Friday, December 29, 2006

How did we human beings get to become the dominant species on this planet? It isn't because we have opposable thumbs, as some hacks might suggest. If it was, then we'd be facing competition against the other primates and a couple of squirrels in a triple-threat match to be "King of the Hill". But so far, we seem to be the only ones able to survive pretty much anywhere on Earth. For changing the environment to suit ourselves rather than adapting ourselves to suit our environment, no one else is in our league.

I think it's because we've made 6 good friends, and we've been leveraging on their strength ever since. They are: who, what, when, where, why, and how.

Our ability to ask questions means that we no longer have to accept status quo all the time. We can question our current situation, draw implications from conclusions to our queries, and plan ahead to implement our desired predictions, forecasts and outcomes. We dare ask, "how might our future be better than it is now?" No other animal does anything like this.

So asking questions has to be our #1 most important skill to learn. It has helped us crawl out of the mud, climb down off the trees and it will eventually take us to the stars -- if we so desire.

When I look at our approach to education, though, I have to wonder if we are teaching the right skills. School experience for the student is almost entirely just learning what the answers are. But if they didn't ask the question in the first place, why should they care about what the answer is, anyway?

Besides, the skill of answering questions is a nonsense skill. Answers are static, fixed. Answers reinforce the status quo. Answers force acceptance, giving the impression that nothing can or will change, um, because. Answers are always right, even though they may be wrong. What's the shape of the world? What's at the centre of the universe? Whatever the answer, people at one time believed it, though today, we believe in a totally different answer. And whatever we believe must be right. Right? Whatever.

When we teach students to answer GP questions, whether compre or essay, to me it seems like putting the cart before the horse. We ought to be teaching (or re-teaching) kids to ask questions first.

I believe that the right questions will answer themselves. So when they learn to ask the right questions, they'll learn something that's so much more practical and potentially more life-changing than just learning the right answers.

Will try this approach with my '07 kids. Hope they won't kill me for educational heresy.
The staff tour of farmland Kranji was a novel way to begin our 2-day end-of-year workshop. Between dodging raindrops and puddles, I got to handle a live bullfrog (slimy but oddly odourless) and rubbed up the fur of a farm dog and cat along the way. Like my noisy, chatty companions, the animals were equally sociable.

Apart from learning that bullfrogs are monogamous, and new vocabulary like "aeroponics" and "agri-tainment", I was quite taken by the approach of the Kranji stakeholders to deal with their individual and collective problems operating farms in S'pore.

For example, we have farms in S'pore??? Where do we have space to have 1 farm, let alone the 170+ farms that are supposed to operate in the area? Aren't farms far away, inaccessible, dirty, smelly places that are nice to visit but don't exactly offer top career choices for our children?

With public perception as such, they don't get much support from either the market or even our public institutions. Each farm struggles to survive, and people being what they are, S'poreans in particular, the temptation must be great to conflict and compete the hell out of each other, neighbours being at each others' throats for scraps of resources all the time. We all know what that kind of life is like.

But the Kranji collective impresses me with its ability to cooperate with each other, leveraging on each other's strengths rather than exploiting one another's weaknesses. They rightly identify their problems as obstacles to overcome rather than target each other as the source of their woes.

And even more impressively, they rely most on their ideas: always finding new ways to do things better. Our farmers ain't hicks. They're scientists, engineers, craftsmen, artisans and designers; market-savvy, well-travelled and well-connected. They're angry and frustrated 'cos it's a tough line of work, but they're also hungry and unwilling to just keel over and die without a fight.

And what I love is their attitude that ideas are meant to be shared open-source, instead of selfishly hoarded. I've always believed that an idea is only as good as it is shared. The further it spreads, the better it must be. Ideas propagate one another, and I guess farmers are best positioned to understand this simple truth.

Respect the farmer, urbanite!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Meet Swiss Cheese Man a.k.a. Holey Man, my stunt double in one of my earliest productions with MU. He's come home with me after all these years hanging around as a wall decoration at the MU studio in Cairnhill.

Yup, MU is leaving the premises and closing its doors for good. We had our farewell party tonight attended by many of our founding members as well as a number of our latest generation, and a few well-wishers and friends.

It's a little sad to see a chapter in my life close for good, particularly as I had been intending to reopen it at some point in the near future. But that's not going to be so easy now.

In fact, when I began with Education, one option I was toying with was to complete my contract so that I would have some credibility and some experience as a teacher, then return to MU to teach drama full-time. Guess I felt it was more necessary for me to remain in the system, as it turned out. Funny.

As various members took bits of props and equipment home with them as memorabilia, and as the reception table was little by little cleared away of snacks, cheese and wine, it was goodbye to old friends, some of whom are departing for other climes for who knows how long.

My holey shadow is a piece of my history. And he's come home.

Banjo by Weng
Housewarming at Anthony and Wendy's! We got to see the interior of their new pride and joy today after more than a year of anticipation. It's a cozy place, much of the design based on straight zen lines; right down to the entertainment electronics. I like the design concept for its urban functionality, though if June was present, she might find it a little cold if not for the touches of wood panelling here and there.

Potluck dinner for the third night in a row, and no, I did bring a Christmas fruitcake with me despite what I said in my previous entry. Scrooge I may be, but friends are friends after all. The usual crowd of Anthony's showed up for a pleasant evening.

Weng, in his usual fashion, got us to help assemble the presents he got for us. With empty cartons, bits of plank and cord, each represented household got at random an elastic powered wooden rifle or a 3-string banjo. He helped me tune my banjo and even strummed some discernable chords from it. Thanks, dude!

June wasn't able to join the festivities tonight. She had to pack for her flight to Manila tomorrow, returning on New Year's Eve. Safe journey, ok?

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

My inner Scrooge is acting up. I'm looking back on the last couple of days of stuffed-to-the-brim feasting, and I'm amazed at how much waste there is left after everyone's had their fill. Then there's the ritual of bagging the remains and distributing them as leftovers, knowing that in reality it's all going to the trash anyway. Just not all into the the trash bin of the host's premises.

I'm also looking at the amount of water I'm using to do the dishes and I'm perturbed that every drop that comes out of our taps is potable H2O, which is in such short supply in many parts of the world even in generally clean condition, and I'm using such a torrent of it to get my kitchen back up to passable health standards again. And no, I wasn't even the host.

I wonder if my personal policy on Potluck Socials is so wrong after all? All I do is show up at my appointment and contribute just my pleasant disposition and a healthy appetite. I'm sure to still "bring home" some leftovers since everyone's brought too much anyway.

Oh, and what if more people adopted my policy and there's not enough food for once? Simple. Pool cash, call pizza.

Let's spare a thought for the less fortunate next year.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Q-tip says, "Merry Christmas, everyone!"

Er... you too, Momo.
Arrive late at Christmas family reunion. Get relegated to the kids' table 'cos all other seats taken. Realize that the kids I'm sitting with and I remember as screaming, bawling, running-around in short pants minor annoyances are no longer kids. Some are already at the U, some just starting work. Funny, I don't feel any older but I should, shouldn't I?