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Posts Tagged ‘values

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.

Last Thursday, I attended the MOE Work Plan Seminar 2011. Our new education minister, Mr Heng Swee Keat, delivered his opening address and outlined some changes in education.

I created this Wordle shortly after the embargo on the speech was lifted. It reveals the words in the transcript that were used the most often.

Wordle: Mr Heng Swee Keat's opening address at the MOE Work Plan Seminar 2011

I expected the word “values” to feature more prominently since that seemed to be the main theme of the speech. I think the minister put it best when he said the next stage in our education system was to put “value in our learners and learning values” (point #37 of transcript).

That is a tall order, but I doubt anyone would deny the importance of emphasizing values even over academic results.

The question that remains is how. How are we going to do this when schools, parents and kids have been taught to value grades above all else?

While the speech provides some clues on broad steps that we might take, I think there is mindset we should drop before taking any action.

All of us were given 2×2 Rubik’s cubes as we entered the hall. On the faces of the cubes were MOE’s ideas on what the desired 21st century and student outcomes were.

To engage the audience, the emcees asked us to scramble the cubes, pass the cubes to a neighbour and try to solve our puzzle in 30 seconds. I thought this was a nice touch up until what happened next. After the time limit, the audience was shown a video clip on how to solve the puzzle.

Granted we did not have the time to figure out multiple strategies to get the faces lined up. But we knew what the message was: It takes much time and effort (and mistakes) to realize these concepts. Instead of emphasizing this, we were shown a formula to solve the puzzle, but as one person behind me remarked, “Eh, for one side only!”

The “solution” was a shortcut to success. We are already a tuition nation and tuition centres make it their business to figure out formulae for anything thrown their way. They then feed the formulae to students the way mother birds catch, chop up and partially digest food so that their baby birds do not have to.

This creates learners who become dependent on consuming the academic equivalent of instant noodles. I call such consumers the Maggi mee generation. But while the noodles might be “fast to cook”, they are not as “good to eat” as Maggi may claim.

The showing of the video might send an unintended and wrong message. There are no formulae or shortcuts or even best practices for achieving the desired educational outcomes. Furthermore, the solution to get one side of the cube solved left the others jumbled.

No one is going to show us a video with model answers and no tuition centre is going to model values. We must be willing to make, acknowledge and learn from our mistakes.

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