20 January 2008

How Wrong is the Principal?

Following a Straits Times report of a principal dealing harsh words to a group of secondary 5 students, both the online and offline worlds have exploded in a furious mash of voices condemning the acts of the principal and dishing out voices of support and sympathy to the students. There were very few voices to the contrary, and even these are defending the general case and not the principal in specific. To me, it appears as if most people have jumped into conclusions, for I can yet determine if the principal spoke out of self-interest or did she, as the Minister of State for Education explained, meant well as she was giving the students a wake-up call. Certainly, she was wrong, but depending on whether she had ill intentions or not, she could be wrong in very different ways.

There are two possibilities: the principal wants a nice record for her school and herself because of it being a crucial factor to her salary and resume; there is also the possibility of the principal being truly concerned with the students, but chose very wrong words indeed. Both, of course, are wrong, but they are wrong in very different ways. There is also a common wrong in that she implied a low stature for the ITE, but I shall ignore this for the moment and consider the two possibilities.

Now, the first possibility seems to be the conclusion of most people's reasoning, for it was written in the newspapers that "she also stressed that she wanted 100 per cent passes in her school." Now, this is a very tricky sentence. First and foremost, we must note that it comes from the journalist's reporting, which may not reflect and may comprise a sensationalisation of the actual situation. Secondly, it is not clear where the source of this claim is. Was it from all the 27 students the principal spoke to? Was it from parents, who are more prone to overreacting as all parents will? Was it from one student, who may have misinterpreted the principal's words, for she could've very well said something like, "I want all of you to pass your exams" - a well-meaning sentence?

As for the second possibility of using wrong words, she might've made a poor decision in choosing to say what she said and doing what she did. Yes, it's wrong, but in my opinion - and I surmise many will agree with me - that this wrongness is not as dire as the first possibility, for after all it emerged from a true concern of the students. In fact, this can also explain the ITE comment. How likely is she to commit such a mistake? I don't know, but I know it is easy to make a comment (especially to a large crowd) and have it misinterpreted, having it happen to me numerous times.

I'm definitely not supporting the principal, but I'm not faulting her either. At least not yet. In my opinion, there is still a lot unknown to us. All these while, we have not heard the principal defend herself (other than in the initial report), for example. Therefore, for now, my conclusion is that there exists the possibility (and significant probability) that the principal is well-meaning but employed flawed words. It could be otherwise, of course, but how do we know?