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  • Dec 22, 2014
  • Updated: 7:57pm
My Take
PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 August, 2013, 3:08am

Sworn believer in independent thought

Robin Williams, in one of his most comical movie scenes, taught a class of Asians how to swear in English. His students loved him for teaching them something useful.

I was reminded of this when the Education Bureau said it had received more than 1,000 e-mails and 150 phone calls about primary school teacher Alpais Lam Wai-sze. Most were critical of her swearing at police officers in public.

Eddie Ng Hak-kim, the education secretary, said this was unacceptable behaviour for a teacher, and Lam swore in both Cantonese and English. But surely you can't judge fairly if a teacher is good or bad, based on whether they swear occasionally or not.

Perhaps she merely committed a faux pas, so it could have been all a misunderstanding. She said, in English, "what's the fu**". We all assume she meant that well-known expletive, but maybe all she meant was "what's the fuss?" - as in the police making a big deal out of nothing - but somehow her accent made it come out terribly wrong. Either way, I hope she doesn't teach English in her school.

What did disturb me is her self-righteousness captured on video, her sense of superiority of being an "authentic" Hong Kong person.

Maybe she refrains from conveying her moral certainty to her students, our prejudicial sense that we as teachers or parents know what's right and wrong and must inculcate the same moral certitudes in our children. If she doesn't do that in the classroom and confine her moral indignation to her private life, she is a very disciplined and good teacher. Moral or intellectual certainty is counterproductive in teaching. All the good teachers I had from high school to college preferred to raise doubts and make us ask questions.

My teachers certainly knew what they believed in. But they insisted their students work through difficult, even unanswerable, questions and problems to arrive at our own conclusions and judgments. The best teacher of Marxism I had was not a Marxist, but an American neo-conservative politics professor.

Good teachers are the enemies of ideologues. A good education trains the student to live with the moral instability of tackling difficult questions, rather than accepting preset answers that paralyse and kill independent thought.


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I hope today’s My Take will be read by all teachers and students in Hong Kong. Better still, make it as a required reading in the beginning of every school year. It tells that question is more helpful than answer in learning. Even Confucius’s thought were preceded by questions except it seems later Chinese set solely on Confucius’s replies ignoring the questions totally. Can Chinese civilization changes with time when Chinese students must earn their qualification through tests and exams which are base on preset answers instead personal thought? My experience in my comment in posting questions that rebutted being stupid, I can’t rule out the effect of unquestioned ‘fact’ were mostly at play.
Yes it will require many changes in schools. Small classes and differently trained teachers (many) would be a starter. What do you think Mr. Education Minister? Too costly? Too unruly? Too much work?
The teacher at that commotion did the right thing. She asked question! Though albeit she might not have said it in English as clearly to be certain.
John Adams
Mr Lo, I have often felt like swearing at police officers, and once I did so when they blatantly refused to book illegally-parked tycoon cars (having booked me in precisely the same place). I'm sure you know the feeling ! Temper is natural when honestly outraged.
Often the law in HK seems unfairly biased in favor of the privileged, or in the case of the Alpais Lam incident : one or other side of the political equation ( I am still not clear which side).
But surely this disguises one huge question.
In Egypt hundreds have died - DIED ! - overnight over demonstrations, yet Egypt is considered a good case for democracy by the West ( same in Syria where thousands have died !)
In HK we have one f -word by a primary-school teacher and yet we are not considered ripe for democracy.
The worst that long-hair ever did was to let off a few balloons in Legco.
Several years ago there was a wonderful Ming cartoon that captured this absurd dichotomy. I wish I could find it again in the SCMP archives : it contrasted one of our happy July 1 marches with Iraq's bombs and assassinations and asked : "Which country is ripe for democracy?"
Our July 1 marches are more like a summer carnival - some of us just go along for the fun.
As for "occupy Central" - it's like a wet squib.
I would hate it if she is teaching my children.
Do you really know what democracy is ?


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