I was watching National Geographic the other night. In their show, Show Real Asia, the episode was about a boot camp in China entitled Brat Camp China. In that episode, the boot camp was open to Chinese children from age 10-18 years old. Most of these children are rebellious, hardheaded and trouble-makers. Most of the children were brought there against their will or by force because their parents trick them that they’ll go into a resort, have a medical check-up and other excuses. Of course, the poor, unsuspecting children will either cry pleading to not send them their or try to be tough. The “teachers” will then subdue the stubborn children by force like body lock or by pinning them down the floor. The parents pay the boot camp roughly around $2,000 for a 6-months stay in the camp. The main task of the school is to reenact the march of the National Revolutionary Army that covers around 100 km worth of walk! To the children in the boot camp, it is worse than torture and corporal punishments strike not just fear but horror to those who receive it.
After watching this episode, I realized how different culture views education. It might seemed normal for a Chinese to punish a child using a bamboo stick, here in the Philippines, you might get a shock upon seeing one, or you will going to call Bantay Bata 163 immediately. That is why, I think, boot camps is not as popular here in our country unlike in the US or China. What interested me in that episode is that the founder of the boot camp was actually a middle school teacher (high school here in country) and he himself made the curriculum of the camp based on discipline, nationalism, patriotism and respect for the individual. It might sounds good enough but what does a child learn from marching 40 km a day, rain or shine? The child might learn how to feel not tired or carry a lot of water. Or better, they might learn to regret their ways why they landed up in the boot camp. But is it for the good or bad? In the episode, there are 3 cases; 1 young delinquent boy, 1 hard-headed girl, and 1 rebellious teenager. Only the delinquent boy seemed the only one to pass and changed while the hard-headed girl had a ningas-cogon, meaning after a few months, she reverts back to her old self. They rebellious teenager, outsmarted the school and escaped. He is now working as an employee in an internet café and was disowned by his father. I guess it is safe to say that the teaching method, unorthodox yet accepted in the Chinese society, is not as effective as the principal hope for.
The teachers in the boot camp also interested me. The teachers are all well-trained and screened vigorously. But why to some teachers there almost gets away with their erring ways like punishment without reason? The instructor’s defense was he’s doing it with good intentions. He is a product of the armed forces and like the children in the boot camp, was a trouble maker. But after receiving complaints and repeated warnings from his superiors, he was relieved from his post. The principal said that, although they allow corporal punishment, it should be just and fair. He also admits that as much as they hate punishing the children, they have no choice sometimes but to teach them that doing erring things does not do them any good. I see the logic of this one but in my experience, corporal punishment, little or severe, is not my cup of tea. I used to remember how my dad inflicts corporal punishment to me and my brother. It was terrible and whenever he strikes us with a bamboo or thin plywood stick, it is so hard, brutal and so fraternity-like that it bruises our thighs black and blue and we have to force to wear long khaki shorts going to school. Whenever neighbors see our bruises, they are shocked and shaken with what they see. That is why I am totally against severe corporal punishment because of its atrocious and barbaric way of discipline.
Going back to the episode, I noticed that there are a lot of children in the boot camp. As I found out, many parents put their children there because they are concerned with their children’s behaviors. This is very alarming according to Chinese psychologists and sociologists because of the rapid urbanization and westernization of China, it gradually destroying the once family-centered Chinese into a broken family once. Also, this broken families and possibly the rapid growth of China, children tend to rebel and became trouble-makers. But what is shocking is that parents tend to think that it is their children are at fault rather than them, the parents, itself. That is why some parents came to regret their decision to send their children to the boot camp after learning some brutalities and severe punishments being inflicted upon their children.
As I finished watching this episode, I cannot help but think about this in regards to educational psychology. For me, this Chinese boot camp is an excuse to inflict not just physical scars but also emotional and psychological trauma on the children. Also, the boot camp, in my opinion, is simply fronting as a legitimate school for discipline. Although I understand the principal’s and the teachers’ intention, we left with a question whether they are doing the right thing to motivate and instill a holistic personality among the children.
So now the question; how do we teach the so-called “children from hell”? Certainly it is like moving heaven and earth to achieve this. But one person in the class, Sir Danny, shared his late sister’s experience with the juvenile delinquents in the US. According to him, his sister educates these delinquents with something unconventional yet effective method; she used rap music to teach them education. In fact, it was so effective that many delinquents, from a black to a German immigrant, learned effectively and without any incident. When her sister died, many of her former students mourned and pay their last respect for their beloved teacher. I was touched and impressed with this inspirational story because working with juvenile delinquents in the US is as hazardous as working in a nuclear factory. The story of Sir Danny’s sister is similar to that of Jaime Escalante, a dedicated high school mathematics teacher in the US.
So inspiring even the hardest of all children isn’t enough to teach them and what better method we should use for these type of children. I noticed that Sir Danny’s sister used constructive method of teaching in her class. For me, constructivist approach is probably the easiest and the most effective method because it works on the principle that a child has prior knowledge and must achieve and actively engaged in the construction of knowledge rather than passively receiving it. My only concern in this type of method is the fact that a possible deterrent for this teaching method is that, due to the emphasis on group work, the ideas of the more active students may dominate the group’s conclusions. But this is due to the fact that not all students learn uniformly but at different phases. It is true that more active students may dominate a certain group; it doesn’t necessarily means that the more passive students cannot contribute. I believe that many have this thinking because how constructivist method is implemented and applied is either wrong or poorly-trained.
Can discovery learning be applied in delinquent children? It is said that practice in discovering for oneself teaches one to acquire information in a way that makes that information more readily viable in problem solving; it may or may not work with delinquent children. It may work because delinquent children have other abilities that can be considered useful like psychomotor skills, and physical strengths. This is useful especially when giving the problem solving exercises through these given skills like in art, mini-plays, music, and dance. It may not work, at the same time, because delinquents can be so stubborn that they won’t even cooperate nor wants to have anything to do with their education. The teacher will then use a lot of motivations and inspirations for these delinquents to finally relents and start their education, thus defeating the purpose of discovery learning theory.
In the case of the Philippines, this is also true. Many Filipinos are very meticulous and very assuring that no problem solving is gone amiss. But since problem solving takes a lot of efforts, many give up easily and, thus the saying of “Bahala na” comes in to play. This attitude is uniquely Filipino and has a long history. The term “Bahala na” came from the expression “Si Bathala na ang masusunod”. This is a manifestation of the Filipinos’ reliance on faith and the divine in solving problems, which in my opinion can be positive or negative. But in the case of giving up on a problem, “Bahala na” is not the final answer to the problem.
Leaving the question about “children from hell” for a while, let us now focus on whether we should assess how we are orienting the students when it comes to their school evaluation. Should it be based on the mastery of the lesson or it is their performance should matter? For me, it should be both that needs to be assessed. For the mastery evaluation, a student must master the lessons he is being taught and we must know how well they progressed. If we are using Bloom’s mastery theory, we can assess the students on their progress in molding their own knowledge through discussions, quizzes, research papers etc. For the performance evaluation, it is basically the same with mastery evaluation. Only that it focus more on the psychomotor performance of the student rather than the cognitive performance. Filipinos should stop measuring academic success simply with numbers and grades, like most parents and teachers believe, but rather on these evaluations. In my experience, numbers can be deceiving because most A1 students tend to be “intelligent” and “brilliant” by simply doing what is required. After getting their awards and/or citation, they forget what they learned, thus rendering them useless and ignorant once more.
As teachers, surely we have our own expectations with our students. But as the old saying goes; things don’t go according to plan. Teacher’s expectations can affect students’ learning that can be positive or negative. And sometimes, teacher’s expectations can be of extremes. A teacher that expects too much of her class that they tend to be so over-enthusiast or too strict that it over-excites or choke the students. On the other hand, a teacher that expects less that they feel bored or take for granted the students. But one way of solving this is by moderating or going to the middle ground of expectations. A better solution is by setting a more realistic expectation by first assessing what students will the teacher be having and then they can made an expectation well within reach.
In ending this paper, the episode about the boot camp is a reality of how education varies from one culture to another. We cannot say the Chinese were wrong or right in doing that kind of discipline and curriculum that calls for such strictness. For me, the success was really lies upon the individual and how well they’ll succeed in overcoming such challenges. In the case of the boot camp, even though it might be effective after all, is not my idea of a healthy and engaging environment especially to “children from hell”. For me, there is no tough shell for a very patient and caring teacher. In the case of Sir Danny’s sister, which is how education being taught even at the most dangerous persons in society. That is why there is no boot camps in the Philippines because I think we Filipinos find too much discipline based on corporal punishments is too much, especially for a child. Our society is based on compassion, patience, and faith in god. If our society isn’t build on these, then for sure boot camps are everywhere and we’ll be living in a strict disciplinarian way. If there is one thing we learn from the Chinese boot camp is that never leaves the child unguided and uninspired and don’t try to solve the problem through short-cuts and easy-way-outs like this. We should start by giving them more time and attention, counsel and help them in any ways we can, inspire and motivate them to do well, and teach them the goodness in them to be a better person living a better life.