Thursday 29 November 2007

I may be alone in this, but I think Ms Gibbons has behaved foolishly

Last spring, Dilly invited several small children and their mothers to come and play. One little girl was clutching her favourite doll. Someone asked its name. "Jesus" she said. The mother was embarrassed. "Sorry, I know it's wrong" she said, "but it was a Christmas present and, of course, we'd been talking about Baby Jesus for weeks, and then she had a baby doll given to her and we couldn't talk her out of it."

No one thought it was blasphemous, but they agreed that it jarred - and none of those young women is a churchgoer, though they had all been brought up in a broadly Christian tradition, if with little or no religious faith.

I think there's general agreement that the teacher who agreed to call a teddybear 'Mohammed' meant no harm, and neither insult nor blasphemy. But what sort of idiot thought it could be appropriate? She was newly in the country, new to the school - didn't it occur to her to run it past the headteacher? She's supposed to be an experienced teacher - I'm not a teacher, but I've spent enough time in schools to know the way one should think. So I'd not say "you are bad" but "you have behaved badly" - not "you have failed" but "this is not an acceptable standard". If it's not up to scratch, there's "room for improvement." And one never uses an absolute about expectations in ways of life, for one always considers the effect on a pupil whose parents may have a lifestyle about which one needs to speak tactfully. Of course, you are constantly aware of people of a different religious or cultural background from yourself, because that is polite as well as sensible and politically correct.

If there were a class teddybear at the village school, I am sure the teacher would think twice before naming it Jesus, Moses, Buddha, Shiva or any other name with a similarly strong religious connotation. And this woman is in a rather unstable Muslim country. I trust that the judiciary will realise that she is stupid (for which, of course, please read the euphemism "naïve") rather than anything else, and let her go, but when she's chucked out of the country, she may not find it that easy to get another job. I think she will need to go on a couple of training courses first.


Dave said...

Of course, you don't find many boys in English schools called Jesus (although you do in South America). The bear (I won't mention it, in case I'm taking it in vain) was actually named after a boy in her class.

I must say I find it odd to think it's OK to name a small, smelly, naughty child (I don't know the child in question, but it's a fair description of any boy) by the name of the prophet, but not a teddy bear.

Having said that, she was naive in the extreme.

Z said...

I appreciate that it was named after the child and that it was nearly all the children's choice of name. But there again, I think in this country most teachers would discourage calling a doll after one of the children as it could look like favouritism. If Jesus were a usual boy's name in this country she might have more excuse, but I find it hard to believe that it didn't occur to her to check with anyone if it might be unsuitable.

Chairwoman of the bored said...

I agree she behaved stupidly, not only by naming the poor bear something that could only be contentious, but by going there in the first place.

This is a country where one of their spokesmen said something along the lines of 'Bears are not usual in the Sudan. We would be insulted by being called a bear like you would be insulted to be called a camel'.

I wouldn't go as far as to say I would actually be insulted, but I might get the hump!

Z said...

Indeed - who does she think she is? She's an astonishingly insensitive person at the least.

Get the hump - heh heh, I see what you did there!

Monozygote said...

Personally, I think it would be utterly inappropriate to call a child Jesus (or Madonna). However, I respect the right of other people to do so, without feeling personally offended.

When the name has been appropriated either by large enough numbers, or famous enough examples, it ceases to refer solely to the originator of the name. Countries where large numbers of people call their children Mohammed have kind of given up the right to keep the name sacred, unless they are arguing that people bearing that name have no rights over using their own name however they wish to, which is oppressive.

The woman was clearly not referring to the Prophet Mohammed, so I think it is disingenous to charge her with blasphemy.

Also, I respect the fact that not everyone believes as I do, and therefore I respect their rights to say what they like about Jesus, and do what they like with the name. I consider it a great threat to world peace that not all religions have the same respect for other faiths. If you expect your faith to be respected, you have to afford some respect to others, even those with no faith, wouldn't you say?

Z said...

Indeed, I do agree, Dandelion.

It seems to me that many Muslim countries follow the same rule with blasphemy that we do here with regard to racism - that is, that any words, actions or behaviour that anyone perceives as racist is, by default, racist.

All I'm saying is that, in my opinion, she should have thought twice. I think she showed little finesse or knowledge about the country she went to live in. I'm certainly not suggesting she deserves what is happening, and I am sorry for her, but I also feel impatience because she behaved so unwisely and it shouldn't have happened.

I can think of several different ways she could have completely avoided the issue - such as by suggesting that an actual name, such as we give to a child, is not the most appropriate name for a teddy, so how about a descriptive name? She's my age, not a young woman, just how daft are some of the people teaching our children?

Anonymous said...

As anyone who has ever taught infants will know, naming the class bear after a child in the class at the class's request is the biggest honour that can be done to that child. She was just practising child-centred education - something that I suspect the children out there get little enough of in the rest of their lives.

I trust she learns her lesson and uses her skills somewhere where they will be appreciated in future rather than somewhere where people are intolerant, bigoted, vindictive and punitive.

Z said...

That's interesting, BW, and I appreciate the different point of view - as I said, I would instinctively not care for something that looks like favouritism, especially when it singles out a child who is already popular for further advancement. My idea of child-centred education would be to raise the status of the ignored child in the corner or let each child in the class have his or her time for glory. In any case, it was still very thoughtless, in the way that I described in my first two paragraphs, the more so because it was a toy animal in a country that is not sentimental about animals as we are.

Intolerant, bigoted, vindictive and punitive - could well be, but surely that would make you or me more careful. I didn't say the Sudanese were right, or kind, or sensible or anything else, I just said that she behaved foolishly. Do you really think that she behaved wisely? Do you not think that the whole damn stupid affair could have been avoided if she had been just as kind but wiser? If, for example, she had said that the bear would be called a different name each week all year, then Mohammed would have had his turn and it would not have been offensive.

Arabella said...

This incident made me wonder about training when working in another country. If I was about to teach abroad I'd expect a thorough introduction to the cultural/ religious 'niceties', no matter how many years I had taught in my own country.

Z said...

I agree, Arabella. I think in future it might be advisable to vet more carefully those latter-day colonials who go out to do good works in African and Asian countries.

Z said...

Blue Witch has emailed me this - sorry, BW, I haven't changed the comments settings, don't know why there's a problem. I'm going out now so will reply in an hour or so.

Er, as you're not allowing non-Google/Blogger account holders to comment
now, here's my follow-up comment:

She didn't go to do good works, she went to work in an international
school - where parents pay huge amounts of money to have their children
educated with European curricula (NC or IB) and standards, which, it is
always made clear, will include elements of western culture.

I think the media (and everyone writing about this) are falling prey to an
evil plot by extremists in Sudan to further incite hatred against the
Christian west.

There has been little comment that I have heard from people within the
system, or others working in the school. Why?

I don't believe any teacher can write and send out her own letter to parents
without at least a secretary or TA seeing it in the process of production
and duplication (and I actually don't know of a school where at least a Head
of Stage if not the Head him/herself has to review/approve such letters).
Why did *they* not raise questions?

This one smells like a kipper to me. And I think the poor woman is being

The Boy said...

Jesus is actually a very common boy's name in South American countries. One of my best friends growing up was called "Deo Gracias" (Thank God, he was the first born son after five girls). In Muslim counties it is also very common to call a boy Mohammad after the profit. In both Christian and Muslim cultures it is considered to bring good luck and grace to the boy in question.

Its clear the woman showed a lapse of judgment. In your first few months in a foreign culture you'd expect to double check certain decisions. This one though, under "normal" circumstances should have just resulted in a severe dressing down by the head.

There is no question this case is a dog and pony trial to make a cultural point. We are collectively having our noses rubbed in a cultural difference. As much as I feel sorry for the poor girl, we should all pause to take note.

Z said...

I reiterate my point - she was stupid and insensitive. If I were going to live in another country, I would start by not offending its culture. I used careful language in my post because I have no reason to wish to give offence. I made it clear that the woman was innocent - but she played completely into the hands of anyone who might not care for children in their country being taught by 'infidels'. Of course staff at the school aren't going to defend her - far worse for a Muslim to be accused of blasphemy than for a foreigner.

I don't know if, in other ways, the woman is a good teacher and I don't suppose you do either, BW. Of course former colleagues will say things to support her, they would. But in this country it would not be appropriate to call a teddy bear Jesus or Mohammed, even if there were a child in the class with that name, so she should have not done it. And if a teddy were called after one child, then in this country all the other parents would call it favouritism and complain, unless there were a good reason for it, such as the child being handicapped or very ill.

Anonymous said...

This particular news item reminded me of this scene from a Monty Python film, which can be viewed here:-

If only that teacher had called that bear Brian...

Z said...

Thanks, Ad

Monozygote said...

Yes, it makes me think of the Jehovah scene in LoB too. It's farcical, vindictive and punitive, and yes, it smells just like a kipper.

Interesting too, that apparently the person who shopped her was a disgruntled colleague. Who could have raised it with her directly. None of the parents complained...

Also, theboy, I don't think it's quite right to call her a "girl" - she is a grown woman, certainly old enough to be my mother, I don't think it's right to diminutise her.

Z said...

But the daft old bat (same age as me, so absolutely appropriate) should have used common sense. Complaining about the political situation or bigotry or anything else still doesn't make any difference to the fact that she should have known better. And that was the only point I made in the first place. I was not making a racial, political or religious comment at all.

Malcolm Cinnamond said...

Yes, she should have used her common sense, should she have any. Yes, she should have been better prepared for the cultural differences.

But the fact is that this 'very minor issue' (to quote a Sudanese official) has been pounced on by an exceptionally vile regime to put pressure on our idle and selfish regimes at a time when there is a slight chance somebody might be getting up off their arses to do something at long last about Darfur.

Darfur is a crisis that should make the whole world hang their heads in shame. You can only imagine the fuss that would have been made if there had been oil there.

The teacher was foolish, but she is not the issue, she is just a (sort of) innocent bystander.

heybartender said...

My belated two cents: Yes, she is an idiot, and yes, it is even more appalling because she is plenty mature (ahem) and should have been more aware of the culture of that country before she went.
I don't think she's being treated fairly, and of course this is being blown completely out of proportion, but I winced when I read this story the same way that I did when I saw the one about American Evangelicals baptizing kids in Iraq after the invasion.
On the other hand, I am at least relieved that she isn't American. I know that I sound selfish, but we have committed enough errors at this point. I do believe Santa is lugging around a very large lump of coal with our name on it.

Anonymous said...

Do you think anyone at her post-release press conference will be asking her if she would be celebrating her release with a night out on the lash once she'd flogged her story?

Z said...

I somehow don't think she'd get the joke, Ad

Monozygote said...

Why's that then, z? Are you saying she is too thick? That's a bit harsh, isn't it?

Z said...

I don't think her understanding would be at fault, dearest but that it would be more painful than funny to her.