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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The World's Favourite Past Time

"Brain: an apparatus with which we think we think." - Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary


On complaining about the young:

Who says young people are lazy and rude?

"TOO rude, too lazy and too wasteful.

Adults worldwide routinely complain about erosion of moral standards among young people.

These laments have been growing louder, and in Singapore the debate has taken on a formal flavour, with much discussion recently about character education in schools.

But tell all of that to Professor Lee Wing On and he will simply reply that you have a poor memory.

'We forget how rebellious we were when we were young,' says the 57-year-old dean of education research at the National Institute of Education.

'When we grow older, we feel we have better values and think that the younger generation is deteriorating. But it's only a perception.'

Youth surveys have shown that the young sometimes have moral standards just as high, if not higher, than those of adults, says the respected scholar who has done research in the fields of citizenship, moral and values education.

One study he did on youth in Hong Kong, for example, showed that they expressed deep respect for their parents. 'They sometimes don't know how to communicate with their parents, but they know that fulfilling filial piety is not just giving money to them, but also spending time with them.

'Is there a more beautiful definition than this?' he asks.

Besides, societies have generally progressed over time.

'How can that take place if one generation were worse than the previous one?'

The problem, he says, is that people tend not to notice when the values that they have imbibed since they were young no longer take pride of place in society.

While frugality, for example, is a long-cherished virtue, it is increasingly at odds with capitalist economies where employment is dependent on people spending - rather than saving - money.

'If everyone was frugal, and we didn't change our clothes, or buy new furniture, or new cars, then manufacturers would not be able to sell their products, they could not run their factories... and people would not have jobs'...

There continues to be a distinct difference in the values upheld in Asian and Western education curricula in this globalised age.

Words like 'filial piety', 'harmony' and 'resilience' are more commonly used in Asian contexts, while 'tolerance' and 'liberty' are more often heard in the West.

There are also very clear differences in their citizenship education, he says.

In many Asian countries, including Singapore, citizenship education is bound to moral education. Someone qualifies as a good citizen if he is first a good person.

Regardless of the country's political system, Asian citizenship curricula tend to focus on cultivating good moral beings before talking about citizens' relationship with the wider society.

In contrast, he says, Western citizenship education is often tied to politics. A good citizen in the Western context is someone who is politically literate and knows his rights and responsibilities, such as electing a government to power...

Western countries, which used to emphasise individual rights, are starting to discuss social responsibility, he notes.

This is because 'if everyone defines good in his or her own way, if we are just tending to our own interest, then we cannot come to a societal compromise'.

Asian countries, meanwhile, are starting to open the discussion on individual rights because 'the downside of not knowing how to exercise your rights is that you forget your individuality'.

He adds that it could also make one lose the creative and critical edge to keep pace with the 21st century."

Also the point that citizenship education is inherently political is one that people forget.
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