Thursday, January 12, 2012

Lit my fire

Last year, when Lesley-Anne attended a school briefing on sec 3 subject combinations. the teacher made it quite clear that she expected the SBGE (school-based gifted education) kids to either go for the special programmes or the triple science option.

Defying the recommendation, Lesley-Anne chose the literature and double science combination. To the teacher, she's probably not living up to her potential. She also told me she has friends who prefer the humanities but are being forced by their parents to go into triple science because it's more prestigious.

Deja vu. I faced the same scenario when I opted out of triple science to go into the arts class at sec 3. It's astonishing how some attitudes haven't changed in 30 years.

What I'm going to say next may offend the math/science folks. If you're a math/science person, don't kill me. I know it's a generalisation and doesn't apply to everyone. But back in my undergraduate years at NUS, I found the arts folks to be more interesting people and have a broader mindset than those from science or engineering. Towards the end of last year, Lesley-Anne started complaining that some of her classmates (the majority of whom are math and science-oriented) are very dull and narrow-minded. In contrast, she finds her humanities class this year vibrant and outgoing.

I don't think it's a coincidence. Kids who tend to think in black-and-white will veer towards the sciences because they prefer to learn things that are more tangible. They are uncomfortable with the humanities because they find security only in subjects that they can mug for or have fixed solutions.

The humanities, literature especially, are much more open to interpretation. If you're unable to form your own opinion or are used to having someone tell you what is the right or wrong answer, I can see why this will be difficult. Unfortunately, it is these kids who shun the humanities that will most benefit from it.

Of course lit is not perfect. The thing about lit is that it's so open-ended that sometimes, I think we take too many liberties with it. Students and teachers tend to get a little carried away, reading too much into texts. Afterall, who's to say they're wrong? And you're graded based on how much you say.

Lesley-Anne and I often joke about this. Eg:

Passage: "The curtains were blue."
Student's interpretation: "The author was melancholic."
Teacher's interpretation: "The author was reminded of the sea, where he used to live, and he was melancholic."
Author's intended meaning: "The curtains were blue."

Nevertheless, it's heaps of fun and I honestly believe that the humanities groom individuals who are more creative and more able to think for themselves. Lesley-Anne has had a great start to the year and is enjoying herself tremendously. She came home one day and said, "I have back-to-back periods of language arts and lit. Heaven!" I can imagine it's probably some kids' idea of hell.

True learning is not just about amassing facts or applying data. Math and science have their place, but so do the humanities, and the latter is definitely not the "inferior" option. Hopefully it won't take another 30 years for Singaporeans to understand this.


Anonymous said...

Mon, is Literature not compulsory these days? During my time, everyone has to do Literature regardless of Arts or Science. Am I missing some understanding here?


monlim said...

QX: For L-A's school, basic lit is compulsory under lang arts but she's taking an additional advanced lit module. Not sure about other schools, I don't think it's compulsory. Back in my time, lit was only for certain classes, other classes had to do geography.

Jiayi said...

Hi (: I'm a Sec 2 student from L-A's school. I was just wondering what special talent programme L-A took when she was in Sec 2? WSC? OM? IVP? etc. Thanks!

monlim said...

Jiayi: She tried out for CAP and Lit Ment but didn't get in :P

Hopeful said...

Lol, I like your example on the blue curtains! No wonder I didn't do well at Lit during my O levels, I didn't know that's what you had to do to score in it. But I agree with you in your description of Math/Science and Lit/Arts types from my personal experience. And as you guessed, I ended up doing the sciences :P

Anonymous said...

Oh.. seems like schools are empowered to decide what are compulsory subjects... It's good that L-A knows what she wants at 14 with such certainty. I think at 14 most people are still least during our time and will choose a safer route for triple Science. I don't know if it is still the same, during our time, choose triple Science can later switch to Sc + Lit if the calling is eventually discovered. Choose Sc + Lit cannot return to tripe Science if really don't like it. So Kudos to L-A for knowing herself so well and passionately pursuing what she likes. It takes maturity to do that, most of us still bordering on uncertain grounds and then being 'kiasu' will opt to do a safer choice.

Recently heard a kid want to change course at uni level to medic because all friends steering towards that but found that short of one science so have to appeal to the unis applied to. The application journey became so very hard even though the child is very very smart. Peer influence is so strong in this case.


monlim said...

Hopeful: As long as you enjoyed triple science in the end, it's all good!

QX: Yes, schools can decide what's compulsory. The way L-A's school does it, the kids still get maximum no. of choices at JC. It's true some pple choose triple science cos they don't know what they like though these days, it's a little different cos you can no longer take triple science at JC (you'll need to have one contrasting subject). So even if you were from triple science in sec school, assuming you keep maths (which most do) at JC, you can only take 2 sciences and you'll still need to take one humanities.

Anonymous said...

Gosh I am outdated. So there is no more so-called medic class in JC with triple science? That means the prerequisites to apply for medicine studies is now only 2 sciences. In that case the child I mentioned earlier should have no issue applying to the uni for the medicine course.

Now I really do not understand the need for triple science if there is no follow through in JC... L-A is so very smart in her choice then, not only out of passion but it seems the best way to go as well.


monlim said...

QX: If I'm not mistaken, bio is not compulsory to get into medicine, only chem. So yes, you don't need triple science to do medicine. I guess some pple still think it's the prestigious course though.

Elan said...

hi Mon,
I'm back after a long break.
My son chose to do Chem-Bio and History (his only favourite subject). Lit is under Language Arts in his school and therefore a given.
This combination is not one of the standard ones for his school and certainly not for SBGE classes but guess what? So many GEPers chose it they had to start a SBGE class for it, lol!

My 2 cents, I was checking up what subjects were needed for medicine. In NUS only Chem and Physics at at least AO or (SL for IB)are needed. As a doctor I have a hard time understanding why Bio is not needed. I finally figured that it's because its such a mugging subject that if you can get into medicine, you should be able to mug all the 2 years work up before starting the course! However, it would definitely be useful to have the experience doing dissections on animals (and other bio experiments) before doing human dissection.
The requirements for medical school in other unis overseas are all different. Some need Bio and don't need Physics for example, therefore triple science is still safer if you want to get into medicine.

monlim said...

Elan: Good to have you back! Funny to know your son chose the Chem-bio combination too, we always have so much in common!

I didn't know about the different requirements for medicine in overseas universities. Good to know, esp coming from a doc! Thanks for clearing that up :)

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