Friday, August 24, 2012

When a haircut becomes breaking news

So by now, I think most of you would have read the Straits Times story of a mother who was so outraged by the teacher who cut her son's hair that she filed a police report.

I was asked how I felt about it and my initial thought was huh? Come on, this is non-news. Must be a slow news day at ST.

But if you really want to know, I think it was simply a case of overreaction all around.
The teacher taking matters into her own hands and cutting the boy's hair - overreaction

The mother making a police report - overreaction

The boy crying and staying home from wushu for 2 days - overreaction

MOE making the teacher apologise and asking the parents to forgive her - overreaction
Really, do we take ourselves so seriously these days that we have to respond so drastically to every small matter? Or is it just a result of too much stress that we have lost all sense of reason?

I have great empathy for teachers - they don't have an easy job and the hardest part is probably dealing with parents. However, I do think this teacher didn't pick the smartest course of action. It's just before the crucial PSLE oral exam - why would you mess with the boy's mental state then? I agree that if the boy had been given warnings beforehand, he probably had it coming. It was a common punishment a generation ago and I just found out that some schools in Singapore still practise this. I disagree less with the act than the timing.

As for the mother, well, I don't think she did herself any favours by going to the police. Auntie ah, police report is for criminal cases hor. Next time your handphone gets stolen, may the police be too busy questioning a teacher for not letting a student go for PE.

Her mention of the $60 haircut for her son also cemented in people's minds, stereotypes about rich parents and their brats. I don't want to judge cos I don't know them. All I can say is, maybe she should sue Reds Hair Salon for an overpriced haircut that didn't meet school standards.

You want to know the irony of ironies? The PSLE Chinese oral conversation topic that day was, "Which is the school rule you dislike the most?" I shouldn't laugh. I really shouldn't.

This incident has created an uproar among netizens and I see many comments along the lines of "in my time, we would accept our punishment uncomplainingly and we all turned out fine! The new generation is a bunch of wussies!"

I always get impatient with "in my time stories" because people somehow like to romanticise the past. The past was not all rainbows and Care Bears. I still have emotional scars from tyrannic teachers who thought it was fun to terrorise kids because they knew we'd be too afraid to tell our parents. Or maybe our parents didn't file police reports cos it's hard to take seriously mata who wore shorts.

But back to serious business. I think the reason why people are so indignant is that this incident is symptomatic of the increasing lack of respect for teachers... and that's a real problem. Some parents don't just question teachers, they teach their kids that it's ok to defy teachers. In this case, even the principal and MOE seem to be condoning the mother's disdain for the teacher.

What parents don't realise is that by undermining the teacher's authority, they're actually sabotaging their kids' education. Compounding this problem is the fact that some parents (and even principals) expect teachers to treat their students as customers. This is just wrong. Students are not customers, they are charges. You give a customer what he wants, you give a charge what he needs. If the charge needs to be disciplined, he should be, in a fair and appropriate manner.

I think people often confuse respect with rightness. Students should learn respect for their teachers, not because the latter is always right. The same way that we expect our kids to respect us, even though we sometimes make wrong decisions or do stupid things, so should our kids accord respect to teachers. It's a right teachers have earned simply for who they are and what they do.

Only when we understand and abide by this principle, then can our teachers be empowered to do the enormous job they've been tasked with - educate our kids.

Monday, August 20, 2012

"Tell me about your school turtle"

So PSLE finally begins, with the oral exams last Thursday and Friday. Oral with Andre is a touch-and-go affair as it depends largely whether the topic given can trigger his imagination. Even though the weightage for the oral component (especially for Chinese) is pretty high, it tends to get relatively little attention. I know his school hardly practises oral with students except closer to the exams and I tend to neglect it with Andre as well, simply because I have no idea how to go about it.

Thursday was his Chinese oral. My heart sank when Andre came home looking upset and said it was quite difficult. The picture was a road scene which was not something he had practised much with his tutor. He couldn't use any of the phrases he had learned and he didn't know the Chinese names for a couple of items in the picture.

For the conversation topic, the examiner asked, "What are the school rules you like and dislike the most?" I thought this was a very odd question and my first reaction was pure relief - that Andre actually understood the phrase "校规"! (As you can tell, the Chinese standard in this household is not very high).

My heart almost stopped when he told me that initially, he didn't hear the teacher's question clearly and thought she was asking something about turtles. Thank God he asked her to repeat the question as I wouldn't put it past him to start rattling on about turtles. Phew.

His reply? He liked how you can't cross the roads in school until the teacher directing traffic indicated that you could as that showed the school's concern and care for the students. The rule he liked the least was that even after the exams, you're not allowed to talk in class.

I was rather impressed, not that his answers were particularly insightful, but by his ability to think on his feet. If it was me, I'm pretty sure I would have been stumped. I thought the second answer was hilarious - I hope the examiners were entertained!

Friday was English oral and according to him, it went ok. The picture showed a charity foodfair and the conversation topic was a school activity that he had participated in. He spoke about taking part in the school's funfair and when asked what he learned from it, his answer was teamwork.

So for now, this part of the PSLE is over. I don't think it went as well as he'd hoped but I'm fully aware that it could have been worse. Much worse.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Please be graciously mind your language

It all started when I saw Mr Brown's blogpost about an SMS Transit sign. Reproducing the picture here in case you're too lazy to click on the link:

Aiyoh, my eyes hurt.

I've been lamenting for the longest time that our English standards are declining. The clearest sign of this is when official channels start using bad English. I'm not talking about your neighbourhood kopitiam or your bubble tea shop. I'm referring to organisations like SBS Transit and town councils. Check out this sign, also from Mr Brown:

For Pete's sake, is it too much to ask that someone with a reasonable standard of English vet these signs before they're put up? I've seen a banner outside a CC that read "Commimunity Centre". Maybe committees hold meetings at that community centre.

Sometimes, I suspect people have gotten so used to reading superficially, amidst the barrage of information, that words have lost their meaning. In the MRT the other day, I saw this advertisement:

What does "it" refer to? Time? Money? It doesn't matter anyway cos it would still be wrong. You can keep your meeting short and sweet, you can't keep time short and sweet. I understand it's referring to the bond fund but it's not mentioned in the sentence and you can't keep a fund short and sweet either. I wonder if the advertiser just thought the tagline sounded catchy and used it without realising it didn't make any sense.

And then, there's the local media. Mediacorp is one of the worst culprits of bad English - I've lost count of the number of times I've spotted mistakes in their news commentary and ticker tape. We used to be able to rely on the Straits Times as being the pillar of good English but not anymore. I don't read the Straits Times regularly but I picked up an issue to see if I could catch them out. It took me all of 10 minutes to spot this error:

Can you see the mistake? It should be "has" after "his estate", not "have". It's a grammar rule that's taught to primary school kids. Granted, this is not a huge error but this is the national newspaper we're talking about. That's what editors and sub-editors are for.

If you want to see more grammatical errors in the Straits Times, check out this blog. Some of the errors are really unforgivable.

When I speak to corporate employers, they all sing the same refrain: the new generation of workers is unable to speak and write English competently. Forget about being able to compose fancy marketing speak, it would appear that even stringing a grammatical sentence together is a challenge for some. Some marketing agencies even tell me they've switched from hiring Singaporeans to Hong Kongers because the latter have a better grasp of English.

For shame. What's the point of boasting about our high level of distinctions in the national exams when it doesn't translate into a better grasp of English? It's our first language afterall.

Maybe the answer lies in re-examining the way English is taught in schools as well as better training for English teachers. In the meantime, perhaps posting errors on sites like Mr Brown is the way to go. I'm sure such publicity will motivate establishments to check their signs and publications more conscientiously.

Monday, August 6, 2012

What patriotism means to me

Last week, Feng Tianwei made history for Singapore at the Olympics by winning the singles bronze medal in table tennis. The way she played was inspirational - you could tell that she put in everything she had. Yet, after that tremendous effort, you once again have your detractors determined to put a dampener on things by dredging up the tired old issue of FTs on online forums.

I usually dislike reading these forums as the level of debate there can be so shallow. These netizens conveniently paint everyone with undiscerning strokes of the brush. FTs = bad. Singaporeans = good. Singaporeans who dare say anything remotely in defence of FTs = gahmen lackeys. They often revel in their cloak of anonymity, thinking that gives them the freedom to unleash their taunts laced with spite. Sometimes, I can barely believe these are my fellow Singaporeans, they've become so ungracious and mean-spirited.

Look, I'll be the first to say I think the government handled the whole immigration policy badly. Basically they opened the floodgates and country was not prepared - neither the people nor the infrastructure. Certainly, the grovelling attitude made matters worse. It reinforced the superior mentality in some FTs and antagonised the locals. I think since the General Election, the government has recognised its mistake and is trying to make amends but many Singaporeans see it as too little, too late.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that the FTs who did come to Singapore and take up citizenship, they're already here. And many of them are ordinary folks like you and I, trying to make a life for themselves. What is the point of continuously casting them in the villain's role? These are human beings, not robots to be treated like punching bags.

Forums have always complained that the table tennis FTs came to Singapore but failed to deliver. Now that Feng Tianwei has won, they're claiming that she was playing for herself, not Singapore. Damned if she does, damned if she doesn't.

Here's my conclusion: Haters will always find something to hate. They don't seek to build up, they seek to tear down. Some people just need a target for their vitriol and they don't realise that it reflects badly on themselves. The forums that thrive on fanning the flames of discord are horribly irresponsible, in my opinion.

They say these FTs have no ties here, they have no loyalty to Singapore. But from what I see on the Internet, some of the worst, most disloyal, anti-Singapore comments come from Singaporeans. They think nothing of bashing their own country on the world wide web, for all to see.

It's like the spoilt child syndrome. They complain about the food they get, the clothes they wear and the toys they're given. Yet when their parents give an adopted child a toy, they shriek "it's mine! how dare you give it away!" Birthright does not entitle one to behave like a hooligan. Some Singaporeans seriously need to shed that entitled mentality.

I used to have a colleague who would gripe about her job everyday. She would complain that she had no prospects there, how it sucked that she had to work Saturdays, how her boss wasn't fair, how her job was not fulfilling, blah blah. When she was finally promoted, she whined, "now they'll expect me to work harder." The gall of it all. I never had the courage to ask her but I constantly wondered, "if you hate it so much here, why don't you just leave?"

Every country has its inadequacies. All things considered, ours isn't so bad. Patriotism isn't about hating foreigners or denying its problems, it's about being proud of your country regardless. Just as you wouldn't put your family down in front of others (no matter how much you disagreed with them), it isn't cool to be constantly talking smack about your country.

I don't agree with some of our government policies but the fact remains that I love my country. The government is NOT the country. If we choose to earn a living, raise a family and make a home here, then we should at least have the grace to appreciate it for what it is, blips and all.

It's National Day on Thursday. Beyond the parade, the flags, the public holiday, I hope a fire burns in your heart for our beautiful nation.

Happy birthday, Singapore ♥

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