Feeling Disheartened

In the past few months, since school began for my husband and my son, I’ve been candid and clear about my feelings about the students and parents at their school.  Based on my own interactions with the parents and students, most of them seem to be self-absorbed and sneaky, and lack honesty and integrity.

These feelings not only have affected my ability to form trusting relationships with the students and parents, but they also have caused my cynicism about the world and the state of humanity to return. For as long as I can remember, until our move to Thailand in 2013, I have been disappointed by human behavior. I’ve constantly felt overwhelmed with despair and defeat by the depravity exhibited by people, by the greed and selfishness of people. It was, and is, upsetting to know that there are so many people who only care about themselves and will try to “get ahead” in life–for more money, more power–at all costs, with no regard for others or the planet. (In Thailand, all the people we met and interacted with were kind and gentle, thus temporarily restoring my faith in humanity for the two years we were there.)

Unfortunately, in the past couple of weeks, my feelings and cynicism were put to the test again and reinforced, re-igniting my sense of anguish.

So what happened to cause me to feel so despondent and disappointed? My husband caught three different students cheating on a quiz and a test on two separate occasions, all within the last two weeks. In his two years teaching in Thailand, he didn’t catch a single student cheating. Here, he caught three in two weeks.

I realize there will be students who cheat wherever we go, and I’m sure there were students who cheated in Thailand, but to catch three in two weeks is just so discouraging. To me, it speaks to the culture here. As I’ve alluded to before, the kids and their parents at our school here are single-minded in getting into an American Ivy League university, and it seems many, if not most, of them are willing to achieve this goal at all costs. The superintendent, high-school principal, and some teachers have experienced instances of attempted bribery by the parents–with gifts, expensive tickets to events, and even cash–for good grades or admission to the school. Other teachers also have caught students cheating and yet others say that cheating among the students is rampant here. To me, these incidents are evidence of the parents’ and students’ mindset to get ahead at all costs.

What’s even more upsetting is that the school doesn’t do much to discourage these types of behavior. The students essentially suffer no consequences for their dishonesty. Their parents are informed, and the students are spoken to by the principal, but…that’s it! Then there are some teachers who are willing to look the other way. When even the principal, teachers, and other authority figures don’t make a big deal out of something as wrong as cheating, of course the students won’t think much of what they’ve done.

Moreover, to add insult to injury, my husband, as their teacher, is obligated to take extra time and energy to write another assessment for these cheating students and is not allowed to simply give them a “0” for that assessment–because that “0” is not a “true measurement” of their performance. Excuse me while I gag. In my opinion, these students already have failed that assessment by cheating. Tell me how all this discourages them from cheating again.

To me, this lack of consequences is especially harmful in a school with students who think the end justifies the means. The school is essentially cultivating a culture of deception, and teaching these kids that it’s okay to cheat and that performance trumps character and integrity. Here comes the next generation of greedy, power-hungry, corporate fat cats! Add to these occurrences of deceit the students’ attitudes of disregard, apathy, arrogance, and conceit, and constant bad news on TV, and I feel only hopelessness for humanity.

In my opinion, the school needs to think long and hard about what values and lessons it’s trying to impart to these students, who are supposed to be the leaders of tomorrow. The school purports to educate global citizens with ethics and morals, but the lack of consequences for their dishonest behavior instead teaches these kids that they can get away with unethical behavior and still come out unscathed.

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