Cambodia is a moral vacuum. Ruthlessly colonized by the French, who drained the country of its resources and basically brought nothing to the country in return, bombed back to the dark ages by the Americans, who were seeking to cut off the supply route to South Vietnam during that bloody war, decimated by the Khmer Rouge who obliterated the intelligentsia, wiping out an entire generation, and dominated by the Vietnamese who now control the country through a puppet ruler; it is no wonder that they have little idea of how to function as families, as communities and as a society.
What Pam and her organization are seeking to do is to bring moral education, admittedly with a Christian focus, to the people of the villages of Cambodia through health care evangelism, using the existing organizations in the country in a focused and cooperative way. In a couple of weeks both of us will return to Phnom Penh during the Chinese New Year holiday to take part in further training of these health care workers. I am looking forward to providing some teaching first hand as opposed to my usual role of being part of the support network so that I can better understand the issues and the personalities involved in her ministry.
In my own workplace I see the importance of these moral values every day. Asian students, at least those who have not been devastated by generations of war and abuse, are invariably polite, civil and kind. Manners and social graces are important components of their culture, and I must say that my time spent teaching in Asia has benefitted from this aspect of their culture which my students bring to class. Civility breeds respect; incivility contempt. But civility does more than ensure that a respectful tone and atmosphere permeate my classes. It also facilitates inquiry and discussion as students become aware that their questions will be met with not with scorn, but with polite interest and a desire to further their understanding. Inquiry and discussion facilitate understanding and develop confidence in the learning process. Eventually this brings about maturity, as students begin to own the learning process for themselves and begin to develop their own strands of intellectual and social growth.
I wrote recently about the desire of some teachers and administrators to control the process of education through anger and intimidation. It has been my observation that this control is not only detrimental to personal relationships, it is detrimental to the learning process as well. Fear may work to impart facts and even skills, but it fails impart the understanding necessary for future growth, and undermines the self-confidence that is necessary to undergo present difficulties for future gains, which is an essential quality for those who are considering a university education. Kindness and civility do not in themselves lead to advances in education. But they do mold the character that makes this level of education possible. And they do affect a society that can look with hope toward a future when the education of the youth will become a valuable component of that nation’s fabric.
Civility and kindness; such simple virtues, it would seem; so unconnected to the success of a nation; and yet upon examination, how fundamental to that nation’s progress. It is also most pleasant, and most encouraging to my own attitude and teaching effectiveness to be treated with such civility and kindness by my students for the efforts I make on their behalf. To all my students in Malaysia who are reading this, my most appreciative thanks.