Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Sex ed: The day I got 'suan' by Su' An 2

Straits Times Forum couldn't publish my response to Yeo Su' An. Any way, there are more important things to talk about than sex education.

I was joking with my wife that Singaporeans ARE already practising abstinence. We harbour such bad impressions, opinions and stereotypes of the opposite gender that we don't bother engaging the opposite gender romantically.

On an unrelated note, is it constitutional to proclaim one's abstinence from religion?

(Unpublished - Nov 12, 2008)

Sex education: Letter writer doesn't care if he's neutral

I thank Yeo Su' An for her letter (ST, Nov 10), her criticism and her input for our sex education.

I must state that I have never claimed any objectivity and neutrality in my suggestions, which are contested by Yeo.

Moreover, there is no where in my letter I have mentioned the inferiority of abstinence nor engaged with that topic.

My main concern is two-fold:

1) Children and youths deserve more information from various sources on sex education. Sex education, also a form of literacy, should be broad base.

2) The fair representation of groups, religious and secular, in sex education, because all who have a stake in our society deserve to be heard.

We should have sex education for our children and youth, for their sake – not for us or for the respective social groups and institutions with which we politically or spiritually align ourselves.

The rhetoric of “moral fabric”, “abstinence” and their accompanying values may resonate with most of us, some more positively than others.

However, this does not guarantee our children and youth sing along to the same tune.

At the same time, instead of spending time and resources pointing fingers and identifying possible ills, we should pool together various ideas and resources, including Yeo’s suggestions, and consolidate them for the purpose of the young.

In a diverse and growingly media literate Singaporean youth community, I have contextualised sex education, and believe that any branch of it should not be passed off as universal, absolute or superior, as this ‘silences’ other types of sex education.

As I anticipate a possible race for sex education between groups and parties contesting for their own legitimacy, a situation in which our young will ultimately be the losers, I feel again we should combine various resources for the cause.

Furthermore, I personally choose not to define the young according to the measures of the “rational” adult, because if we were to do that, we will only engage in a one-way authoritative monologue with them.

Our underestimation of youths and our overestimation of the problems at their level only point back to us and the decisions we have made.

I stand by my proposal we provide them with information and choices, rather than orders.

I also stand by my point that we should “behave like we are part of (the information age) and engage information with an open mind”.

Ho Chi Sam

Monday, November 10, 2008

Sex ed: The day I got 'suan' by Su' An

Oh no! My masculine ego and pride have been ripped apart! Nah, just kidding.

Sex education: Letter writer was not neutral

I refer to Mr Ho Chi Sam’s letter, ‘Polycentric approach to sex education’. He argues that ‘various institutions and organisations should not teach sex education and pass their brand of education as universal, but be upfront about their subjectivity’. He seems to be implicitly adopting a relativistic framework which posits that all viewpoints are subjective, and to make a claim to correctness and objectivity is undemocratic and unacceptable in a diverse society. However, this framework is arguably unsustainable as, if all viewpoints are inherently subjective, this necessarily includes the very perspective on sex education which he is putting forth. The very fact that he is arguing for polycentric sex education demonstrates that he believes that encouraging youth to have safe sex is normatively better than encouraging abstinence. It thus follows that he himself is not neutral, but instead is taking a position along the moral framework.

This point is critical as it is not merely theoretical but has real practical implications. By hiding behind the veil of plurality and neutrality, Mr Ho conveniently sidesteps the controversial nature of the polycentric sex education he advocates. Such ‘diversity’ sex education, as conducted in schools in Britain and the United States begins even at the primary school level, covering topics such as the use of contraceptives and how to engage in safe sex, diverse types of sex including heterosexual, homosexual and bisexual, and alternative family structures such as cohabitation and same-sex partnerships. The controversial nature of such polycentric sex education is underscored by the heated nature of the recent debates in California, about the approach to be adopted with regard to the content of sex education concerning homosexual family structures. Strong opinions on both sides of the debate demonstrate that it is illusory to speak as if a consensus exists and polycentric sex education is a settled, widely accepted issue.

Finally, Mr Ho argues that ‘our youth should be exposed to this range of sex education, so they can make an informed decision and follow which material they deem to best suit themselves’. With respect, this argument rests on the flawed assumption that children and youth are rational, wise and ever judicious in their decision-making. As philosopher Herbert Hart pointed out in his critique of John Stuart Mill, this assumption cannot stand when viewed in the light of factual reality: Children and youth do not possess relatively stable wants and desires, and are impressionable and open to experimentation. Contrary to Mr Ho’s assertion, making children aware of the health risks of promiscuous sex is no mere ‘scare fest’ to be peremptorily dismissed: It is an objective fact that teenagers who engage in promiscuous sex are at a much higher risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases than teenagers who abstain from sex until marriage. It follows that it would harm, not help, children to hide such scientific realities from them.

Yeo Su’ An (Ms)

Seriously, Yeo, I “seem to be implicitly” saying this and saying that. In writing here and not writing back to the ST Forum, I will also seem to be implicitly saying something else.

My suggestion appreciates the various political positions, including yours, and I believe that moralising from such positions will be possible if groups are open about their political position.

It is nothing new to provoke and say that relativism is founded on non-neutrality (perhaps absolutism). I do not claim to be objective or neutral any way, otherwise I would not put my name down. So why address something that is not there?

It’s nice to know that you’re taking the time to do a content analysis of what I have written, but please do not say “I seem to be implicitly bla bla bla”, because it makes me want to implicit laugh at you.

I have a perspective on sex education. And since there is the view, which you share, that children are impressionable and so on, does that mean we should socialise and institutionalise them into one form of doctrine (or sex ed) so that they can be "impressed" in the "correct" way?

Perhaps polycentrism is a threat to certain structures and groups that have ambition to establish a stronger foothold in, if not dominate, society.

In exposing children and youths to various materials from different groups, they can make their own decision and we should let them make it. That is my position. Perhaps, some might develop inclinations towards the sex educational ideas of fundamental Christianity, among others. At the end of the day, they make the decision without guilt and fear.

Herbert Hart believes in the natural right that is the fundamental right to liberty. In silencing the ideas and expressions of groups that teach pluralistic sex education, I guess that upholds your idea of “liberty”. You seem to be implicitly adopting a relativistic framework which posits your idea of “liberty” is superior.

Mind you, Yeo, I also fight for your right to speak by emphasizing that all “organisations have their fair representation and stake in society”. But unfortunately, and perhaps given the word limit of the ST Forum, you could not quote that. Maybe you seem to be implicitly not wanting to give credit to that argument.

So when children/youths make the decision to follow you or the dogma of your group/association, it is more of an “informed decision” than an irrational one? What about those who make the decision to conform to another dogma? Is that decision an irrational one, a one of experimentation, rather than an “informed”?

I stress the importance of dealing with the information age, which is why I contextualised the discussion. So, can you quote more contemporary philosophers?

At the end of the day, various groups are always wanting to recruit young blood, to renew and further their cause. We are always looking for more people to carry our torches and pitchforks should there be conflict with other groups, and all the better if they were vocal and willing to die for same cause the rest of our group is willing to die for. I argue that we should at least allow the young to decide for themselves which group they would want to join, or form for themselves.

Some teens are already having sex. At least we should teach them the responsibilities and repercussions, rather than to scare them, or engage in one form of child abuse that is religion, as Richard Dawkins would call it. Sure, blame the media, blame the West, blame globalisation, blame secularism. But we ourselves are to blame too, as for the more we try to suppress, the larger the array of resistance. We should seek to engage children and youths like we care for them, not in the manner that we want them to be like us. We should be less authoritarian, and give them a buffet of information that best suit their current condition. They need all the information they deserve, “good” and “bad”, secular and fundamental, orthodox and unorthodox (in every way).

I hope Yeo does not construe this response as an attempt to implicitly flame her. I respect the grounds on which she expresses her opinion, and I am all for the expression of her opinion. This type of respect does not take into consideration whether it is absolutist or relativist, nor does it claim to be either. I fight for your right to speak, not your right to silence (plus do a content analysis and make hallucinatory assumptions about my intentions).

If you are for the uniform and singular indoctrination of children, this is not the place or time for that. Some regimes in the early-to-mid Twentieth Century would have been more receptive to these ideas.

You make your own group since you want some “values” relevant to your group to be retained. I make my own Singapore because I appreciate the existence and co-existence of various groups that constitutes it, including yours. We are not engaging each other on the same level. Sorry. But a dialogue is still important.

But if you want to meet up for tea, Yeo, I'd love to. It is important that I hear more of your views and opinions on how we can help our youths, and at the same time appreciate where you are coming from. I may seem to implicitly force my opinions onto others through the internet or on the ST Forum, but I do not do that in person, because I prefer to talk cock and have a good laugh.

So, if you have google-ed my name, or yours, or the title of the letter, and subsequently found this blog. I urge you to email me (check the left hand side of the page) and we can meet up. After all, we are doing it for the future. And to work towards that, we need some dialogue. All the best.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Sunday Times: MDIS should focus on education, not fashion

Chop Chop Chop Chop Chop Chop - not spared by The Sunday Times either.

(Published: Sunday Times, Nov 9, 2008)

MDIS should focus on education, not fashion

I read with interest last Thursday's report, 'No shorts, no dyed hair, no slippers...', on the dress code crackdown at the Management Development Institute of Singapore.

Educational institutions should focus on their main priority, which is education - not fashion policing.

The issue is not about letting students express themselves freely, but rather the idea that they can express themselves freely.

Education is not only about integration and institutionalisation, but also about empowering individuals who can uniquely contribute to the community.

The value in education lies in the cultivation and development of knowledge and of the individual's ability to make informed decisions and to question.

The institution will be doing itself and society a disservice by creating an environment where the idea of free expression is repressed.

I am against the idea of educational institutions producing buttoned-up, subservient individuals who conform only because of the threat of punishment.

Those driven by the desire to learn will not choose a school based on how well it polices the dress code.

Ultimately, educational institutions should not be moulded in the interests of their leaders or administrators, or according to their ideas of aesthetic decency.

As students are the major stakeholders in these institutions, they deserve greater say in the structure and relevance of these rules.

Ho Chi Sam

Never once have I mentioned MDIS, except when quoting the title of the article. The way the title of the article is structured, it seems like I'm directly addressing MDIS, but that is not the case. Here is the full version of the letter I wrote.

Original letter

I read with interest the report ‘Dress Code Crackdown at MDIS’ (ST, Nov 6, 2008).

I strongly feel that educational institutions should focus on their main priority and core competency, which lies in the domain of education, and not authoritative fashion policing.

I must stress the argument is not about letting students expressing themselves freely, but about the idea and value that they can express themselves freely.

We must support this idea, and the social, cultural, political and legal infrastructure (not only economic) of our country should be developed to accommodate and cultivate it.

Education is not only about integration and institutionalisation, but also about empowering individuals who can uniquely contribute to the local or global community.

The value in education lies in the cultivation and development of knowledge and the individual’s ability to make informed decisions and also to question.

The educational institution will be doing itself and society a disservice by creating an environment where the idea of free and possibly unique expression is disincentivised, repressed and amputated with such regimentation.

On the one hand, we are bombarded with the rhetoric of the economic imperative in the drive to make Singapore a global city of the arts, a creative hub, etc., and anything that is associated with the good well-adjusted sense of change, creativity and innovation. On the other hand, our educational infrastructure is rigid and filled with such rules that impede the development of the properties and conditions necessary for such change.

At the same time, I condemn the strict dress codes and rules of dyed hair mentioned in the article. I am personally against the idea of educational institutions producing buttoned-up and subservient assembly-line cultural dopes who only conform because of the disincentive of punishment.

Individuals driven by the desire to learn or upgrade will not choose educational institutions based on how well these institutions police the dress code.

Ultimately, educational institutions should not be moulded in the interests of the leaders and administrators and their comfort-zoned ideas of aesthetical decency and presentability. As students are the major stakeholders in these institutions, they deserve a greater say in the structure and relevance of these rules.

Let the young find and mould their tradition rather than yoke the ideology of people who just happen to have lived before them.

Ho Chi Sam

For more references, read the following Straits Times article.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

My own musical

The most self-indulgent and unintellectual post ever.

I feel inspired by the performance by Avenue Q last night.

I believe I can write a musical too - and it can be crass and politically incorrect.

Already have a plot, an idea of a sequence of songs, and wrote half a song (with accompaniment).

Perhaps when all that is done and fine-tuned, I can write to MDA (Media Development Authority) and get some funding.

I think I am talented enough for the songs and musical plot, but will probably need my wife's help for the jokes and rhymes. Really excited about it.

End of self-indulgence.