"It is the tragedy of well-raised people that they are unaware as adults of what was done to them and what they do themselves if they were not allowed to be aware as children. Countless institutions in our society profit from this fact, and not least among them are totalitarian regimes."It is one of the themes of her work that brutal child-rearing methods -- the kind that parents here in Taiwan justify on the grounds that life is harsh and school should prepare kids for that reality -- create personalities that engage in brutality. Recent events at my daughter's school, small though they are, remind me of how adults in this society, in every society, are created as children.
Our drama began when CY., in the other class, left his wallet containing NT$900 in a desk in the social studies classroom. His class had vacated the room, my daughter's had already occupied it, and class had begun, when CY returned to say his wallet had been left at the desk. My daughter's teacher then decided to play bad-cop, bad-cop...
"Does anyone know where his wallet is?"
Silence. HT is sitting at the desk CY had formerly occupied.
"HT. Do you have his wallet?"
"Class, did anyone see HT with CY's wallet?" Not Did anyone see someone with CY's wallet? or Is it possible you might remember seeing it in someone's hand or backpack? In front of the whole class, he accused HT of stealing the wallet. Supremely humiliated, HT said nothing. The teacher then moved over to her desk, and searched her backpack, and only hers. Several of the students protested at this point; it was true they were the next class, but there was a ten minute recess, and students from many grades went in and out. Anyone could have taken the wallet.
My daughter came home and described this to my wife, who decided to wait a day before she called HT's mom to see if HT would report the incident to her. But this morning my wife bumped into her while discussing the case with another parent, and it turned out that HT hadn't told her mom....and the tale solved the puzzling question of why the principal had stopped at her house yesterday, out of the blue, to ask whether her daughter was happy at school. The interesting thing is that while the principal appears to have found out what happened, he apparently did not take any corrective action.
As soon as she heard, HT's mother went in to have a little meeting with the Fifth Grade Teacher (HT's Dad is on the board of the PTA and both parents are alumni of my daughter's school -- that's forty years of clout between them). I have no idea what was said, but the fifth grade teacher totally lost it over this affair, according to my daughter. He got up in front of class later and said "HT's mom came to see me today! I didn't turn HT's backpack upside down, I just flipped through the books! Like this!" he said, hands flipping through the air. "That wallet had to go missing somehow!" he shouted. "Did the other teacher steal it? Did the principal steal it? Did I steal it?" My daughter's class watched in awed silence, HT looking for a crack in the earth to swallow her up.
I don't know how, as an adult, I would deal with humiliation like that. But how can a child? And the teacher cannot see that he too is passing on the humiliations that he suffered in this cruel system. When I ask my classes if they were hit in school, everyone raises their hands -- sheepishly, furtively, reluctantly. Because the humiliation and guilt and powerlessness is too great to think about. Yet people wonder where all the tremendous anger in Taiwan comes from....