Dec 8, 2008

The Importance of Speaking Up

I don't really want to rehash a topic which I've already blogged about, and which had already attracted more than 100 comments from my readers (I'm referring to the suicide of the ACS student, Tan Wen Yi). However I just saw this ST Forum letter:

ST Dec 5, 2008
Death over CCA: Every child's voice should be heard

I AM writing in response to the article, 'Boy leapt to his death over CCA' (Nov 27).
I was appalled and deeply saddened by his actions. Behind his cheerful disposition, no one had any inkling of the turmoil in his mind.

It was a senseless act that led to a loss of life over such a trivial issue as co-curricular activities (CCA). All he wanted was to pursue his interest and for his wish to be respected. He had said 'he had lost inspiration to run and insisted on the switch'. Although this was what was said, there could have been other underlying reasons.

But all that should have mattered was respecting his wish and giving him the necessary support. Every child has a voice that should be heard and his wishes should be respected. I cannot imagine any troubled child wanting to speak to a stranger over the phone about his problems, when those close to him fail to understand his problems.

I hope no other child will resort to such drastic measures. Instead of waiting for troubled children to seek help, help should be sent to them via regular talks at schools by organisations such as the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports.

Samuel Wittberger
Who is this letter-writer, Mr Wittberger? I had no idea. I googled his name to find out (Google often turns up interesting information that way). I was half-expecting that he might turn out to be a teacher or a youth counsellor.

It turns out that Mr Witterberger is a 12-year-old kid who has just graduated from ACS Junior. Recently he was in the news - something about either being or not being Singapore's top Eurasian PSLE student. However, that's not the point.

My point is that I feel that it's great to see a young chap like Samuel writing to the press to express his view on a matter of public interest. Especially when it's a matter that's so relevant to youths in Singapore.

Too often, too many Singaporeans fail to speak up on important issues, even issues that should concern them directly. They are too stupid; too apathetic; too afraid - we know the usual reasons. But the failure to speak up for what you think is right is ultimately a failure to take a stake in your society and nation ... it's a sign of irresponsibility and immaturity.

Samuel may be only 12, but he demonstrates a different kind of possibility. He sets a good example - if there were many more young Singaporeans like him, then as a society we might yet be saved.

(Interestingly, despite being from ACS Junior, he chose not to go to ACS Independent. Perhaps he wants to do CCAs that actually interest him).


Anonymous said...

Who says Singaporeans never speak up? Just look at the blogs and the comments and Hong Lim rally. How else to do it?

But of course the mainstream media is pro PAP so it is unbalanced or even distorted due to censorship.

The thing is, no matter how, what or how much you speak up, it doesn't make much difference to the system and gahmen. And worse, if you do it the wrong or foolhardy way, you can even be bankrupted through lawsuits. So it is as good as not speaking up.

Anonymous said...

How commendable. I see a fine young mind here, and glad that he isn't one of those unthinking minds whose only concern are getting top grades.


Anonymous said...

Don't forget that all too often, those who do speak up may never have their voices heard among the wider population. Case in point: letters to the ST Forum.

Anonymous said...

Until we have more angmoh names and kids or parents who are westernised, we will still be bound by our Confucius society, ruled by strong parents who will NEVER put their children's voices amongst the dining table.

Will this change? Maybe.
Soon? How soon?
Will this reshape our society? In a few weeks' time, another sensational news will hit the papers and people would have forgotten the CCA suicide boy.

Now the topmost priority is "Rice bowl" in sight of recession. What else is important?

Sadly, a modern society like Singapore, will continue to behave like medieval brutes. Not sure? Check out the legal suits in the courts.

Kaffein said...

It is indeed sad that many has decided to keep mum. We were taught: To voice your concern is to dishonor your parents.


Even now when I'm married with a kid and have completed my NS (that gives you how young I am), my aging father (with a typical Singaporean and Asian mentality) still wants to decide how I should live my life, and wants to have a say in everything I do.

No wonder we have had a lot of quarrels because it's basically his view and his view only.

Does that ring a bell, MM?

It doesn't mean that as one gets older, he gets wiser. If that is true, then we won't have cases of these elderly folks cheated of their money (may not imply the recent Hi-notes though it is no fault of theirs).

Anyway, for the progress of society, we need to speak up and give our views a voice.


Anonymous said...

Singaporeans do speak up. They are just generally labeled as troublemakers. Diversity is generally not rewarded in Singaporean society.

Don't flame me - I'm just calling it as I see it. Then again, I've been away for a while so I may be wrong.

Anonymous said...

OMG, could it be his father who wrote it? Mr Wittberger

Mezzo said...

"How commendable. I see a fine young mind here, and glad that he isn't one of those unthinking minds whose only concern are getting top grades.


I assume you're being sarcastic. In his New Paper interview, this fine young mind said that he had intended to be the "top Eurasian boy" for the PSLE. He complained that MOE did not recognise him as Eurasian, and some other boy with a lower score (about 5 pts) got the honours.

If that isn't being obsessed with grades, I don't know what is.

And I don't think that his choice about schools has anything to do with being allowed to do whatever CCA he chooses. He has already been accepted into RI, which is probably why he has no intention of apply to ACS.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

I don't think that there is anything wrong with people who strive for academic brilliance (or for that matter, any other kind of brilliance). In fact, I think it's commendable.

It's even more commendable when they are at the same time able to take an interest in areas outside their studies.

Anonymous said...

Good on you Mezzo for spotting that.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Is it obsessive to aim to be top in anything? I suppose it might be. On the other hand, I can also see why it might not.

If for example, you were already regularly topping or near the top of one of the top schools in Singapore, it's really not THAT big a stretch to aim to be one of the top students in Singapore.

Anonymous said...

Speak up? They told me to get lost. And that is why I have been in Seattle for so long lah.

I am going to Vancouver soon anyway. Very depressing market in USA now.

Until the day the father lets go, the son will always make mistakes and hide under the wife's skirt one.

Hojiber, the lazy to sign in.

Anonymous said...

Obsession is a good thing, IMO. In some countries, it's known as "passion", LOL.

That's what Singaporeans tend to lack: passion.

Anonymous said...

Maybe I'm missing the bleeding obvious, but do we know the writer and student identified are indeed the same person? It's not exactly a common name for sure, but still.

Anonymous said...

Wrt Mezzo:

I certainly wasn't trying to be sarcastic there. My point was that despite all that hoo-ha about his PSLE grades, it appears that isn't all that he's fixed about ("only"), and that he actually cared enough about an issue to write in to the forum. And at a tender age of 12.

For the record, I was from RI and I've seen for myself too many people who cared only about mugging and memorizing for top grades and nothing else, and a select few who put their brilliant minds to thinking about issues outside of academic grades. (I was neither lol).


Mezzo said...

Obsessive and passionate to the point of announcing to the world that he should have been top Eurasian boy, not some other Eurasian boy?

Think of how that other boy must have felt. First he was told that he was top Eurasian boy, and then the next day he's told, "Oh, you're only top because of a technicality."

Simon Wittberger and his parents wanted acknowledgement that HE was top boy, not this other boy. If it was just about academic brilliance and having a goal, he would have been content knowing that he was actually top.

Instead, he had to tell the world that he was the "real" top boy, and in the process, crap all over the other child's day in the sun.

Yes, we want people to speak up. But we want people with something worth hearing to speak up. We don't need a nation of blowhards.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Anon December 9, 2008 8:37 PM:

Oh, if it is an error, not to worry - in a few days, I'll probably get a clarification. Someone who reads this blog and knows either or both of the Sam Witterbergs will contact him / them and let them know, and one of them will clarify.

On many occasions where I've featured an ST forum letter, the Forum letter writer will show up on this blog or drop me a personal email. That's how small Singapore is.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Let me make a wild guess, Mezzo, based on a couple of clues littered around your blogs

(eg your blogger profile; the title of one of your blogs; the subtitle to another one of your blogs etc etc)

You're (a) Muslim, (b) of mixed descent, and (c) not classified as "Race: Others" in your NRIC, and (d) troubled, confused or unhappy with some aspect of your personal identity?

It doesn't matter. It's all irrelevant to my post anyway.

Similarly you criticise Samuel for claiming / aspiring to be the top Eurasian student, and you say therefore he shouldn't speak up about Wen Yi's case / social issues.

According to your line of thinking, you would have been happy for Samuel to speak up about Wen Yi's case / social issues, if only Samuel had:

(a) not aspired or claimed to be the top Eurasian student; or

(b) done badly in his PSLE or never been that bright at all, such that he would not have had such an aspiration, or would not have been able to make such a claim.

Well, when I break it down nicely for you like that, it might be easier for you to see how illogical your own thinking is.

Or maybe it's still not any easier for you.

Anyway, whatever. You're entitled to your own opinions. This will be my last comment on this PSLE/race aspects, since it really isn't relevant to my post.

Anonymous said...

Simple, yet succinct.

Mr Wang, I appreciate the presence of your blog to invoke some common sense among the herd culture.

Passion and initiative are sorely lacking in the hearts and minds of Singaporeans. Personally, I find myself being the sole individual to speak out and chastise inconsiderate / rude people that pepper the island while the rest merely look on or glance away conveniently. I am but a circus act to be gawked at when I help a crippled stranger up the bus or offer to help the elderly lady with her groceries to the taxi stand.

In a similar fashion, Simon Wittberger has no qualms about voicing his opinions in an appropriate manner. I applaud his valiant initiative.

As a former educator, I constantly encouraged my pupils to speak up and be heard. In my opinion, teachers in Singapore lack the humility to accept that they are not infallible gods and are just as susceptible as anyone else in making mistakes.

"Because I Say So" is the common mantra without providing a logical and reasonable explanation to pupils. Should a pupil press further, the teacher would purse her lips in disdain and dispel such disruptive behaviour by being condescending towards the cursed individual. If all else fails, a trip to the Discipline Master / VP / Principal should do the trick.

I am fortunate to be brought up in a home where everyone had something to say at the dinner table and decision-making was inculcated during childhood. My mother would apologize when she was wrong, explain the rationale behind her decisions while maintaining her firm arm of discipline over me. (Boy, was I caned frequently during my childhood!) In short, I was taught to "speak up when you're right."

Likewise, I displayed these traits towards my pupils. (without the caning, of course!) Pupils accustomed to the stereotyping and brandishing of the blame game (cue : "must be the em3 class! troublemakers!") actually queried, "Mrs XX, why do you care about us? Nobody has ever asked nor cared about our opinions. We're always wrong." Those words brought tears to my eyes. Generations have been taught to be resigned to their lot, losing their unique personalities in the process.

It's been a decade since I first filled the shoes of an educator. A former pupil whom I'd taught when she was in Primary 3 recently expressed her delight upon locating me on Facebook. She's taking her A Levels this year. I've bumped into numerous students who burst into smiles while shrieking, "I've been looking for you!"

Respect the child. Value his/her opinions. Offer rationale, not doctrines.

The child will remember and thank you as the one who has shaped his/her character and values in life. He/She will inculcate these in his/her own children in time to come, forging not only a healthy individual but collectively, a "Learning Nation" as MOE tries to advocate.

Anonymous said...

Ah okay, thanks Mr Wang. I was just wondering if I had a reading comprehension problem!!

"Overseas Chinese" said...

We need credible self-funded oppositions & independents who take actions and know how to use publicity and run a proper campaign.

We need citizens to be civic minded, press the GRCs on important things as well as many daily issues that needs addressing.

If we can't even resolve issues like giving way on the MRT, or parking responsibly in the HDB estates... How are we to solve society's issues?

If you've been in it long enough, you'll find a lot of discrepancies within the "system" that is inefficient and cause dissent. Our problem lies in the inaction of those who know... and willing choose not to act.

Anonymous said...

Sorry this is off topic but just wondered if you'd offer your two cents on the post in the link below:

Singapore is claimed to unfairly treat its Malay minorities, as seen by the different representation at the cabinet according to population statistics. Does Singapore promote meritocracy and hence race does not matter?


*You don't have to post this as it is more a personal message to you.

Anonymous said...

Good parental mentoring is important, if children are to learn how to speak up. They must be treated like adults.

I came across this. I was quiet shocked.

It disturbs me.

Sengkang Sally

Anonymous said...

At Ri you don't get to choose your CCA anyway

Jon said...

The importance of speaking up, is tempered by, the dangers of speaking up.

We live in a society of the easily offended.

To speak,
One needs to know the lines,
For to speak one's mind,
Comes at a price.

ArtBoon said...

Agree. Talk and reason it through, rather than just "i say so and that's final"

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang, your post hits very very closely to employment too.

Many Singaporean bosses do not let the employees have a voice. They put you in portfolios they THINK you are good at through some observations or discussions which usually do not involve you. Might explain why so many Singaporeans are so turned off and actively disengaged.

The bosses just don't listen. Command and control, very SAF.

Anonymous said...

True, at RI you don't get that much freedom over your CCA anyway.

Anonymous said...

He went to RI. I heard from someone in his class that he is quite annoying and often confronts people for no reason. The media leaves out all the bad stuff.

Anonymous said...

He's a kid who dared to say something about what he sees, you would diminish the significance of that the moment his peers call him annoying and expect the media to pick up on that instead, somehow extrapolating the implications of being 'annoying' and equating that with him not wanting to change society? Comments like these are the ones which causes Singapore's societal progress to be retrograded.