Soo Ewe Jin's column in The Sunday Star today makes a fabulous read. He recollects fondly his days of growing up in Jelutong and threw in a story regarding a teacher during his secondary school days. Only Old Frees like me will know that he would be referring to Penang Free School. We had great teachers in the past: teachers who were thoroughly dedicated to their cause of imparting knowledge to their charges. But in his column, Ewe Jin tells a tale of an English teacher who was man enough to correct his own stereotyping and apologise publicly for it! Here's is the excerpt from his column:
Another Jelutong memory was when a teacher who taught me English in secondary school made disparaging remarks about the “gangsters and trishaw peddlers” of unsavoury areas like Jelutong.
Back then, the rule was for children to be seen and not heard, so although I was hurt by his remarks, I did not make my objections known.
The next lesson, we were given an essay topic that gave us free rein to express our thoughts. I took the opportunity to let my teacher know how I felt.
I wrote that just as one should not judge a book by its cover, we should not label people simply based on their origins. I pointed out that many of my Jelutong neighbours were decent people who made an honest living.
To his credit, my teacher did not take offence. He gave me an A and asked me to read out the essay aloud. What’s more, he then apologised to me in front of the whole class.
That incident taught me two things that have remained with me to this day: we can dismantle stereotyping when we stand up against it, and that it is an honourable thing to admit to a mistake when one is wrong.I'd like to add one further tale. I've written in the past that during my youth, I stayed at Seang Tek Road. The back door of my home opened directly into a wide alleyway that led to Perlis Road. Thus, though technically not one, I can associate with being called a Perlis Road boy. Residents will know the notoriety of this place. During the nights, the unlit alley would be populated by all sorts of unsavoury characters soliciting for business. Not an ideal place for a boy to grow up in, but I survived.