Washed, Dried, and Folded
Brainwash: verb subject (someone) to a prolonged process to transform their attitudes and beliefs totally. Oxford Dictionary
I had been dreading the day when I would have to give in to the inevitable, and get on the bus for the eight hour trip to Bangkok. I had put it off for the past four years, but now the clock had run out. I had no choice but to take the dreaded Training Course on Thai Culture and Language, and Professional Standards for Foreign Teachers. Yes, we foreigners needed to have a serious attitude adjustment, and damn it, we were going to get one! But don’t think it was being beaten with a stick without some small carrot offered for compliance with the Thai Ministry of Education. In return for sitting like zombies for twenty hours while our Thai instructors droned on, we would receive a certificate, which along with a small mountain of other paperwork, would allow us to be licensed to teach here in The Land of Smiles. Now that is something!
The days when any Farang could teach in a Thai school are well and truly over. I for one applaud the realization that teachers should actually be qualified before being turned loose in a classroom. The stereotype of the typical foreign teacher is not a pretty one. No wonder so many Farang ajarns don’t get any respect. Frankly, a fair number don’t deserve much. Of course a whole lot of Thai teachers don’t deserve much either. There are too many Thai “dinosaurs” entrenched in schools all across the kingdom. Their days are numbered as well. Thai teachers who don’t hold the requisite qualifications will have to get them.
In order to be licensed, all foreign teachers must now have: teaching credentials from their homeland, a B.A. in Education <I *think* any degree is accepted – Stick>, at least one year’s teaching experience (I have these already) ….and have successfully completed the Training Course on Thai Culture and Language, and Professional Standards for Foreign Teachers. I have no idea if there are any government requirements to teach at a language school.
Anyway, this is how I found myself on a bus, hurtling towards the Private School Teachers Association of Thailand, along with a bunch of my Chinese and Filipino colleagues. One of the Chinese teachers had found an inexpensive hotel for us to stay at, waaaaaay down Lad Prao Road, which is how I found myself in a part of Bangkok I had never been before. This was definitely off the path where tourists hang out, but the accommodations were happily clean and comfortable. This particular neighborhood had more bridal shops and karaoke joints than I have ever seen packed together, but that I suppose is a topic to be considered in another piece.
So, bright and early one morning we finally arrived at PSTAT, along with eighty other foreign teachers. I was surprised to see only a small handful of Farangs. Most of the teachers there were from The Philippines, India, China, Japan, and even some African countries whose names I can’t recall. These folks were not English teachers. They taught other foreign languages, math and science.
Our instructor for the day was a bright, personable Thai woman who had lived in L.A. for 12 years. Not surprisingly, she was quite articulate and had a good sense of western humor. The thick syllabuses we were given filled me with dread. Were we really going to go over every stinking word of them?
At the risk of putting you to sleep, here are the course objectives as laid out on page three.
1. To understand Thailand’s general history, societal foundation, economics, politics and religion by reviewing relevant historical, social, economical (yes that’s the way it is written here) political and religious information; and to review the history of education in Thailand;
2. to demonstrate proper Thai courtesy and manners by role playing;
3. To understand and appreciate Thai arts. Music and festivals by reviewing sample artworks, giving opinions on Thai arts and music, listening to sample Thai music and to enumerate Thailand’s common national festivals;
4. to learn basic Thai expressions for daily life and classroom interaction;
5. to understand and appreciate Thailand’s National Anthem and the King’s Song (Royal Anthem) by singing in small groups;
6. to introduce the important provisions of the Teachers and Educational Personal Act B.E. 2546 (2003);
7. To discuss the nine areas that consist the Standards of Professional Knowledge and Experience;
8. to discuss the Standards of Performance and discuss effective teaching techniques in language and sciences education; and
9. To discuss the different types of Professional Ethics by providing real case scenarios that help foreign teachers make better judgments on sensitive issues.
Anybody feeling drowsy? I think all of us there needed a massive caffeine fix to stay awake, but alas there was only instant coffee available, which I personally can’t stomach. By the way, you would think that somebody would proof read all of this.
I suppose if you had literally just stepped off an airplane, and had never been to Thailand before, some of the information in objective # 1 might be interesting. Of course the history presented was laughable, in that it glossed over any embarrassing facts, which prudence will not allow me even to hint at. On our second day of the course we did receive a long lecture about how utterly corrupt Thaksin was, how evil the Red Shirts are, and how noble the Yellow Shirts are. While I wisely kept my big fat mouth shut, an otherwise bright Australian chap insisted on calling that particular exposition blatant propaganda, which of course it was. The three month occupation of Government House and the siezing of Suvarabhumi were called unfortunate but necessary to “restore democracy”. Just thinking of the pompous woman who tried to shove that down our throats still makes me want to gag.
As for objective # 2, everyone in that room already knew to take their shoes off before entering a wat, and dozens of other such informative tidbits that anyone who has picked up a guidebook to Thailand learned in five minutes. We spent, I swear, half an hour going over the nuances of the wai. Gee, I guess one shouldn’t wai a bar girl, except of course if she wais you first, which isn’t very likely.
I’m a fan of the arts and music, so objective # 3 was interesting, in as much as I learned the names of some musical instruments that I didn’t know and some dance forms that I was unfamiliar with. Curiously, no mention was made of the fact that what we know as Thai “classical dance” comes from the Khmers. I personally would like to see that type of dance as originally performed by the Khmers. The girls were, like the Apsaras they portrayed, of course bare-chested.
In fulfilling objective # 4, we spent the afternoon learning some fundamentals of Thai language. That of course is a worthwhile pursuit, but how much can you really absorb in a few hours. The most interesting activity was putting on some rather hilarious skits. Oh, one bit of useful information I gleaned was the exact meaning of khee-niaao which many of yoy know means cheap, as in “Farang khee-niaao mak”. (The Farang is very cheap). I already knew that Khee is, well, shit. “Khoon khee maa” (You are dog shit) My wife reluctantly taught me that phrase when I pressed her for a good Thai expression to curse someone. What I didn’t understand was where niaao, which means “sticky” (as in Khao niaao…sticky rice) comes in. The expression khee-niaao means that you are sooooo cheap that you can’t even part with a piece of shit. Oh, you have to love the Thai way of painting a mental picture! <Did they really teach you that?! "Kee" would be better translated as a 'propensity for something' so kee-neeow translates as a propensity to be sticky i.e. a propensity to not let go of something, in this case your money. There are many such words beginning with 'kee' which have nothing to do with shit! – Stick>
I think we all could have done without objective # 5. I swear, I will never be forced, except at gun point, tossing either of those two songs again!
The second day was devoted entirely to Objectives # 6-9, all of which did not have even the vaguest relevance to what goes on in the classroom. If you actually plodded through the endless pages of government jargon, you might think that Thailand has set some worthwhile goals to promote quality education. However even the instructor admitted that most of the endless provisions are in fact never carried out. But…it was required to read every word of every page, and so we did. In a mad moment of group discussion, every teacher present denounced the “no student is allowed to fail” policy. What we were told was that teachers who cannot impart information so that every student passes, are in fact the “ones who have failed”. That of course is utter khee-gaan-phuut-geern-jing (bull shit). Please do not insult my intelligence and tell me that I am to blame if little Somchai and Somporn are too rude to pay attention in class or too lazy to do their homework and study.
I found objective # 9 amusing. We were told that it would be improper to have dinner with the parents of a student. No mention was made of the envelopes of money that are routinely given to Thai teachers by parents who wish to have their children’s grades “reevaluated” I guess that as foreigners, we are thought of as easily corrupted.
During the course of these two days I was required to write several short papers. I complied splendidly, and regurgitated on command what I had “learned”. But you know what? I have a confession to make. The whole time I was there, I was practicing ancient mental techniques to keep any of this from entering my brain. They in fact worked so well that this entire load of rubbish is evaporating even as I am writing this. With the next hour my mind should be blissfully free from it all. I will have to write a quick note to myself to hold on my certificate that I received on the way out the door…and the name of that one karaoke shop with the cute girls sitting out in front.
Pretty much everyone I know misfortunate enough to do that course had one word to describe it – PROPAGANDA!