Saturday, 18 May 2013
Observations on Elitism
Since I posted A Response to the Ugly Truth about HCJC 3 days ago, I am honestly quite amazed that it has since been published on therealsingapore yesterday and commented on by Limpehft earlier today.
Firstly, thanks for your comments and compliments Limpeh! As I mentioned, the discussion on elitism in Singapore will require a full post to do it justice and seems like you have done just that! To further enrich the discussion, I am going to respond to your post as well as add some of my personal thoughts on the issue.
1. Wealth and Elitism
In his post, Limpeh has elaborated about this aspect in great length and shared his personal struggles. I do agree with his insights on elitism in general and its obvious correlation to wealth in Singapore - the wealthy do possess a great advantage and often have an 'unfair' headstart in life compared to us common folks. In the context of education, money can buy unlimited hours of private tuition, many varieties of enrichment classes and possibly even a coveted placement in a top school. Taken to the extreme, money can even buy tutors who will do the child's school homework and assignments from other tutors! Good grief. Talk about rich, kiasu parents.
Evidently, money can buy a lot of tutors.
Wealth, however, can also be a handicap. Let me give some specific examples to illustrate this point - in my time as a teacher of an 'elite' Secondary school, I have met students who did not know:
- how to use a can opener
- how to eat chicken with bones
- what a mop looks like
- how to use public transport
- what butter looks like in the fridge
- how to use an umbrella.
Believe you me, I couldn't invent such seemingly ridiculous examples even if I wanted to.
Yes, most of the kids I described above came from a wealthy background. After the initial chiding of the child and subsequently enlightening them (e.g. Here, let me teach you how to use an umbrella...), I came to the awful realization that some parents had allowed their wealth to deny these children of critically important lifeskills. What is amazing is that when these kids are confronted about their apparent inadequacies in what I deem as basic lifeskills and common sense, they are genuinely perplexed. Most of these students sheepishly acknowledge that they are denied access to the kitchen at home and have not done a day of housework in their life because 'it's the maid's job / they are not allowed to waste studying time doing such things'. Please let me bang my head against the wall for a minute.
Let me teach you how to open an umbrella. You press this button here.
Defensive parents, I know what you are thinking. So what if my daughter cannot use a mop / cook / do housework? I have a maid at home who can do everything. Well, please ensure you continue to hire a maid for your daughter after she gets married, has kids and grow old. She may not be able to cope otherwise. So what if my son is pampered? Is it wrong to pamper my children? Of course not, but please keep it real. Can your son survive in adolescence and adulthood when your pampering ends? When are you going to cut the apron strings and stop fluffing him in cotton wool? Are you going to serve his NS for him? But my children have to study! Yes, but they also need to develop knowledge about everyday life! Lack of experience in the real world breeds ignorance.
Should SAF allow maids and mothers into the Army?
I acknowledge that at the moment I am generalizing and exaggerating to some extent because I am so frustrated- but yes, I admit there are also kids I have met who, despite their upbringing by wealthy parents, are genuinely down-to-earth and humble. There are students who have not allowed their (wealthy) family background and connections to hinder them in the wrong manner. Unfortunately, such well-taught (有家教) kids are genuinely rare, which brings me to my next point.
2. Attitude of and towards the 'Elites'
Clearly, the Wee Shu Min controversy has shown us what the attitude of the elite should not be - arrogant, unsympathetic and filled with a sense of entitlement. Money cannot buy respect. Respect, once lost, cannot be regained easily. Without respect, what good is your elite status?
Singaporeans, don't be disheartened by a few black sheep. Thankfully, not all students and graduates from top schools are like Wee Shu Min. I came across an insightful post of a Rafflesian who wrote about how he came to terms with being an labelled an 'elite'. I am particularly encouraged by his following comment "... we walked away very humbled and hopefully more aware. It was an important conversation because it also made me realise, despite it being only a few years since before I joined Gifted Education and the so-called “elite” track, how much less sensitive I had become to “the world out there”. And with that the determination that while there is no shame in pursuing my goals and ambitions, all the while I have to keep searching for a way to sensitize myself". There are also several facebook confessions pages (such as this and this) of 'elite' students whose comments display commendable maturity, considerable humility and good moral values. My takeway: The Chinese saying 别让一群人打翻整艘船 sums it up nicely. Don't let a few bad eggs tarnish the other good examples.
Remember the white sheep too!
Lastly, my 2 cents worth for current students from supposedly elite schools: Don't conform to the elite stereotype for conformity's sake! It will make you miserable! Learn how to fail, laugh at yourself and remain humble. Being labelled an elite is not really different from being called an 'Ah Beng/Ah Lian' IMHO - people will say what they want to say, but you can be who you choose to be.