Thursday, July 29, 2010

Schools of Thought

By Rupa Gulab
(Published in Bengal Post, 29th June 2010)

I have to confess that I’m not on any of the ‘Support La Martinière’ groups that have suddenly mushroomed on Facebook. I must hasten to add that neither am I against La Martinière and I promise, hand on heart, that I’m not distorting the school song by lustily singing, “Hail, hail the name we disown”. I firmly believe that a couple of bad apples won’t spoil the whole bunch. La Martinière is a grand old institution and all that’s required is a spot of weeding. While a heated debate is raging, I’d like to toss a few random questions in as well. There are some things I really, really, really want to know!

1. Shouldn’t school teachers read newspapers? If Sunirmal Chakravarthy (the principal of La Martinière for Boys) had torn himself away from say, Homer’s Iliad, and focussed on current affairs occasionally, perhaps he’d have known that corporal punishment is banned (whew!) in India. Tsk. I certainly hope he doesn’t coach students for general knowledge quiz contests!

2. Should teachers be forced to attend anger management classes?

3. Admittedly, the principal broke the law and broke a cane, but is it fair to imply that he ran La Martinière like it was Guantánamo Bay? Is the media getting carried away?

4. Is this incident a wake-up call for parents as well? Shouldn’t families have dinner together with the television off – even if the latest hit series Castle is showing? Sometimes, desultory conversations like “pass the salt” can lead to more meaningful discussions on life, the universe and everything.

5. In addition to the school song, the canticle and sundry other uplifting hymns, shouldn’t La Martinière include a more contemporary song in the founder’s day celebrations? Like, the iconic song from Pink Floyd’s Wall. Consider these two lines: “No dark sarcasm in the classroom, teachers leave them kids alone.” Okay, so the grammar is a bit iffy (the teachers could gently tell the students that, without pinching canes from the blind) but the message certainly is strong. And even if teachers don’t read the papers, at least they’ll know that caning is very, very bad.

6. Where did Sanjay Smart, the teacher who allegedly demanded a laptop from a student in exchange for test papers, work before he joined La Martinière? Tick the correct answer:
A) The government, as a customs department official.
B) The government, as a home registration official.
C) Any other post in the government.

7. I was brought up to believe that bribery is worse than setting off stink bombs in class rooms. My parents and my moral science teacher at La Martinière taught me this. So tell me, did the principal cane Sanjay Smart as well? If yes, how hard? Did he make Sanjay smart?

8. Do you think Sanjay Smart knew the entire school song by heart? Or did he just go ‘Tumpty tumpty tum tra la la tiddly pom’ when the following line came on: “May our founder’s name endure, ever spotless, ever pure.”

9. Somehow, I don’t trust people who believe in the ‘spare the rod, spoil the child,’ maxim. If they’re mean to children, wouldn’t they probably be the sort to kick dogs as well - and set fire to their tails? In which case, shouldn’t we send a list of the names of corporal punishment offenders to PETA as well?

10. Some people (oddly enough, parents too) argue that caning is a character-building tool. Wouldn’t punishing naughty children by making them memorize really long and boring poems also build character and lots more? At least they’ll be able to insert quotes into corporate speeches when they grow up and make their colleagues feel inferior, insecure and illiterate in comparison?

11. The principal has warmly assured the media that he sleeps like a baby at night, despite the fact that he’s been implicated in the suicide of a child. Can I please have the name of the tranquillizer he’s taking? (What can I say, sometimes I have insomnia.)

12. The final question, now: The more I read Wordsworth’s Daffodils, the more I wonder whose couch he lay on in ‘vacant and pensive mood’. Was it his own? Or was it his shrink’s? The ecstasy he expressed over a bunch of flowers was unnatural and bordering on insanity. Do you think teachers are being viciously cruel by making students learn this poem?

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