Friday, April 11, 2014

Lick my poop cycle!

We GP tutors think we are so important. We're all about complex systems, procedures and outcomes. Right.

What is GP really about when we strip all the elaborate trappings off our precious subject?

1) Read
2) Think about what you read
3) Write about what you think about what you read.
4) Read some more...

There is nothing else.

This process is akin to the poop cycle. Input --> processing --> output --> more input

The poop cycle is instinctive. The GP cycle, well, that's essentially the communication cycle -- and it works the same instinctive way.

The more procedure we try to drill into our students, the stronger the indigestion. Outcome: malnourished, bloated, constipated students with writing to match.

The truth is, the kids can survive if they are allowed to do what they do naturally. They can even survive without us. All we need to do is to help the process along -- let it flow, not impede the process with obstacles of 'GP' conventions.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Downward slide... arrested?

Is the state of blogging truly dead? Neither my nor any other blog I follow has been updated for some time now. Not that there haven't been opportunities to blog about. To date, I've missed potential reviews of Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls and its whole system 2.0.x revamp and Captain America: The Winter Soldier; and even personal family milestones like the passing of Aunt L.

Could it be that my not blogging is due to subconsciously unfollowing a trend everyone else has already left behind, or that I've simply lost my love for it? In fact, it seems like I've lost love for a lot of things I used to enjoy doing, and now I'm just going through the motions out of routine or habit, following someone else's agenda instead of my own. Zombie is probably an appropriate description of how 2014 has been so far.

What's been behind this downward slide? Top of my list of demotivators is a sense of a loss of autonomy in designing my own curriculum because of a current mania for 'standardization'. It's a good idea to share best practices among experienced staff but a very poor one to take everybody's best practices and mash them together into a prescriptive SoP that everybody must follow. It is really a step backwards and will probably undo much of the good we have accomplished to date.

The second is the sense that the recent don't dos are the things I like to do, while the dos emphasize the things I don't like to do. We are building a risk-averse culture that frowns on experimentation and avoids uncertainty. Too much top-down control, too many reminders about things that don't need doing and too little encouragement towards what does need doing.

Perhaps it has always been this way, and I've only just woken up and smelled real-world coffee?

Or perhaps I've just let inconsequential things get in the way of what I love? Elsa from 'Frozen' may be right about some distance lending perspective to one's situation. A couple of days away from campus to attend iCTLT 2014 has brought me back in touch with other people who are visionaries in education, at the forefront of education reform and yet are juggling with old-school expectations and strictures, and rising above it to tell their stories to us who are supposed to be at the pinnacle of global education success.

It's great to hear how although we've done some things right, there are a lot of important things that we are doing wrong. I'll want to compile and digest what people here have been saying in another post, but for now it feels good not to be the lone voice crying out in the wilderness and that there are those who have waded through the same muck and have moved forward to where we want to go, even if some of us have to be dragged kicking and screaming to get there.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Double bill

To truly appreciate being Singaporean is to accept the transience of our existence as a people. On the one hand, there is the desperate longing to capture a sense of permanence, but the reality is that life moves us not just from location to location but also through time -- from the here-and-now to the "will we be remembered?" and "will we have meant something?" when the realisation of our mortality finally dawns.

In the two plays in Play Out: A Double Bill featured in the NUS Arts Festival 2014, this theme carries strongly in the slice-of-life family drama, "Wai?" and in the more abstract movement piece, "Candlelight".

In "Wai?" an elderly couple frets over the fate of their son when television news reports a terrorist attack in the country he is residing in. Their anxiety over the possible reasons why the son is not picking up his phone escalates into a blame-game that dredges up the couple's past history, and their deteriorating relationship with each other and their son.

The presentation is realistic and made-for-TV, the stage set up in a typical dining room-living room suite familiar to HDB-dwellers. The dialogue is chronological and easy to follow, as the couple reveals their attempts to cope with raising a child whom they hope will live a much better life than them, yet regretting not being able to hold on to that child when he does fulfill their dreams for him.

Veteran actors, Gerald Chew and Judy Ngo are obviously playing characters older than themselves, but have a good sense of timing in delivering the kind of verbal fencing that elderly couples (like my own grandparents) are wont to do. There is some humour and poignancy in the jabs that they trade... predictable, yet true-to-life at the same time. At one point, I wanted to rush the stage as their son to reassure them that I was all right, but since I was in a box seat a floor above, I exercised a little restraint and the urge went away.

"Candlelight" was visually arresting in the movement choreography of the chorus whose members also portrayed specific characters in the play. Some movement could have been trimmed for brevity and the lurking presence of Grandpa's, um, ghost(?) seemed superfluous, at least until closer towards the end when its appearance could have been more impactful. As such, this play took a while to warm up, but when it did, there was quite an interesting story to follow about a dyslexic man tasked with recording his family history. Of course, not being able to read and write puts a bit of a damper on his efforts to do so.

The man remembers his grandfather's stories, verbally passing them on to his daughters as a way to keep the memory of "Ah Kong" alive. Despite initial resistance, at least elder daughter, Jadene, learns from her linguistic heritage to become her own person with her own brand of storytelling.

The script is quite linguistically clever, although it tends to bounce a lot between internal reverie and family interaction. Snatches of memories do not necessarily connect with other real-time incidents, but rather make linguistic and philosophical connections with the characters they involve -- dad and daughter, in particular. This piece is clearly harder to follow than the previous one, but at its core it is pretty substantial. It just makes the brain work harder to get at it.

Overall, a satisfying double bill. A nice contrasts of styles, well-executed in presentation make for a decent evening at the theatre.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Graduate

What better way to celebrate the beginning of spring break with a little graduation ceremony? The dog is finally certified 'obedience trained' meaning she can go off-leash in a dog run. As with the driving licence, as my driving instructor told me ages ago, acquiring certification means that the training continues, but without necessitating the supervision of a qualified instructor. Anyway, good girl, Tasha!

And now a group shot with classmates. L-R; Hershey, Tasha, Captain, Daisy, Gigi. Congrats, everyone! And thumbs up to the positive training methods from Pup Pup 'n' Away. A happy, disciplined dog is the best kind to have.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Keeping it going

It's been a tiring, taxing, draining week. Never let it be said that JC1 was a walk in the park. Haven't had much time to post entries since term began, and am feeling too pooped to add much more in this one. A couple of pix then?

The dog's still undergoing basic obedience training; there's been no rain for a while; and the grass is brown. Everywhere.

I succumbed to the evil empire today and finally got my very own iDevice. Of course, I'd think twice about shelling out for it if it weren't heavily subsidised by a mysterious, unnamed benefactor; and having a retail membership discount making it an even sweeter deal. Also, ageing eyes needs a bigger screen to look at. There. I said it.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Tainted honour

It's hard not to get all emotional about the charges laid against the NSF who blew the whistle upon witnessing animal cruelty in his army camp. His dad is apparently so upset, he posted his outrage against the army for disciplining his son for what should be seen as a heroic act. "There was no honour [Facebook login required] in the way this situation was handled by the Singapore Armed Forces", he complains bitterly to the online community.

While I am against animal cruelty (barring the cruelty done to animals that provide nice, juicy steaks; sausages; bacon and other yummy stuff, the origins of which we'd rather remain blissfully ignorant of) this entry is not about that. It's about how the concept of 'honour' has been twisted into a bad argument posted by the distraught dad above in commenting on his son's plight.

The boy is being charged on two counts: shooting photographic images in a location that prohibits photography; and providing information to a party who has no privilege of access to such information.

Security of information is a key protocol which the military will rabidly uphold. Wars are won and lost over control of information. Dad's argument is that the content of the information provided by his son would not have compromised military security and therefore should not constitute a breach of security protocol in both the acquisition and the delivery of said information to the third party.

Dad is wrong on both counts. The law prohibits the action regardless of the sensitivity of the information breached. The charge is therefore against the action, and only in deliberating mitigating circumstances will the content of the information in question be considered. Hence the organization is not conducting itself dishonourably in prosecuting someone who has clearly broken the law.

But on the other hand, did the son act honourably in doing what he did? There is honour in standing up for one's convictions. His act was noble in intent, and for that he deserves credit. But an individual's honour goes deeper than that. Honour is in upholding the law of the land first and foremost. If one's personal convictions necessitates the breaking of the law, that does not absolve one from facing the consequences of one's actions. Given this untenable situation, the honourable thing for the son to do is to acknowledge that in order to do the right thing, he had to do the wrong thing, and accept the punishment for it. Colloquially, he did the crime, so he must do the time. In principle, two wrongs do not make a right.

The other factor to consider is if the son's actions were, in fact, necessary. Did he have to shoot video, and did he have to pass the video on to a third party, and did he know she would likely have politicized it the way she did? Was it his intention, in the first place, to politicize the information he passed on? The video is now for public viewing here [also requires Facebook login]. What it shows is a dog tied up by its neck, its head suspended by the tautness of the rope. Its weight is supported by the floor, so while it may look uncomfortable, it isn't being deliberately strangled unless it struggles against its bonds.

Clearly the boy had already decided to disobey orders by shooting video and distributing it through unauthorized channels. If he was going to disobey orders, then wouldn't it have been more necessary at the time to place the dog in a more comfortable position by re-tying the rope that held it? Did he leave the dog that way the whole night after he shot the video? In other words, if he wanted to alleviate the suffering of the dog, there were more immediate and practical options than turn to his phone-camera for a more sensational solution.

Of course, this is the army we're talking about. This is the kind of social organization that makes a business out of treating people worse than animals, so its approach to perceived threats to its operational capability usually leans towards the brutally effective. If the boy intended to instigate an investigation and force a change in tactics by eliciting public awareness and opinion, he's done a great job. The strays will probably be treated better now. So he should complete his honourable act by taking his punishment like a man. Much respect if he does; no respect if he attempts to squirm his way out of it.

And, Dad, your son's actually a grown man. He made a mature decision, so stop embarrassing him with your overprotective indignation. You should be proud of what he did, and not undermine his heroism by sending the wrong message that whistleblowers should be exempted from prosecution if in blowing their whistle they break the law.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Bright side

So now we're letting someone with a bad mouth set our benchmarks to meet their unreasonable demands?

Maybe we need someone like that to shake us out of our complacency with a kick to the butt every now and then. Just sayin'.