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Friday, 4 December 2009

December 2009:War on the Undisciplined

After sometime (maybe more than four months), again I picked up “Sunzi:The Art of War” (umm.. most translations, including brief mention in our Form 4 history textbook, use Sun Tzu or Sun-tzu – later heh..heh.. found out that the one with the “zi” is “pinyin” – romanization/spelling of Chinese names in foreign publications ). Never mind.

Anyway, I bought this “Sunzi” copy of mine at Shenzen International Airport on 8th June 2009 – hardbound with jacket, strongly threaded, and the best part is that this issue of Library of Chinese Classics includes the “Sun Bin:The Art of War” written by Sunzi’s direct descendant – this one is the first translation in English! Never heard of him before. Interesting. The magic of 2-in-1.

Now, on to Sunzi:Attacking Stratagem (page 17).He said:
“Generally in war, the best policy is to take the enemy state whole and intact; to destroy it is not. To have the enemy’s army to surrender on its entirety is better than to crush it; likewise, to take a battalion, a company or a five-man squad intact is better than to destroy it. Therefore to fight a hundred battles and win each and every one of them is not the wisest thing to do. To break the enemy’s resistance without fighting is.”

It suddenly struck me that this is my present approach in handling discipline problems/cases in Bukit Rangin. The only difference is that I’ve always regarded my students as “our children”. During my first speech on Monday’s Assembly I’ve stated that “I come in peace”. I told the students that “school is not a prison” and “teachers are not your enemies”. I was actually trying to break their resistance without fighting. Well, maybe I was trying to play “the Mr. Nice guy” or playing it safe on the basis of fear of rejection/resistance/“hate-at- the- first- sight” thing? Now I don’t know, but at that time, it came out naturally with Allah’s will, I think.

So, according to that stratagem, I should not be handling “war” on the unruly ones by means of “destroying” them. Meaning (to me) that, manhandling, being mean, severe, brutal(?), fierce or harsh is out of the question. That will destroy them especially when they reject and hate “our species”.

In the Quran, Allah did advised our beloved Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) to preach with “hikmah” , “mau’izotil hasanah” (good example) and “ahsan” . Also Allah reminded him to be subtle, lest they will turn away from the Prophet, thus away from the right path. Only that I keep reminding myself that “hikmah” has two faces. Use your wisdom according to situations. One wise teacher said: we use our fingers to peel an orange, but to “peel” a coconut we have to take out the machete! Never try to take off the rind of coconut with your teeth (they did though, in local telematch) . Bad idea. Ask your dentist. Use force if necessary. According to laws and regulations, that is!

Reflecting on that, I was even questioned in meetings in Seri Bentong for being “too lenient” to some students (read : not expelling). True. I was not always right. But some of those boisterous ones were thrown off-balance when I was surprisingly “nice” (actually not being intimidated by all their actions/inactions and remained calm and “acting” of being more concerned of their dangerous minds – yeah, you’ve seen the movie. Oh, Ms Pfeiffer? Nice).

Some friends of mine love to play the “good cop, bad cop” game. I played that part to the hilt in SMART those days along with Ahmad Mahauddin Mansor and Haji Mahadzir Hanapiah. Then again, we picked our battles. Sunzi advised us to do the wisest. We battled some, wrestled some, persuade some, and rationalized some. But we won some and lose some. No case is always “just the same story” even if the students have the same trait or profile. I just like to smile first, as I valued it as one of the best dress to wear. It’s also free. I won many hearts that way. The best one – my wife’s.

Sunzi further said:
“Thus, the best policy is to thwart the enemy’s strategy. The second best is to disrupt his alliances through diplomatic means. The third best is to attack his army in the field. The worst policy is to attack walled cities.”

So, there I was, foiling their attempts to hijack my emotions by calmly reaching into my nicely tailored suit by Lobinsin (right, brother of Robinson), for my trusty cellphone. Got their parents on the line. Have a brief report ready. Wait for the concerned and scrambling parents (some will not be bothered). Offer the students the coziest settee to sit on (believe me, some of them expected to be grilled there and then, standing stiff!) That blew them away. They never expect to be treated that way. Poor children! But don’t be surprised that some of them will pretend to ignore you and just sit down without being offered. Don’t forget your smile.

Personally, I will also exercise the second best strategy of Sunzi. Get some names of their closest friends as birds of a feather flock together. Try to convince their friends that they should be the ones advising the rogue (not rouge – read about reporters’ blunder on Sarah Palin’s books?). Later, get them to see Students Counselors for group sessions. At least they will hate the sessions, not me (joking). Parents will always advise them to avoid “bad friends” and will even blame those friends for being bad influence.

Don’t forget to find out the most influential family member or members: brother, sister, uncle to chip in for some sound advice. Some of them can be their allies if I don’t take them to my side. That’s diplomatic. May even be politics.

The third best is to handle the case immediately (my approach to Sunzi’s attack in the field). They cannot hide in the open field. That doesn’t mean that I will have to settle it immediately. Just like justice must be seen to be done, indiscipline must be seen to be handled. Don’t let up. The process (war) may be long, but immediate action (battle) must be taken (fought).

On to the worst policy – attacking walled cities. I’ve seen students’ eyes turned like those of madmen’s. If looks could kill, some of us will surely die. Clenched fists and teeth, tight jaws, stiff and twisted lips; you name it, I’ve seen it . My strictest policy is never try to challenge, belittle, provoke or even to touch them. I’ll keep my distance (and yes, try not to heed the urge of my feet to flee, mimicking the chicken run) and wait for the wave to subside. I’ll try my best weapon:prayers. The outcome is always encouraging.

These rebellious ones are definitely not our enemies. They were struggling for their lives over Physics, Chemistry, Additional Mathematics, Accounting, even Religious Knowledge, English and World History. They are our focus and the reason of our career’s existence. They may look so lost and miserable at times, being restless out of so many reasons, but whenever I give it a second thought, I will remind myself and those who share my concern that “they need help.” That’s why on one Monday afternoon in SMK Bukit Rangin (sure is windy sometimes), I just clicked on my computer for Mindmap Brainstorming mode and carefully typed right in the centre of a circle “S.O.S.”and began seriously addressing teachers that our boys is sending us this message:”Save Our Soul” . We started to suggest ways of helping those poor souls. Heavy stuff, but we end that Monday Sharing session with a clear mind – we can do more to help them. God Willing.

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