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Friday, December 28, 2012

The Power of Imagery

Watch your thoughts for they become words. Watch your words for they become actions. Watch your actions for they become habits. Watch your habits for they become your character. Watch your character for it becomes your destiny. What we think... we become.

- Margaret Thatcher -

There was a time when Singapore's mental image of an ideal system was that of free market competition. To increase efficiency and effectiveness, public services were privatised and quasi-privatised. School Principals were asked to be CEOs of their schools. Indices that paralleled stock market performance were created to measure schools (aka school banding). The way was open to brutal market competition between schools, which lead to competition between teachers... who then pitted students against each other and drove students (and their parents) ever onwards to greater heights of measurable and quantifiable success. See blogpost HERE. Never mind that some really important things in education cannot be measured. See blogpost HERE.

Much of the malaise Singaporeans feel today can possibly be traced back to this single thought - that the free market system is the perfect/best system and public service would do well to emulate its efficiency and effectiveness. It is at best an amoral ideal, i.e., an ideal devoid of morals NOT one that is IMmoral. In other words, I am not saying it is evil, for to be evil requires a heart turned bad. The free market simply has NO heart... NO capacity for empathy.

Now, let me apologise for the corniness that follows.

And so a darkness arose within our fair land, not unlike the shadows of Tolkien's Mirkwood and Mordor (à la Lord of the Rings). Schools fought among themselves resulting in huge variances in quality between schools. See blogpost HERE. Educators fought among themselves. Students, our very best, fought to best each other and keep the spoils. At first, it was friendly. Soon, it became vicious. The strongest schools paraded their spoils and the weak were left to languish with neither love nor pity. One by one, divided by strife, mistrust and corrupted by power,  the race of educators began to fall... first to prostitutes ... and others to depraved acts with minors ... and perhaps one more will fall presently to errrrrrrr... a travel agent? For like the One Ring, the image of the free market (effectiveness and efficiency) ruled our thoughts, and thus defined our actions. Darkness and evil crept into the void created by amorality. Kings of educators became ring wraiths (the Nazgul) too weak to resist the will of evil. Educators of valour became but shadows of themselves. The race of educators became weak. They forgot how to spell. They forgot how to teach. Some gave up on teaching entirely because it was far easier to rely on the Parallel Education system that had grown up alongside it, where educators who didn't like competing took refuge from the unrelenting competitive pressures of the MOE.

But there is yet hope in the strength of men... oops... educators.

The Straits Times today reported a message from Mr Heng Swee Keat - "A principal has to understand that his school is part of a larger school system, and have the "generosity of spirit" to not just narrowly focus on his school's success"

The image he paints for us now, is one of an eco-system wherein the diverse parts have each a role to play. It brings to my mind a piece of beloved biblical imagery from 1 Corinthians Chapter 12... Readers  of other religious beliefs, please interpret this post from the perspective/imagery of your own faith.

14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

There is much left to do... much toxin to purge before sunshine and fresh air can blow through our land again to make it fair (double-entendre intended). There is much left to do before the sunshine and fresh air of camaraderie and collaboration can strengthen the race of educators. 

It is only if all schools work as one body can the entire education system move forwards together. Else, if we stay with the old "free market ideal" the best get bester and the weak are left behind. See HERE. So yes... kudos to Mr Heng and I wish you all the very best in your efforts to make competitive schools collaborate. It starts there because school behavior is an important driver of parent kiasu-ism.

Progress is slow. Results will be even slower. I fear that in the wider scheme of things PAP may run out of time. It has begun to reverse some of the damage done by decades of free market idealism... and that is a good thing. However, it is not so easy to lift the darkness from a land... and for as long as there are still many on the ground who cannot yet see sunshine and feel fresh air, it will be to them as if nothing changed.

Does the government have time before it risks its own raison d'être at the next General Election? Gee... I don't know... because the darkness of the Free Market which once looked so fair of form (as Sauron was once fair of form) has spread into EVERY area of public service from transport to housing. It is an insidious darkness that will not be easily lifted... and many on the ground feel no change.i Some of these will lose patience and vote against PAP. Others, who have found opportunity to thrive in the darkness will begrudge PAP's new efforts to bring in sunshine and fresh air. They too will vote against the PAP.

I rather think things will get worse for the PAP before it gets better... Provided it has time to make things better after things get worse..

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