Wednesday, August 15, 2007

I seem to be on a roll with NE issues, probably due to the recent NDP, the big conference our bosses have had over it, and today's staff conference at which we spent much of the afternoon discussing possible implementation strategies at college-level.

I think a lot depends on us staff and how we ourselves buy into the ideas that we need to consider as members of our community. Simply put, if we adults roll our eyeballs at it, then we should expect our kids to do likewise. We set the tone, we set the example, and we're better teachers of the wrong things than we give ourselves credit for -- such is the perverseness of our charges.

We're also at fault for constantly presenting our kids with the scariest visions of the future which we promise they will inherit. We emphasize the threats to ourselves, the competition we constantly face, the endless work that will escalate as they grow older so that the hamster wheel of academic study will eventually be traded in for the Fitness Treadmill of Infinitely Increasing Speed when they enter the working world. And that's just for our individual, personal survival.

'Look at the next door kid -- he's scoring straight 'A's, not to mention your Pri. 6 cousin who's going to a top JC in the North; and you? In some crappy, neighbourhood JC nobody's ever heard of. How to compete like that, ha, boy? Ai... yoh...! No one owes you a living, you know?' As parents, we repeatedly flash this message that even our nearest and closest are our rivals and will snatch away all we hold dear if we give them half a chance.

If this is the life we promise our kids, then why should we be surprised when our kids turn a cynical eye towards their homes, their lives and their future? No one in their right minds would take pride in their society if that's how they view it.

The threats are real. Our constraints are all too plainly obvious. Our precariousness occupying this chunk of real estate in this 'hood is something our closest neighbours constantly remind us of. So, yes, our kids have got to be aware of these realities. But we've got to balance out the picture for them too, to show them that there's still something worthwhile to live here for.

What's worthwhile is for us adults to demonstrate in the way we live and work -- and I said 'adults', not just 'teachers'. While we work hard, there are other facets in our lives that we don't show our kids; whether out of shame, or because we don't wish to set the 'wrong' example, or sometimes because we ourselves have neglected those facets due to our own busy schedules. We play, we laugh, we joke and kid around among ourselves, we take time off to go wild and crazy and do silly stuff, we have a good diversity of friends we are close to whom -- rather than view as threats -- we mutually support and back up. Our kids need to see this aspect of adult life as well, though I suspect very few do.

Glad to see the bosses are thinking of how to make NE more relevant to our kids. Here are my suggestions:
NE needs to show that there's more to life than endless, repetitive work.
NE needs to show that the shared load is easier to bear, and that there are people available who are willing and able to share that load with us.
NE needs to create opportunities for the kids to simply have fun and socialize with each other, using any excuse that might bring people together: loud music, extreme sports, community theatre, whatever, keeping the teenage students' budget in mind, of course.
NE needs to provide a wide variety of experiences to kick them out of their dark, dank cupboards-under-the-stairs and out into a wider world where we hope someday they'll come to live in.
NE needs to allow the kids to organize some of this stuff for themselves so that they'll be assured that doing it their way is just as meaningful as they doing it our way (if not more so).
NE needs to stop focusing on the individual's patriotism, loyalty, citizenship and any other concept we can make the poor sod feel guilty about, but rather appreciate (NOT reward) service and/or contribution to the community as something from the heart, and not for personal gain.

Finally: "Too much 'me' in NE turns NE into an NE-me" (horrible pun I shall falsely attribute to P 'cos I'm sure he'll eventually discover it for himself, given enough time).

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

For those who think success in Economics is all about "regurgitative, vomit essays", RBong, who sits at brekkie with us, was venting this morning about how Eco students still have no appreciation for what their questions require but will just spew everything they have memorized as soon as they spot a familiar word or topic in the question. So take it from a senior Economics staff member: blind regurgitation is more likely to earn a smack than an "A".

On the broad scale, Eco isn't that much different from GP. Questions are unique problems that the student has to solve by constructing plausible solutions based on the knowledge fragments accumulated through classroom teaching and personal study. But every subject also incorporates a specialized language and vocabulary that are appropriate to use when discussing matters arising from the subject. Eco uses funny Latin phrases like ceteris paribus, and as Taily pointed out today, Bio defines certain concepts in particular ways (usually because such definitions are already quite efficient and elegant, and have probably been coined by their original discoverers, so we shouldn't mangle them with our own definitions, though that is entirely possible).

So, yes, memory work is still highly valued -- the way we need it to learn a new language -- but only so far as amassing knowledge fragments goes. Answering questions in any subject requires a careful analysis of what the question wants, then devising a solution accordingly, using the language appropriate to the discussion. We don't need graduates who are hard drives and encyclopaedia; we already have those at our fingertips so having more organic, walking ones would be quite redundant. We need people who can think, so kids, take it up a notch and start thinking for a change.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Happiness is sharing ice-cream with someone you love. In this case, it's a New York Super Fudge Chunk from Ben & Jerry's while catching CSI:Miami on AXN with June. Finally, a chance to sit and indulge after a loooong day shopping with the in-laws.

Yup, the Wongs went on a hunt for a whole new garden to plant in their new balcony, turning M2 into a greenhouse on wheels for today. We, with 2 nephews in tow, were off exploring the huge, new IKEA mega store in Tampines, and Giant supermarket. This complex of bulk retail stores have been around for quite a while already, but June and I have been so sua ku, we've not had an opportunity to visit this place until now.

It's like shopping for the SimsTM. So many items to choose from to improve our material well-being -- from furniture to electronics to food and other household necessities. Crammed with passengers and their purchases, M2 has never felt so heavy to drive before. Last stop was back to our place where we collected our last passenger, Mimi, whose home is finally ready to take her back.