Saturday, October 25, 2003

Education, among other things

so my cousin ten hours away on the other side of the Atlantic -waves- sends the Family [we are like the mob only less cool] an email this morning expounding his opinions on the education system we have back home, and its similarities and differences with the education system we are currently embedded in. [ooh! Iraq war-reference, smart me. -smirk-] it was immensely pleasing in that he puts down in clear and therefore arguable terms what most of us waffle on about inside our minds quite a lot but never really come to terms/grips with. so now we have a defensible thesis and an arguable premise, always a good thing.

so, to recapitulate, my stand:

our education system takes care of the many and perhaps tends to let the few slip through the cracks. [refer to Adrian's latest post for some of those few] by and large it does a reasonable job of teaching kids who to read, write, and add one and one and hopefully get two. [i'm not sure it managed to teach me that, sometimes.] but it doesn't do that great a job of teaching us to THINK. this is my big bugbear and it looks like it is starting to become jon's big Bugbear also. yay.

so our education system is trying now to revamp itself. [it amuses me how i talk about it as though it were a single entity; a rational actor, as it were, in the Weberian sense] it is trying to somehow teach creativity, and unlike a couple of years ago, where it literally attempted to teach creative thinking, it seems to have grasped the idea that creative and critical thinking are skills rather than content, and therefore SKILLS have to be imparted, not lesson plans. so they institute Philo[sophy] and CFMs [cross-fac modules, for those who are not NUS-aware, IE 90% of the people who read this blog] in the high schools and NUS; they revamp the system to make a through-train, six-year-bypass of the O levels route for the Raffles and ACSian families, that sort of thing. but again we run into implementation issues. speed/haste/hurry seem to be our watchword, instead of quality, consideration, education, effectiveness. what's up with that? it does our kids no good to be rushed through an ill-prepared philo program: sure, it exposes them to things they were not previously exposed to, but they learn almost nothing. perhaps some knowledge of what the main points of Descartes's arguments are, or who Aristotle is, but will they learn to apply what they know to what they see? somehow, i don't think so.

i don't think that if i'd done Aristotle's Politics in NUS, just after reading Plato's Republic in a most unhappy translation, i would have appreciated to quite the same wondering depth the deviousness of SM Lee's mind in creating the Singaporean society we live in today. i just wouldn't have had the freedom or the skills with which to appreciate that mind. the critical analysis which liberal arts-trained undergrads bring to almost anything they read, or see, or write about - those skills are the ones that allow us to write papers about a Hobbesian Singapore, or an Aristotlean middle class in our society. these patterns repeat themselves -in part because our leaders, the old generation, have had the kind of liberal arts education and expose which we are now denying our kids in the -one plus one equals two- sort of education they receive- throughout history, because Hobbes Locke Rousseau Aristotle and Nietzsche have one thing in common: they are keen observers of human nature. and human nature hasn't changed all that much in the last few hundred years, shall we say.

it's not inconceivable that the NUS philo course, rushed though it is, is an excellent means of exposing otherwise closed-off students to the wonderful madness of logical thinking. =) but it all really depends on how it is taught. going through four philosophers in one class is sort of hard unless you are willing to work real hard at it, and you hvae a good instructor, who is good at pointing you in the right direction, able to ask pertinent questions, and give you a hand over the hard bits. and there are a LOT of hard bits. somehow i have my doubts that our instructors in NUS have any kind of tradition that emphasises independent learning, which is really the only way to comprehend philosophy, over rote spoon-feeding, here-is-the-cliff-notes-version sort of teaching that seems to prevail.

sometimes when i am sitting in Hutch with my headphones plugged in, papers and books spread out all over the table in front of me, pen and highlighter in hand as i read through -plough through- page after page of case study and theoretical explanation in Org. Dec-making readings, or IR theory, it strikes me that this is where i want to be right here and right now. that i am incredibly lucky, incredible blessed, to be able to study exactly what i love and my mind is most suited for, and have someone else pay for me to do so to boot. the wonderful rightness of feeling like i was BORN to do this work, to read and understand and apply organisational theory, or do structural analysis of WWII. [it's less apparent with econ but hey, it's still there, somewhat...] i love being here and doing this; this is definitely the school for me -cold weather, hard work and sometimes incredibly lousy hours and all. even when i whine and complain and feel like i can't make it, in the back of my mind a small voice is saying -God, i love this place.- and that, my friends, is a wonderful feeling.

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