Jul 31, 2007

The Joys of Skipping School

Once upon a time, the blogger known as Stressed Teacher wrote a post entitled The Parent's Letter. There he commented disapprovingly about students who skip school events, and parents who write letters to excuse their children from school events.

Stressed Teacher felt that such students are either lazy, or cowardly and kiasu. He also felt that the parents of these students are failing to instil proper values in the kids.

I left a comment on Stressed Teacher's blog to say that I disagreed. My main point was that like most other people in the world, students simply don't like to waste their time on unproductive, useless activities. Only a few students, however, are bold enough to defy the school's rules and expectations. These are the few who will skip unproductive, useless activities, and subsequently produce a parent's letter.

I suppose you can guess that during school days I was a chronic absentee myself. Anyway, the Straits Times had an article today which reminded me of my discussion with Stressed Teacher.

ST July 30, 2007
Ethnic costumes are not racism level indicators
Students more inclined to learn racial sensitivity from example
By Tessa Wong

HARMONISE, or else.

That was the underlying message of a secondary school's authoritarian decision to discipline more than 30 students two weeks ago during its Racial Harmony Day celebrations.

When students there failed to turn up in ethnic costumes, they said they were forced to stand outside the school office for 11/2 hours, missing out on some festivities.

After that, they had to fill out a feedback form on racial harmony.

It's an approach that's heavily ironic. The principal had said the school didn't think it had excluded a lot of people, only 'a minority' of the student population - this, on a day meant to celebrate tolerance and inclusiveness in Singapore.

Such an approach inadvertently sends mixed signals. How could a student learn anything from such a rigid attitude so lacking in the good will inherent in the message of racial harmony?

While promoting the message of racial harmony is indisputably a good thing, I don't see the point in strictly enforcing a practice meant as a bit of fun for students and taking it way too seriously.

When one becomes too by-the-book in a bid to remain politically correct, one also ends up coming across as overtly preachy and puritanical - a big turn-off for any student, if you ask me.

In any case, I'm not quite sure how wearing an ethnic costume is supposed to show you are a racially harmonious individual in the first place.

The school's logic - that not turning up in ethnic costume warrants suspicion of racist sentiments - seems awkward, at best.

............... increasingly, I find such superficial expressions of racial harmony are becoming irrelevant to the younger generation, who have long been taught to embrace our national identity and respect one another as fellow Singaporeans.

In the end, there is no point sledgehammering home the idea of harmonious multi-culturalism. What will work is practising what one preaches.

I am sure schools work hard to educate their young charges on racial sensitivity via the curriculum and activities such as educational games or plays.

It would be even better if educators, instead of being too rigid in enforcing political correctness, could be more sensitive to the messages underlying their actions.

After all, aren't the young most inclined to learn from example, rather than a lecture?

Dressing up in ethnic costumes is ....... exactly the kind of school event that I would skip, as a student. It might be fun, but if I had better things to do, then yes, I would skip such an event. And no, I'm not a racist. I just don't like to participate in unproductive, useless activities.

13 comments:

hash said...

To me, there's nothing wrong with skipping classes/events. But those parent's letters usually include a forged excuse... That part I am not happy with. It doesn't help solve the real problem, but simply demonstrates the effectiveness and easiness of lying.

Michaelk said...

Mr Wang,

Over at Ngee Ann Poly, attendance is taken for virtually every event, lecture and tutorial. Students who skip class lose participation points and risk getting debarred from the module.

Either we skip everything, or not at all. No choice.

zhixiang said...

maybe the minority who are punished are just 33.33%.

the education system is simply a replica of the government's.

le radical galoisien said...

YES, yes, yes.

Finally the press speaks up on this issue. Though not fully, it does seem to mock the racial harmony cliches that get purported around each time.

Students -- especially ethnic Chinese ignorant of the plight of their other countrymen -- who attend RHD, come back, "ah, we are truly lucky to be so racially harmonious!" and then ignorantly give in to the government's censorship campaign in the name of racial harmony (a campaign that often at times does a disservice to diversity).

What is this school anyway?

skew said...

secondary school was filled with unproductive and useless activities, whenever my class brings that up as feedback, all my teacher could do was look at us with an unspoken sigh in their hearts and mumble something about not having a choice.

racial harmony isn't about knowing the different ethic costumes; or the food; or having student photographers group a chinese, a malay, an indian, an eurasian for a shot followed by articles about racial harmony (written only because asked to) to be published in the school magazine.

back in secondary school, the only thing that came to my mind during racial harmony was ethnic costumes. it's as good as knowing racial harmony by its skin, but not knowing it at all.

stressed_teacher said...

I think what we have here is more of a clash of perspective, rather than a case of I-am-right-you-are-wrong.

You skip a school event because you don't find it beneficial. You are not wrong to feel that way. From the organizer's point of view, you are seen as a person who is out to make trouble. Why can't you just turn up? Will it make you scream in agony just to turn up? The organizer or the school is not wrong to see it that way.

Put it this way; you are giving a talk. I find your talk boring. As a result, I start talking loudly to my friend, using my handphone and start disrupting your talk.

You may say I am rude. But to me, I would say why should I even listen to you when you are boring, and then continue to talk and disrupt your program.

Not disrupting someone's program is considered basic courtesy. But if you feel personal consideration takes precedence, then I hope you don't mind the next time someone yawns loudly when you are sharing an idea during a meeting, or doesn't turn up for an activity you spent days planning for.

Excuse me. I am going off to stand up someone on his wedding dinner. Same principle; it's boring and it doesn't benefit me somehow. I am just supposed to turn because I am considered as some sort of office-friend. By the way, the groom also has a habit of skipping events he finds 'boring'.

Blogter said...

My sentiments exactly!

Blogter said...

I believe the school was Jurong West Secondary School. The principal was rather extreme to enforce the rule so strictly. I wonder if he is as extreme in other policies as well. Didn't have the best impression of him when I once taught in his school.

I also would try to ask my children to "siam" such events; colossal wastes of time.

QQ said...

and in time, their senses just get muted because everything is already thought out for them. the louder you can say, 'teacher, teacher, teacher' or 'me! me! me!', the better student and citizen you are.

unfortunately this doesn't end in school. once 'in the society', there awaits a whole string of not-important-but-better-dos and better-not-says in the course of one's work, or worse, 'ad hoc' things that have come to be or taken on a peculiar way of execution because one visiting tua-liab 20 grand years ago once exclaimed, 'how come our side don't have this har?'

don't say this, even social stuff like office dnd and other recreational events don't attend also kena marked as 'mis-aligned' cos office ah-tao will not be happy to see only 5 cheerful, work-life balanced minions at the office picnic. all very important indicators of your value and contributions as an employee you know.

this aside, other social invites – surely we all have a right to choose? that's what the rsvp is for; if not going, just politely decline and send a gift. there's no need to be disruptive or feel forced to agree and then not turn up.

le radical galoisien said...

I skip costumes sometimes because I forget. Sometimes it's not that I feel it's a waste of time, but because I forgot that tomorrow would be racial harmony day. Is that a crime? One could heavily condemn Chinese majority practices (and the barring of Malays from fighter jets, etc.) yet be called someone who doesn't care less about racial harmony.

fone said...

Don't talk about schools, even companies have useless events that we have to attend, take for instance the National Day Observerance Ceremony, wasted my 1 whole morning and in the end I have to OT 3 hours to finish up work. Wish I could skip such activities with a simple letter.

Blogter said...

What kind of company is that? MNC or local? So cham one ar...

wanwen said...

Ooooh...skipping school bcos of useless activites! I used to do that when I was in sec sch. Chinese New Year, Racial Harmony, National Day; any school celebration, you name it, I've "pontang" it! Why? Bcos I always thought such celebrations were lame and wasted my time! I could very well spend the day reading or watching tv, anything was better than watching boring videos of nation building.
Luckily, poly didn't had such silly celebrations so my "pontang" days were over!