BEIJING - In the booming town of Shenzhen, in Guangdong Province, a joint letter from 19 parents has forced a fifth-grade child to leave his school. What made these parents so hostile to a little boy?
The boy has autism. He has a relatively good IQ and a seventh-grade level in piano, and he is not aggressive. However, says the school, because of his developmental disorder he observes class discipline less than the other children. The boy had previously gone to a specialized school, but his mother transferred him to this one, thinking that he would be better integrated into society.
Unfortunately, some of his new classmates’ parents were intolerant. After a semester, they told the school, bluntly, that the boy should not have been accepted and that they would take action to make sure he left.
So, on the first day of the new school year, his teacher prohibited him from entering the class. When he finally managed to sneak in and sit in the last row, the school had his desk and chair removed. “He stood there upright, all alone against the back wall, just like a mushroom,” his mother said.
Chinese society is to blame
I cannot help being sad as I read this news. Not just for him, but also for his classmates. Whatever primary school children see and hear today is bound to have a critical affect on their future personal conduct, as well as on their value system.
What will this special child’s arrival and departure leave in their mind? What is the effect of such a demonstration? Should the world be tolerant or narrow-minded? Should society treat special or vulnerable groups with love, or isolate them and be hostile?
These parents might have gained a better learning environment for their children, but in the desire to protect them, they missed giving them a chance of an “education in love.”
Even though they have probably always taught their children about love and tolerance, through their own behavior they have shown their children that even in a minor conflict, it is all right to hurt the other person or treat them unfairly.
We cannot blame only the parents, though. The whole of Chinese society has ignored education in love for too long. We know plenty of declarations and slogans. But what we do not know is how to behave as we say we should. Our entire society has been running on a utilitarian track for so long that we have forgotten to leave a place for soul in our lives.
For the parents of these fifth-grade pupils, the priority is to obtain a place in a secondary school for their child. No time is to be wasted in the luxury of nurturing the soul.
But education isn’t just about academic achievements. What is even more important is to teach children about love. The children’s novel Heart, by 19th-century Italian novelist Edmondo de Amicis, was translated into Chinese in the early 20th century with the title Education in Love. It says that education without consideration or love is like a pond without water. Without water there is no pond, without love there is no education.
It is true. To have good qualities like inclusiveness, generosity, and integrity, you need to be able to love. These are the spiritual nutrients of life, which must be stimulated. A person without the ability to love is like a person without a heart. A society without love has no soul.
Compassion and tolerance
In April, ABC had a special episode on autism in their “What would you do?” program. The episode was designed to test to what degree the public accepted a child when he or she displayed inappropriate behavior in public.
The scene took place in a New Jersey diner. A family of four, played by actors, went into the restaurant. After they were seated, the boy who played the autistic child started talking to himself, walking back and forth, and even went to pick up food from other customers’ plates. Nobody in the restaurant seemed to look at him in a particularly strange way. So on cue, since there was no public response to his behavior, another actor started to blame the boy’s parents and demand that they take him home.
This prompted the other, patient diners to break their silence and start scolding the man while also comforting the boy’s parents. Finally, the diners demanded that the man leave because he lacked compassion. Then the TV crew appeared and the people in the restaurant suddenly realized that it was all a set-up. One of the diners was asked why she came forward. She said: “I’m for that child.”
This is the result of imperceptible education since early childhood. For instance, American schools often encourage children to volunteer and do community service. This kind of experience is an important part of their growing up. By seeing various suffering in life, they understand better how to love and be tolerant.
We should not be too pessimistic. Yes, there is the boycott letter from 19 parents trying to exclude a child. But I also read another story where parents, along with their two three-year-old children, helped a classmate with autism.
Then, there was the autistic child in Beijing whose classmates helped him through six years of primary school. When he entered secondary school, the school even arranged for all his friends from primary school to be in his class.
Though slowly, China does progress.