Sunday, October 28, 2007

I'm surprised Mr Devan would behave like the other PSLE parents when his kid returned a poor grade on his presumably GP essay. The school system is too rigid, he claims, in being dogmatic to the thesis-exposition-conclusion model of essay writing. He gives examples of great essayists whose works don't follow the pattern, Bacon and Orwell he quotes. The thesis-expo-conc model might work for boring old reports on Singapore's economy or a lab report, but doesn't reflect the writings of novelists and journalists, so why can't we be flexible about it [and give young Master Devan an 'A' for his effort, instead of a 'B' or whatever]?

Let's just dump all our illusions and ideals about Education. A GP essay is the most boring thing anyone will ever write. GP isn't creative writing which celebrates a free flow of thoughts and ideas that might eventually meander to some revelation. Or not, which is also ok. GP doesn't like the personal and the story-telling style either, so even if Orwell himself wrote lines like the ones Devan quotes, I would still write in the margins in glaring red: Narrative! Relevance?

We forget that GP, like any other subject, is a training regimen in a particular discipline. And the grades a student gets are merely reflective of the skill demonstrated by the student attained in that discipline. GP is a narrow discipline because it belongs in the realm of Pre-university, i.e., teaching kids to cope in the university environment at which they will be writing boring, stuffy academic reports about the Singapore economy, lab reports and probably worse. They'd better be prepared.

In GP we emphasize not so much clarity of thought, but rather clarity of communicating our thoughts. Socrates was brilliant, but if he didn't have the ability to articulate his most significant idea: "You're all idiots!" to us, his wisdom would have died with him millennia ago.

The thesis-expo-conc model is great for communicating ideas because there's no room for discontinuity, or for random, stray, left-field thoughts entering the argument and confusing the issue or the reader. It makes the essayist more careful in considering his purpose for writing, more aware of the audience's desire to access a simple idea and have some evaluative deliberation over it. It makes the essayist research the background of the issue and be personally responsible for what he says about it.

The essayist is a person of integrity, who has thought hard about the issue being discussed, has learned as much as he can about the issue, and proposes a course of action that is both practical and responsible to deal with it. This is the way leaders communicate with their people, and as potential uni-grads who are likely to hold decision-making positions in society in the near future, they'd better learn to write and speak like leaders or hell, they ain't gonna get no respect. No, sir!

If you don't like GP to be so inflexible and narrow, remember that this is a course in writing that caters to the lowest common denominator, same as every other subject in the formal curriculum. In our hands, we would have shattered the confidence of Bacon and Orwell, sending them in tears from the classroom time and again. They would have had stable jobs in the civil service, but they would never have written another essay as long as they lived, ever again. But if you want your genius kid* to flower, why not try homeschooling? Your kid could have taken the 'O' levels at the age of 9!

*Darn! Link for ST subscribers only!

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