Saturday, October 01, 2011

There is only one egg

A bit slow to weigh in on new boss' new direction towards this 'values-driven education' thingy, but... here we go.

I don't mean to sound fatalistic, but it's not going to happen. Schools can do what they want to make course corrections on policy and implementation, and it will affect millennia of Asian generational upbringing not in the least.

At the very heart of it -- and taken to absurd extremes -- is our emphasis on competition among the multitudes for the few coveted spaces in our tertiary education institutions, with the carrot of a cushy job and pots of income for the tiny elite that make it to the end of the rainbow.

I guess we never grow out of the primal memory that we were once a sperm cell, rushing and jostling against millions of our fellows and brethren, seeking sole entry into the haven of a solitary ovum. Heh.What haven? We got born, didn't we? And the race has begun all over again.

Among the paltry few mythologies S'poreans have, this most nonsensical one appears to be the primary motivator of our actions from cradle to grave. It drives family life as long as the family has offspring. It keeps the wheels of Education turning (and us employed), always comparing, assessing, measuring, testing; every level a filter that fewer and fewer are able to pass through.

In this caustic environment, everyone is a potential rival, if not an outright enemy. Every classmate sets a new hi-score on the climb up the leaderboard; every teacher is a level boss whose task is to prevent the unworthy from entry into the next grade. Education here isn't as much a game as it is a grind, a cycle of repetitive tasks for the sake of leveling up. It's a dry, boring, solitary experience for the solo player.

Most of our kids play solo. Whether self or externally motivated, they are often cut off from socializing (for fear of 'bad influences'); most media (expensive, frivolous); even books (the fun types) because their time is better spent in isolated study (no distractions). So when they happen to have some time on their hands, they're occasionally stunned into inaction, or go overboard with their indulgences; yet guilty all the while because there's still a textbook to be read or notes to be copied or math to practice.

Ok, before I start sounding like a bad GP essay, what values come to the fore in this sort of growing-up experience? Mostly, the selfish sort. Personal survival takes precedence over all other considerations. Privileges and rights are earned (the corollary being that the less privileged didn't work hard enough to deserve privileges others enjoy). "No one owes us a living", so we're not likely to bend over backwards for anyone either. This is all starting to sound familiar.

So, a "values-driven education" in the real sense is quite at the opposite end of where our current direction is taking us. The boss is calling for us to figure out how to introduce multiplayer mode in what has always been a single-player game. Not that we haven't tried before... the attempt to engage students in collaborative projects very quickly degenerated into a multiplayer king-of-the-hill fragfest as even teammates felt the pressure to outdo one another... for the sake of limited places in the local universities. It's one of our more spectacular failures in social engineering at the post-secondary level.

If we're sincere about making this thing work, we have to take concrete steps to end this run-amok Darwinism at the root of our society. Yes, tough competition is a reality, but the boundaries of competition have to be made clear. Our kids must be able to tell friend from foe, to see in their threatboards some green dots among the swarm of reds.

Multiplayer co-op is the way to go.

At the very least, schools have to stop pitting their own students against each other, so that within the area where everyone wears the same colours we can recognize that we're playing on the same team. Hence, we can support each other, share the resources and engage in the learning together, without the fear that our fellows will take and use our best efforts against us at the final exam. "Us against them" is still a step closer to fostering a functional community spirit than "me against the world".

In the meantime, there is a movement from the rest of us in the wider community to refrain from fertilizing any more eggs until this current situation can regain some sanity. For us, we've already paid our dues in school and we've done decently well for ourselves as it is. Life is good for us. Good enough to say, "bugger it. We're not playing this stupid game any more. So there!" Thankfully, our pets don't have to go to school.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Tabula Rasa

The repo men are here to reclaim my old office lappy. It's sad to give up a good piece of equipment just because the date on the label says I have to. Mostly, I miss that the security system wasn't as paranoid as my current one. Despite having lots of restrictions, I could still customize my browser software, and make a few tweaks and mods to the systems. Nothing major, but for the sake of personal comfort and familiarity.

This morning I took the essential step to delete all my personal information from the old guy, voluntarily lobotomizing him. His personality is now mostly stored as a backup in my portable hard drive, but he's as colourless as on the day I first got him. Tabula rasa.

I made it a point to inform the repo men of his full working condition, and that I've had no trouble with his operations, ever. They said they were looking to keep some of the good ones, so he'll get a reprieve from the trash heap for a while yet.

And now, I have to get used to his replacement whom, because of security policy, I will never get to know as well, nor develop a relationship as deep.

"Hello, new lappy! Do you read me, new lappy?"
"Affirmative... Dave. I read you."

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Not the latest Fall design

You could say I saved up for almost three years to get a nice office chair for the study. Not that this model is especially expensive, but because I couldn't bear to part with hard cash for something as mundane as furniture. I can't find this model in the v.hive catalogue any more, so I guess it doesn't exactly represent the latest Fall design. Still, it is adequately comfy and provides decent back support. And if I'm not careful, it cradles me well enough to catch an unwary forty-winks while grading essays... or playing Bejeweled Blitz. It's happened already. Also, Momo approves. Money well spent, yes.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Essay tip: Hone the edge

Among the assignments I've been grading, the idea of the "double-edged sword" keeps cropping up. This cliche describes a subject (e.g., phenomenon; course of action...) that brings both positive intended effects and negative unintended effects. Somehow, acknowledging that it "cuts both ways" suffices as a 'balanced' consideration for the subject in question.

That mere acknowledgement bothers me because it's an easy cop-out. Essay questions demand a decision, and saying 'it's both' isn't so much a decision as it is a 'whatever' response to a difficult question.

For their best effect, "Double-edged swords" function as tools (or weapons, if you must), not museum objects to be thoughtfully gazed at and forgotten at the next exhibit. Questions involving double-edged swords are really questions about how best to use them; against whom; for what reason; and about how to prevent self-inflicted injury while wielding them. At the very least, there should be a consideration as to which end is the handle and which is the pointy bit.

Essays, themselves, are swords with an edge; and not for delivering blunt force trauma. So, stay sharp!