A Boy Who Thinks Cleaning Is Somebody Else’s Job
One Sunday, a ten-year-old boy interrupted the swim coach, SC, who was giving my son Kyan individual coaching.
“Yucks! Coach, there is tissue paper in the water over there.”
The coach replied,
“So, what are you going to do about it?”
“I don’t know. It’s so dirty! That’s why I tell you.”
Coach SC told him, “I am teaching now. You think of a way to solve it yourself.”
The boy looked surprised. He probably thought that it was none of his business after alerting the coach. But, within seconds, he came up with an idea, “I will complain to the Management Office!”
SC looked at me with a helpless smile.
Thinking that a teaching moment had appeared, I suggested to the boy,
“Why wait for someone else to solve it? Since it disturbs you so much, just pick it up and throw it away!”
“No way! I am not a cleaner!” The boy protested loudly. Then he added, “Anyway, my mother will not allow it!” before swimming away.
I felt troubled by the boy’s words. What kind of young man would he grow up to be if his attitude remains unchanged?
A Young Man Who Refused To Clean Up His Mess
The boy made me think of a real-life story a friend NS told me.
NS, a science teacher in a secondary school, spoke of a student she remembered vividly,
“From the first day of lesson in the laboratory, I have told all students, ‘We are dealing with all sorts of chemicals here. If you have made a spillage, clean it up yourself immediately because no one else knows how hazardous it could be. Simple and clear, isn’t it?’
Yet, there was this young man who refused to clean up the mess he made no matter what. He looked at the mess and said, “That is the job of cleaners!” And he even added, “At home, all the cleaning is done by the maid.”
I was mad inside me, but decided to teach him the right thing. I moved close to his ear and whispered gently in a very soft sweet voice, “Bring your maid with you the next time,” before saying firmly, “But today, your maid is not here, so clean up!”
The young man relented and cleared up quietly, to the surprise of everyone.
NS smiled triumphantly, a tiny dimple playing at the corner of her lips.
Perhaps, we can learn a thing or two from this plucky young teacher in her early thirties.
Schools and Families Must Come Together
Schools are finally doing what they were supposed to do long ago. When the Ministry of Education (MOE) decided to make it compulsory for all school-going children to help out with cleaning responsibilities in schools two years ago, many parents gave their thumbs up.
I asked a secondary school boy, JC, about the cleaning duties he has to do in school.
He said, “Nothing much really. We have a duty roster that assigns us our duties which mainly involve cleaning the whiteboard and sweeping the floor.”
“That’s good. Everyone plays a part to keep the classroom clean.” I continued.
“Teachers just leave it to us. It doesn’t matter if you do it or not.” JC remarked.
“Did you do your duties?” I enquired, half expecting him to say he did.
“No…” He smiled sheepishly, “Many people did not do either. ”
“Teachers should check on you guys,” came my rebuttal.
“No. What is the point of having teachers to check on us? It boils down to home training. It wouldn’t work if children are not expected to do the same at home.”
I mulled over his words. Yes, the boy is right. Double standards won’t work.
Parents must play our part too. While most of us are generally in favour of imparting good living habits such as cleaning to children, some see cleaning duties as a distraction or burden.
Concerned that their children may be overloaded with school homework, and outside school activities such as tuition classes and sports, parents are reluctant to involve their children in housework.
A friend SM, who is a full-time home-maker, told me in a mix of resignation and jest, “My children used to help out more when they were young. It has become much harder to get them to do housework now. I have become the maid for the entire family.”
I laughed, but I am no better in getting my children do housework. Like many working families with young children in Singapore, we have a stay-in domestic helper who does all the cleaning and other household chores. The opportunities to impart values to children through housework become lost.
Be Considerate Towards Others
Perhaps, many parents and teachers missed the point about the value behind teaching cleaning responsibilities–to be considerate towards others.
Many years ago, at the end of a public seminar I conducted, I found a Japanese colleague KS going in between the rows of seats to pick up used plastic bottles and rubbish that were left behind by the participants. Embarrassed by the littering habits of fellow Singaporeans, I followed suit to clean up the place.
Later, KS told me, “Japanese are taught since young to think about others when we do cleaning at home and in schools. Imagine how the next person would feel and think if we do not clean up.”
Be considerate towards others — it’s such a simple and beautiful reason. Don’t you agree?
William WK Tan
17 May 2019