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Fear, Desire, etc.


Last night I gave a talk at a community center here in Buenos Aires. I got into a bit of a debate with a local politician about punctuality and respect. I had said that in European countries there is less emphasis on arriving on time and more on what could really be called education. If you are not aware of my criticism of the educational system in South America here are two links. One is on the system in Peru and one is about a volunteer program to help teach English in Argentina. In that I offer my complaints about how they teach English, some of which I repeated last night.

So anyhow, the politician started talking about values, or "valores," as they say in Spanish, and he sounded very much like a Peruvian. In Peru I really got sick of hearing about "valores", since it was all talk, kind of like how in the USA people go on and on about Christian values and family values and blah blah blah. I, and probably most young people, just switch my ears right off as much as possible, (or better yet, get up and walk out) whenever someone starts talking about values or valores. But here is my main point. The elderly politician said that it punctuality was very important and it was a lack of respect to show up late and make someone wait.

Here are a few of my thoughts on that. First, I told him and everyone else there is a difference between respect and fear. Let me give an example. In Argentina if a student shows up five minutes late, they can get a "media falta", that means a half-absence. If they show up late twice, they are counted as a full absence. If they get too many absences there will be punishments, including failing the whole school year, even if all their grades are perfect! But let's use some addition here and see if two plus two equals four. The way I count five minutes plus five minutes of being late, I get a total of ten minutes. So why is that counted as one day late? I said this is like saying that ten centavos = one peso, or ten cents = one dollar. I said this is an injustice, but I think only the people under 18 agreed with me (as is so often the case).

Then I said if I try to get to a meeting on time so someone doesn't have to wait for me it is probably because I do actually respect that person, not because I am afraid they will punish me.

Now, something else I want to say before I forget, is that I am in South America. If you have ever been here or heard much about it you might know what being very late or not showing up at all is quite the norm. Yet for more than two generations they have been punishing kids and teens for not getting to school on time. So something tells me that their idea of teaching punctuality hasn't exactly worked.

Now, for what may be the most important point of all in this article. That point is that we can be motivated to arrive on time for one of three reasons.

A) Fear of being punished if we are late.

B) Respect for others. or

C) Desire to get there.

Of the three, C, desire, is by far the best motivator.

So my suggestion for those in positions of authority in schools, is to make school a place which young people want to go to. That is the most fundamental point.

But let's address something else the aged politician said. He said that it is a lack of respect to make others wait for you. Now let me tell you what they do the first twenty minutes or so in most public schools in Argentina, and in South America. They stand in line like soldiers, sing, pray and get lectured to about things like "valores." This has to be some of the most unproductive time in the world. It is called "formation" here, best translated as training, but better called brainwashing. The young people are taught to be patriotic, religious and obedient. Many of them will later turn into parents, teachers, school directors and politicians like the old man who now really believes that the way to make a culture punctual is through punishing young people for being late - a belief he clings to in spite of the obvious reality to anyone not from South America, that this is simply not the case.

S. Hein
May 12, 2007
Buenos Aires




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