Mean is generally used as a negative word, but often only to describe temperament. In addition, its being monosyllabic and easy to pronunce indicate it would/has likely find currency as a teenage "hip" word, where, as we all know, everything is backwards, thus turning "mean" into a positive word. Or is "mean" meant to represent the arithmetic mean, or average, thus implying that such an accomplishment is only average and normal?

Oh, something else I've noticed is that the level of teachers' incompetence appears to be shaped like the bell curve; incompetent in the class for the academically hopeless; competent in the class which might actually have a shot; and then incompetent again in the class of the superbly intelligent. For example, in form one, I was performing great academically and enjoying my school the second-best class. Thanks to my stellar performance in the mid-term exam, I was promoted to the best class, whereupon my morale dropped (thanks to the hardly inspiring educators) and my grades fell even more dismally. Some of my compatriots who were promoted in form two from that same school also remarked of a similar result; at least one requested to return to the second-best class.

However, I transferred out to another school (I don't know whether I should thank God or curse the devil). The teachers were okay, but I actually had a decent school life. Not good, but certainly on par. I wasn't unduly stressed on a daily or even weekly basis. Did the teachers stink? There were the good and there were the bad, but it was certainly one of my more enjoyable life experiences.

Then I got promoted to form three, and with it, to some of the most accomplished teachers in the school: there's Mdm P, head of the Mathematics department, who now taught our class Maths (last year it was Mdm G). There's Ms Y, also definitely a far more "competent" English teacher than Mr W last year. Oh, we had Mdm R for Science too. Not only was this lady the head of the Science department, but she is also recognised as a "master teacher" by the education ministry (which earned her a prominent position on the school brochure).

And yet, in spite of all this promising academic talent, my opinion of school took a huge dive downward. I even began to skip school by sleeping late (so as to avoid being woken up on time for my "education"). Mdm P is certainly a good person, but her teaching style is completely unsuitable for people of a certain calibre. I mean, honestly, who gives 15-year-old people scoring straight As on all tests for math, a command to cut and paste coloured paper into a wheel? And Ms Y? Oh, she's a good teacher, during the half of the time when she's in a good mood. When she experiences a mood swing, it's a nightmare to be in her presence. Mdm R? Her English is incomprehensible, and half of the time, she begins to lecture us on the finer points of biology which are irrelevant to the syllabus.

I've already explained in a previous article how Mdm R wrecked the midterm paper by her cavalier attitude in marking it. Overall, I have had not a single good experience in class this past school year, except when I paid no heed to the teacher and focused on other matters (i.e. joking, pranking, reading). I would never have done this last year (or at least, on such a large scale, and so frequently). Nor, for that matter, would any of the jokers who joined me. Why? Because of the hopelessly "competent" teachers we were awarded this year.

Some time back, I read a book called The Peter Principle, which my father gave me. The main thesis of the book is that everybody in a system rises to his or her level of incompetence, where that person shall thus stay until the end of his or her days. For example, Mdm P probably was a great teacher in primary school. She probably worked great with the remove classes in secondary school, too. But when she had to deal with the academically-inclined, she choked. And so, that's where she'll stay.

However, upon reviewing my bell curve of teachers' competence, I can't help but feel the book's author is being a tad pessimistic. That is, until I flip to the end. The author notes that some people are aware of his principle, and therefore, somehow manipulate the system (often by making some my small error, not too serious so as to be reprimanded or fired) so as to avoid promotion. My guess is that's why the bell curve peaks in the middle; although there are incompetent teachers, as always, the middle sees the largest number of competent teachers, because these competent teachers recognise their weaknesses and thus avoid being promoted.

Anyway, I'm so damn glad I'm almost certainly stopping school next year. My plan is to take my O-levels this year, and enrol in a private college for my A-levels, which will then provide an avenue for me to continue my education without going through *shudder* the Malaysian public school system. A private college is even better than a private school: no uniforms, flexible classes, and you're treated like an adult.

Speaking of which, that reminds me. One reason I hate school so much is because we are not treated like human beings. The teachers never put themselves in our places, and neither do the parents, because "a student's life is like that". As some would say, stop talking cock. A good deal of teachers avoid real discussion with students. Why, I know not, but it's this intangible factor that counts for a lot. For example, Mdm G last year favoured corporal or otherwise childish punishment, like making students who didn't pass up homework duckwalk around the block. Nevertheless, a lot of us liked her. As somebody who loves Maths, I can assure you her classes made me love ever math period (while others were mostly ambivalent). This year, with Mdm P, I find an excuse to dash out of class and not come back until the period is over. That's the difference. And why? Because Mdm G talked with our class and reasoned with us like we were humans. Instead of justifying her actions with "because I said so", she explained to us the reasoning for what she did.

It is the same thing with the discipline teachers. I don't mind being punished if I am in the wrong. It is when I am not told why I am being punished, and/or I don't even know why the rule I fell afoul of even exists, that I chafe against the restraints of the system. For example: Mr W (the same English teacher from just now) bans students from tucking out their T-shirts during physical education. You tuck it out? One cane, no questions asked. Likewise, if you want to wear shorts for football during PE, you have to wear long school track pants first, show them to him, and then change into your shorts. Law enforcement has become an end unto itself.

Well, it's getting late, and I must wind up. So adieu, dear reader, and may we meet again.

P.S. Don't forget to post in the message board AKA forum!

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Infernal Ramblings is a Malaysian website focusing on current events and sociopolitical issues. Its articles run the gamut from economics to society to education.

Infernal Ramblings is run by John Lee. For more, see the About section. If you have any questions or comments, do drop him a line.

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