Saturday, June 09, 2012

I ask the questions here!

Context is everything, but it seems these days people are losing sense of what it means. I'm referring to the online debacle with the Pre-U Sem (from now identified as 'PUS') kid who was upset that the guest political dignitary (from now identified as 'DPM') did not answer his or anybody else's questions during the Q&A. Instead, DPM redirected the questions back to the questioners for their take on the situation.

First, I'm not going on about the crude language said kid coloured his online response with. Online, crudity of expression is fair game, to be expected, with the exception of certain refined individuals who represent a tiny minority. This post is more about how our kids have no idea how a discussion is supposed to be conducted.

For them, questions must have answers. Answers must be satisfactory, and should be useful in scoring an 'A' grade at the final exams. After all, kids are forced to cook up some kind of question for Q&A sessions, so at least the panel should have the courtesy of providing a suitable answer. Full-stop. Draw a line across. It's very upsetting for a kid when the replies don't follow protocol. The question is wasted, the time spent thinking it up is wasted. The questionee must be an idiot because he doesn't have an answer. I should know... I get that all the time in class. I'm used to it.

About context. Q&A sessions (and people are going to hate me for saying such) are invitations to a discussion; i.e., a sharing of information. You share some with me, I share some with you. When the panel returns a question, it's an invitation for further conversation. This pattern repeats itself until a resolution or something else more interesting arises.

Discussions are a form of dialogue. Unfortunately, PUS kid got upset because he wasn't interested in dialogue. Instead, he took the Q&A to be an interrogation. I ask the questions, you tell me the answer. If I'm not happy with your answer, I'll abuse you until you tell me an answer I want to hear. Which, basically sums up what happened online.

The really sad thing is that the kid is attending the PUS with no idea why he is doing so. The PUS is organized annually as a forum for JC-level academic peers to gather and discuss national issues, to come up with ideas and projects that pro-actively address national concerns. We invite a political representative not to listen to his directives but rather propose to him what we plan to do, independently, with a well-thought through plan, because it's the right thing to do. So in fact, the guest is not there to be interrogated, but to be impressed by our initiative, our drive and our ingenuity. We are the ones who provide the answers to his concerns, not the other way around.

Now that the PUS kid has apologized, I hope he knows what he is apologizing for. It's not because he behaved badly but that his bad behaviour was the result of misidentifying his role in the PUS in general, and in the Q&A specifically.

BTW, it's really hard to be the government right now, especially when the people are becoming increasingly ungovernable. When you have answers to questions, people call you a tyrant; non-consultative; dictatorial. When you invite discussion, people call you incompetent, having no ideas; not worth your salt. When things go well, no one notices; but when things go wrong, you're everybody's favourite whipping-boy.

With a people like that, it doesn't matter whether our representatives are from the ruling party or from the opposition. We will always be unhappy with the government whenever we don't get what we want. You couldn't pay me a million dollars to take on that kind of thankless job.


Anonymous said...

Indeed, this 'PUS Kid' was wrong to colour his online blog post with profanities. However notwithstanding those blights on an otherwise interesting intellectual piece, the kid’s post highlights the growing resentment with the government. Yes, the Pre-U seminar is a dialogue with key political figures and leading policy makers. However, while it is perfectly fine to attempt to engage 17- year old teenagers in a dialogue, what exactly constitutes a dialogue? I don’t think a mere ‘what do you think’ constitutes a sound reply. After all, the kid probably took some time out to coin together a question that judging by his forceful blog post, was of somewhat importance to him. Questions are of course meant to have a reply to. What is the point of asking a question otherwise? Yes, it is perfectly alright to guide a person towards answering his own question, to shed light on an untouched issue, to steer him on the right track. A simple ‘what do you think’ unfortunately does not do much and represents nothing much more than an offhand remark typical of the PAP’s style of avoiding sensitive issues. Don’t get me wrong here, I sympathies with the PAP drawing much flake from an ungrateful electorate recently, yet I think even the DPM, the person second in line to leading the country could do much more than throwing out such a comment. If the kid took time out to think of a question, surely the least the DPM could do was to at least offer a solution that the PAP has been pondering (if they have indeed been doing I hope), explain it out at least somewhat thoroughly and ask the kid’s take on the solution. Is it satisfactory? Could more be done? If so, what do you propose? The kid is obviously discontented with your lot. You took his question, you turn it around on his head, and you dumped it back on him. Obviously he would be infuriated. And to add fuel to the flames, his school reprimanded him, he had to apologize, and his most beloved blog was closed down. Well sir, you’re gona get a lot of votes next time round no doubt.

masterofboots said...

Sminy completely echos my sentiments. It must be a generational gap thing. Oh no, we are counting on them to pay taxes when we are old

Anonymous said...

Well said sminy. Probably many thought critical thinking means the same as critiicise first then think.

Min Seah said...

the biggest failings of our current government are its lack of tact and a total inability to present a good public face.

its disregard for PR, its constantly unvarnished in-your-face statements and its severe deficiency in charm factor is certainly going to cost votes at the next election.

Anonymous said...

As you mentioned, a discussion requires contribution by both sides but in this case, there was none.

I'm sure our DPM can do more than throwing the question straight back. No thoughts? No prompts? No gentle nudging and providing some insights which may encourage these 17 year old students to think a little further?

Do we need guest-of-honours to ask "What do you think?" How is that "sharing of information?" I'm sure the students can, and have asked themselves that. They probably even have their own ideas. They just want to hear DPM's, to have a little guidance.

What we need to see more of is lively participation on both sides and agreeable disagreements. Not disregard for questions that may even border on disrespect for the students.

Min Seah said...

Note to cynth & 2crows: apparently, the ground rules for this plenary session were not clear to the participants. we have to be certain what the guest intends to do with his time and brief the participants to prep way beforehand. they don't like being surprised.

it's a good wake-up call, though. many of us have forgotten what the pus is supposed to be for. let's return it to its original intentions: to show off how much initiative and motivation the kids have to do something about the problems they observe around them within their own community.