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Posts Tagged ‘values

This semester I am doing something I did not think I would have to do. I am advising my adult learners on what to do when they show up for their performative evaluations.

Amongst other things, I am telling them to:

  1. Come prepared
  2. Arrive early
  3. Be properly attired

These sound so basic that you might think they need not be said. But “golden rules” do not get their shine without polish.

What is socially acceptable or expected does not always come naturally. These behaviours need to be taught and modelled.

The three rules that I mentioned are not just for creating a good impression, they also reveal the mindset and attitudes of my learners. If they practice them, they show me and others that they can see themselves from another person’s perspective. They respect the time and effort everyone makes to participate at an event.

Those three rules are not limited to their performative evaluations. They also transfer to other contexts, e.g., interviews, meetings, classes.

I do not have to defend these rules. But I am concerned that I have to be so explicit about them at this late stage of my learners’ development. My interactions with some of them tell me that their previous teachers and mentors might not have insisted and persisted with these values.

It is that or I am becoming an old fart. Is available?

This tweet was a timeless reminder that schooling is not the same as education. You can be educated without school; you can get schooled without being educated.

The embedded article focused on how the teaching of virtues and cultivating character distinguished education from schooling. It put forward its case more articulately than my bumbling attempt that schooling was about enculturation while education was about self-actualisation.

But I combined both now with this: I was schooled. I became educated.

I was schooled. I became educated.

Last week I tweeted this opinion piece.

The article makes valid and important points, but one example troubled me.

Take the wearing of the school uniform, a practice that has been in place since before independence. By enforcing a standard dress code, schools send a symbolic message that students are all equal in the school environment, and reduce comparisons between students based on the brands and provenances of their clothes.

You can make people wear the same thing, but you cannot make them the same. Individuals wear those clothes and they can tell each other apart not just on looks but also on status.

Wearing a uniform is more about alignment, not conformity. It is about the values you associate with whether you already have them or will learn them.

Uniforms should be about identity, not equality. Let’s not confuse the two.

I take my role of edtech watchdog seriously. I am not just a pedagogue; I am a peda-dog!

Sometimes I wonder if I am being too harsh with my critiques of the state of teaching and teachers in Singapore. After all, according to a 2013 study we had the most well-paid (see point 3) and one of the most well-respected teaching forces in the world. But these do not mean that all our teachers are educators.

My parents were teachers. I was a teacher. I am married to a teacher. Most of our friends and acquaintances are teachers. Should I bark at and even bite my own kind?

Every now and then I am reminded why I need to do this. Sometimes the reminders come from the seminars and workshops I conduct. Sometimes they are dialogues I have with teachers. Sometimes they are stories from sources I trust.

This is a story about my son who is sitting for his PSLE this year.

My son is bright and should not have problems with this high-stakes examination. However, we were not content to subject him to the mindless rat race, so we looked for a good fit via DSA. We concerned ourselves with getting him into a school that would bring back and nurture the joy of learning.

Do not confine your children to your own learning, for they were born in another time.

We made a family decision to try the new literary arts programme at SOTA [information from SOTA] [news article]. It was taking in about 25 students for the academic year 2017.

We had to ask my son’s form teacher for help to get some school records for the DSA application in May. We were thankful for his teacher’s help. However, I was surprised to hear what happened in my son’s class shortly after we made the request.

The teacher declared that in all her years of teaching none of her students got into their Secondary schools via DSA. It seemed like a source of pride that she was able to prepare her students for PSLE so that they could rely on scores alone.

Now there is nothing wrong with that especially if you have the perspective of most parents here. But we are not “most parents” and I would have been fine if things were left at that remark.

Tomorrow's educational progress cannot be determined by yesterday's successful performance.

I was troubled by two additional comments from the teacher:

  • If you do not get the marks for PSLE, you can try for DSA.
  • What talents do you have that they want?

Those comments were sorely misplaced.

First, the DSA is not inferior to the PSLE. My son had to prepare an e-portfolio, sit for tests, participate in interviews (focus groups and individual), and take part in performance assessments over the span of a month. He also has to do well enough in the PSLE to keep his place in his next school.

Second, kids are more talented than we give them credit for. Their talents are often quieted and schooled out of them. If we watch, listen, and talk to kids, their passions and talents become clear. Such talents can grow and evolve to help them find their niche in life.

Creativity cannot be taught as a skill, but it can be killed -- Yong Zhao.

My son thinks that he was the only one in his class to apply for DSA. This made the comments even more cutting. Was there any need to throw shade at the DSA and kids with talents not accounted for by the PSLE?

This is like parents (still) saying that playing video games has absolutely no value. Those parents need to expand their scope of who they watch on YouTube, e.g., TheDiamondMinecart, Sky Does Minecraft, Stampy, Paul Soares Jr., PewDiePie, Markiplier, CaptainSparklez.

Values are more CAUGHT than they are TAUGHT.

When it emerged that my son had taken the DSA route, some of his classmates gave him unsolicited feedback like, “SOTA is a shit school!” They could not understand why he even considered that option.

Kids are honest and open portals to the values of adults. I have said before that values are more caught than they are taught [1] [2] [3]. The words and actions of parents and teachers shape the thoughts and behaviours of kids. It is frightening to see what prevails.

I started this reflection by wondering if I was in denial about how teachers mindsets have changed. I have shared one anecdote of a classroom teacher possibly in denial about alternative paths to learning and success.

Are you really thinking or are you merely rearranging your biases?

We are still thankful for the efforts of our son’s teachers because they invariably leave a mark. They might focus on delivering lessons in class, but sometimes they accidentally offer lessons in life.

DSA SOTA confirmation of offer.

This Teachers’ Day we will thank my son’s teachers — the ones that are still around because quite a few have left the school. We will also share some good news: We just found out that our son has been accepted into the literary arts programme in SOTA.

If my son’s teachers see themselves as learners first, they might also reflect on the lessons in this story.

I can almost hear a collective groan from some English teachers when a new word of the year (WOTY) is unveiled. Depending on where and when you look, the WOTY might be emoticon, YOLO, bae, vape, or selfie.

It is not just the young who are reinventing language. In Singapore, I have noticed service aunties and uncles at fast food joints creating one-word questions like: Member? Upsize? Chilli?

Some time ago, I stood behind a Caucasian patron, who on ordering his meal, was asked, “Member?” He responded, “I beg your pardon!”

The auntie meant, “Are you a member of this restaurant?” and “Could you please show me your membership card?” Member was a severe truncation of all that.

However, our word-smithing efficiency was not received the same way. “Member” is another word for “private parts” in other parts of the world. It would be a very unusual eatery to require that you present your genitalia when you order food.

Now “upsize” and “chilli” refer to whether you would like a larger side order and drink (and if so, what size) and what condiment packets (and how many) you prefer.

You have to be a local enough to learn such word-smithing. But do you have to accept or even use it? Some segments seem to think so.

I wish I had taken a photo of the sign along an expressway upgrading works that declared it was being “upsized”. That stretch of road now has more lanes. Those lanes eventually narrow to the same limited number of lanes elsewhere because the rest of the road system cannot accommodate it.

Outside local use, member, upsize, and chilli are not universally understood. This is fine if you choose to communicate only your own household. It is not if you wish to make the world your oyster.

Beyond language use and evolution, the lazy use and adoption of language is indicative of mindset. On one hand, it asks the question, “Are you willing and able to change?” On the other, it begs the question “Are you critical enough to prevent good values from slipping?”

Yesterday a racist statement trended in the Singapore Twitterverse.

mrbrown screencaptured the offending remark by an Amy Cheong and posted it on Twitpic.

Since it contains foul language, I am not embedding the screenshot here. Suffice to say that this was about a Chinese woman complaining about a Malay wedding.

Instead I will post one Twitter reaction to that Facebook rant:

A few might take that tweet to mean “keep your racist remarks to yourself”.

I would go further and say stamp racism or racist language out. I had to take such action against one student teacher recently.

I embed the tweet below. I have masked the name of the individual and other identifying elements but left my Twitter handle intact as evidence that it was copied to me.

The context was a request from that individual to change the NIE Blackboard interface so that it was more user-friendly. That was reasonable feedback until that person decided to change “black” to the highly-charged and derogatory n-word that refers to African Americans.

I tracked the person down and asked for permission from one of his tutors to meet with him during class. I let him know that such a term, while not used in the Singapore context, was very offensive. It has historical, social, and political significance that affects policies in the USA even today. Only African Americans use that term now in music or when referring to each other playfully.

The individual I confronted said that he was just playing with the word “black” and recombining it with “board”. That does not make it right if you know the history of the n-word. Look for it. It is just a Google search or a Wikipedia article away!

Amy Cheong and this individual share common traits. They comment or vent on social media without realizing that there are serious repercussions to what they say.

They also do not realize that what they say is wrong. There is something wrong with their value systems when nothing seems to be wrong.

Individuals like these must realize that:

  1. Remarks like their do not give them immunity simply because they are on social media
  2. They will be found out and confronted online and offline
  3. There is much to learn (often the hard way) when confronted

In Ms Cheong case, her employers took swift action. According to Yahoo SG she has been sacked. While she has been summarily dealt with, this helps her former employer (they got rid of a bad apple).

The saga for Ms Cheong may carry on (a grassroots leader has filed a police report). While events online come and go at twitch speed, digital memories stay burnt online thanks to tweets, FB posts, and blog entries like this.

A Yahoo! headline loudly declares “S’pore is now richest in the world” and shows these stats:

I can imagine some folks getting drunk with joy.

But I would put that table beside the words of John F. Kennedy:

Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play.  It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages; the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials.It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.

Video source

It is a sobering truth. It was true then and it is true now.

So if you ask me to choose between a smart man and a good one, I would put my money on the good one.

I enjoyed reading this article in the Straits Times (yeah, it was a rare “like” moment), Giving kids heart and wings [PDF].

It was written by a parent who thinks that values education begins at home and that it must be modelled first by parents.

But there was one thing I did not agree with and it was the end of this short paragraph:

A proper education should be synonymous with values. It is the current form of rat-race schooling that most do not associate with good values.

So here is my stand. If you wish your child to be academically challenged (read that either way), send him or her to a Singapore school. If you want your child to not turn out to be a monster, nurture him or her yourself first. Schools alone are not likely to provide a proper education.

No amount of incentives or academic programmes will nurture good values if the approach is old-school, one-size-fits-all, and predicated on extrinsic motivation.

You have to be good and do good not on the threat of cane or reward of carrot, but on the fact that it is simply the right thing to do. Only then have you been educated.

Last Friday, CNA reported that MOE will establish a Student Development Curriculum Division (SDCD). Its purpose as outlined by CNA:

The new division will give greater focus on areas such as character and citizenship, values education and co-curricular activities.

It will develop a character and citizenship framework by building on existing programmes in national education, co-curricular activities, and civics and moral education.

I am all for character development and values education. But I am not for holding new ideas in old wineskins (very old and Biblical reference intended).

I take issue with the word curriculum. I wonder if that is the right word and approach for something that includes values, character and citizenship education.

I can understand the rationale for having a prescribed and minimum list of things to cover (or better still, uncover). This one-size-fits-all approach aside, one could argue for some well reasoned and common fundamentals like civic-mindedness, social courtesies, filial piety, etc.

At its roots, curriculum means to run or to race. Teachers, students and parents already understand this when they use phrases like “keeping up with the curriculum” or needing to “complete the curriculum”. 

It is hard to look down the road and see what the SDCD would design for implementation in schools. But I think we don’t need another race to run. This would impart the wrong values about values education.

Curricula tend to be tested because policymakers and teachers want answers to “What did you learn?” But the answers don’t lie in a test. More often that not, the real test of character happens when no one is looking.

There is at least one thing that MOE is planning on doing that I like. It wants schools to work more closely with parents. Values should begin at home and be reinforced in school, not the other way around.

So like some other parents, we are not waiting for schools to “infect” our son with positive values like integrity, confidence and thoughtfulness. We try to live those concepts and he gets tested every day. We are not waiting for a system to shift, particularly one that uses outdated language and practices to tackle fresh issues.

This is my final thought on last week’s MOE Work Plan Seminar (WPS) 2011. Honest!

I just started following @LeticiaBongnino on Twitter. This is a parody account of “a celebrity maid”.

Many of her tweets are hilarious and here are two that have accidental relevance to the main theme of the WPS:

Tongue-in-cheek the tweets may be, but there is truth behind the humour. They give us something to chew on as we attempt to better integrate values into schooling.


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