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Student foot-washers get sole-to-sole with parents
( 2003-10-10 08:51) (China Daily)

When Little Emperors are asked to do a servant's job, they'll not be amused.

Primary students nowadays are predominantly only children and tend to be self-centred and act like 'little emperors'. [newsphoto.com.cn]
In Shanghai, some high-schoolers were asked by their teacher to wash their parents' feet, for once, as part of a special ethics programme. The result was thought-provoking: as few as 24 out of 104 students finished it and only 15 of them said they learned something from the experience.

Chen Ping, the teacher, argued that as urban youngsters nowadays are predominantly only children, they tend to be self-centred and act like "little emperors". To restore their respect for elders, which is a traditional virtue in China, he borrowed the idea from a Japanese corporate training programme.

The students complained. Some even called it "inhumane", while others deemed it irrelevant: "Who uses a washbasin nowadays? We all have showers. Besides, for those who need the service there are foot-massage parlours on every street, and they can serve the purpose of filial piety in our place".

Some adults obviously agree. "What's the use of doing this unless your parent is indisposed and needs the assistance? Who in this rebellious age will suddenly become obedient after just washing his parents' feet?" asked Zhu Shengguo, a Sichuan commentator. "A modern family needs a democratic environment where members can truly communicate with each other. Washing feet does not lead to a child's understanding of the parents' perspective."

Zhang Kuixing, another commentator, has a different opinion. "This may be a trivial thing, but it'll remind kids of their responsibility. Nowadays so many of them have a natural born sense of entitlement that they spend their parents' money freely and even treat them as slave labour."

The blame should be laid upon the parents, contended experts during a recent symposium on family and education held in Shanghai. Many parents spoil their children in the name of education. They would offer to do everything for the children because they believe this is time that could be used for homework.

When students in Chen Ping's class told their parents of the assignment, many of them did not understand it.

"What kind of gimmick is this? Why isn't my son asked to do something more meaningful?" Some even suspected that the students were making this up to get more pocket money.

Several students reported that the difficulty was not in the washing, but in the asking. "This shows the assignment has achieved its result, at least partially, because it forced kids to talk to the parents about things they didn't want to talk about," said one expert.

Gu Shan, one of the students who finished the "homework", took quite a while to open her mouth. She prepared the hot water first and then explained to her mother that this was what her teacher had assigned.

"But when I touched mom's feet I trembled a little. The soles of her feet are so rough. It made me think what she had been through to raise the family," said Gu. "When I saw her smile, it gave me such a great feeling."

Up north in Henan Province, the same homework was assigned earlier in the year but did not receive much media attention because over 90 per cent of the students finished it and wrote about it in loving detail.

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