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.


Agagooga said...

Then JC and below how?

Sam Ho said...

we'll have to refer to another forum letter i have written.

personally, i don't see the point of having a uniform or sport a "decent" aesthetic. it's ok to have long hair, dyed hair, wear shorts, etc. of course, i draw the line at nudism, disregard for hygiene and other things.

JC and uniformed schools are too regimented and too concerned with their images.

Weiye said...

What if I love wearing uniform? Wouldn't the ideology of free expression oppresses me?

And is free expression really free? Even if the school doesn't restrict the dressing, the students are still restricted by many other factors e.g. economic factor. In a way, uniform protects students from having to live in constant comparison with their peers.

I miss my secondary school uniform. Hahaha.

Weiye said...

Oh. And Fang questions:

What if the right to free expression becomes a compulsion, and then takes the form of oppression? Free expression is often takes the form of neo-consumption. It's simply the capitalist manifesto of encouraging more consumptions that you become what you consume. And we have only one planet, dude. That's why they are sending probes to Mars.

This is posted by Fang. NOT Weiye.

Sam Ho said...

i refer not to the freedom of expression, but the idea of the freedom of expression.

so i shall not discuss the oppression by free expression because that is not my concern.

if one loves the uniform, the "idea" fully supports ones decision to wear the uniform.

at the same time, the uniform is oppressive because it invisibilises class differences while the school continues to inculcate in its students middle-class values and ideas.

Agagooga said...

Err. If you want to wear a uniform, you're free to wear a uniform. It's really bizarre to argue that freedom is oppressive.

Who is Fang? Your toy eagle?

If "the uniform is oppressive because it invisibilises class differences" then can't the same be said of a school song or school identity? Or even the fact that people of different classes go to the same school? In which case we should send the bourgeoisie to one school and the proletariat to another, so class differences are apparent to all.

And if the school doesn't "inculcate in its students middle-class values and ideas", what should it do? Preach Revolution?

Sam Ho said...

haha. seriously! i was thinking about one school for one class.

it'll be so cool, yet so surreal, if we had BSS or PSS, bourgeoisie secondary school, or proletariat secondary school. i think "bourgeoisie high school" will have a nice name.

the things is, educational institutions may no preach revolution, but they put ideas in the heads of the young, and these ideas have contributed to revolutions/social movements.

Agagooga said...

Isn't it more oppressive to take away people's autonomy in choosing their schools?

Education should not be about indoctrination, but giving students the tools to decide for themselves: critical and creative thinking.

Weiye said...

It doesn't matter whether you're arguing for freedom of expression or the ideology of free expression. It's the same and different.

It is indeed bizarre to argue that freedom is oppressive. But not arguing so would have failed to take the argument to its logical extreme. How free is free? Can I then turn up in school naked? In a way, the freedom that you're arguing for oppresses people as well.

"At the same time, the latest fashion is oppressive because it makes visible the class differences while the school continues to inculcate in its students middle-class values and ideas."

It's not unlike the argument for capitalism against communism. That capitalism oppresses its subjects into endless consumption and naturalizes a kind of neo-communism that legitimizes the ideology that some people are just more equal than others despite everyone being equal; this is also a common critique of communism. In the end, the separation between capitalism and communism is as false as the separation between freedom and oppression.

To paraphrase Baudrillard, "If freedom is everywhere, then freedom is nowhere." =)

Agagooga said...

Freedom is not a binary all or nothing thing.

It's the same reason why shouting "fire!" in a crowded theatre is not protected by freedom of speech provisions.

Sam Ho said...

there is a difference between "freedom of expression" and "the idea of freedom of expression" (not "ideology").

the freedom of expression is a performance.

the idea of freedom of expression exists at the level of the idea and the motivation.

i don't quite understand how the marxist critique fits in. a bit confused.

i know that there are different conceptualisations of freedom in pre-capitalist and industrial capitalist society, but these concepts are couched in european humanism.

the definition of "oppression" in the context of alienation is based on a certain understanding of "freedom". marx saw the wants of the working class as the general wants of humanity. we need to understand this historical context and the philosophical positions of these european writers before we actually use their models to critique something local.

Agagooga said...

We must also understand the critiques of the European writers.

Marxism and its post-Marxist progeny are often taken to be some sort of default position which are immune to scrutiny, but more self-reflexivity is needed.

Weiye said...

A simple example of how freedom is oppressive is found in my honors thesis. I'm sure you know how free humanities research is from any 'methodology' whatsoever. In a way, there's freedom. But this freedom oppresses us as well in that we don't know where to start, where to go, and where to end.

Conversely, the structured social scientific method oppresses us within the methodology. But yet it frees us from the 'problems' of having to figure out how to go about the research.

Freedom, in any context, is oppressive while oppression is freeing.

Although there seem to be this presumption that my arguments are right, I must admit that my arguments are wrong as well. It's a carousel. And we are just going round in circles, ending up in the same place. =) It all depends on which direction (clockwise or anti-clockwise) you prefer to go.

Agagooga said...

Not everything that disadvantages you can be called 'Oppression'. If so, then we can organise an "Oppression Olympics" and race to the bottom trying to paint everything as oppressive.

Most commonly understood definition of "oppressed":

"To keep down by severe and unjust use of force or authority"

To call freedom "oppressive" just because it makes you unhappy is to mock the truly oppressed.

Agagooga said...

And that last line made no sense at all.

Sam Ho said...

wait, i don't understand what on earth is going on. haha.

can we ground our discussion on something, at least we're on the same wavelength?

foucault comes to mind. he talks about giving power so one can exercise power. is that the kind of oppression we're talking about?

methodology is important and should be relevant to finding the answers to the specific questions we are asking. in this case, focus can be misconstrued as 'oppression', but depends on how one will want to look at it.

the humanities approach is just to found out different ways of looking at something, and develop different and possible types of arguments.

if freedom is just a performance and reproduction of (oppressive) hegemonic ideologies and structure, i will say that oppression is functional to our social relations.

wait a minute... who started the talk about "oppression" in the first place? hahha

Weiye said...

agagooga: it doesn't have to disadvantage me to be oppressive.

Sam: I started the talk about oppression.

Maybe the methodology argument is a bad example. Hmm. What I'm saying is when there's freedom, I'm oppressed to be free. In that this separation between freedom and oppression is false just as all the other binary opposites e.g. signifier & signified, self & other, used value & exchange value, real & unreal, etc, are false. It goes along the line of Baudrillard's critique on Foucault that if power is everywhere (Foucault), then power is nowhere.

At the same time though, I recognize that the binary opposite between false and true is also FALSE. In that sense, Baudrillard's critique of the falsehood of binary opposites is also false as well i.e. the binary opposites are true.

In the end, it all boils down to Descartes on what is real or unreal. And if everything is unreal to the point of solipsism, why do they seem so real? Perhaps then, the separation between the real and the unreal is false. But at the same time it's also true.

Linking back to the idea of freedom, when there's freedom for everyone, everyone is oppressed to be free. And does this freedom then includes the freedom to oppress? If it doesn't, how free exactly is free? Which is why I conclude that it really depends on which direction/ stand you prefer. At the end of the day, you'll still end up at the same point. But still, the ride on the carousel is fun! =)

Weiye said...

We all take a stand for something that we believe in. But I must recognize that my stand, while it liberates me, may oppresses others as well. So whose stand should matters ultimately? If I insist on my stand on freedom, am I not then oppressing others with it? I guess this is most evident in my previous argument with agagooga on gender equality. By arguing for my ideals on gender equality, I oppress his/her (and I suddenly realized I don't really know agagooga's sexual identity even though I assumed he's a him. I apologize.) ideals as well.

Besides, can I truly claim to speak for the oppressed? I am after all not a female, just as you are no longer oppressed by uniform.

At the end of the day however, the dialogue is still good because it's good mental exercise.


Agagooga said...

Okay, this has got to be satire.

Sam Ho said...

"i'm oppressed to be free" sounds like a good title for a song.

i think there needs to be an example to elaborate on that.

descartes was a modern thinker, a little bit different from foucault (never mind baudrillard).

what did baudrillard critique about foucault?

Weiye said...

Hmm. Ok let's think of an example. Haha. The idea of free expression primarily builds upon the premise that we want to create unique individuals rather than ubiquitous collective. But this basically denies the strengths of collectivism. The Beijing Olympics, the Arirang Festival, etc, showcase the 'advantages' of collectivism as much as they showcase the 'handicap' of it.

Similarly, the flip side of absolute freedom (assuming that it's even possible in the first place) is that it oppresses our rights to oppress. Can we oppress people who turn up in school naked? It's their freedom no? Can we oppress people who turn up in uniforms? Not really. And I know you've argued that the idea of freedom allows people to wear uniform if they want. But wouldn't they be seen as weirdos without self-identities i.e. oppressed?

It is also possible to argue that the wearing of uniform is a portrayal of self-identity in that the individual chose to wear uniform. And we all wear our uniform differently no?

So the separation between self-identity and collective-identity becomes false as much as it is true. Just as the separation between freedom and oppression becomes false as much as it is true.

At the end of the day, it's all about which perspective you prefer to see it.

I can't really summarize Baudrillard's critique on foucault here. But I recommend reading "Forget Foucault" by Jean Baudrillard if you're interested. Just bear in mind that as much as Baudrillard is right in his criticism of Foucault, he's wrong as well if you take his logic to the extreme. In fact, i think it's misnomer to state that it's taking the logic to extreme because it's in fact circular in nature.

i opine that it is because of this circular nature of arguments that humanities research can function. There's always a counter-argument for any argument we put forth. And this explains the circular nature of humanities speculations for without a flip-side, we wouldn't have claims of truths versus falsehoods vis-a-vis the claims of multiple truths and multiple falsehoods.

Agagooga said...

I think it explains why so many people don't take the humanities seriously and view them as bullshit.

Agagooga said...

Freedom is Oppression
War is Peace
Freedom is Slavery
Ignorance is Strength

Weiye said...


There's seriously no difference between social sciences and humanities. In humanities, language is used to convey the thoughts of the researchers. In empiricism, numbers are used to convey the thoughts of the researchers. Both are just as equally limited by the nature of their system of representations.

Needless to say, the claim of objectivity is equally unfounded for both since both are after all the very results of people's minds, be it the statisticians or the humanities scholar.

Besides, empiricism (as informed by Sam) was founded in humanities. In a way, it's just a branch of humanities that kind of took a life on its own because people likes to think that numbers are more objective than languages. They are the same, and different. =)

Weiye said...

The funny thing about it is that while many people feel that humanities research is bullshit, MANY people feel that the teachings of Buddhism is profound.

When Buddha says, 色既是空, 空既是色,isn't it similar to Baudrillard's arguments?

The thing about binary opposites is that they don't really mean anything in the first place. And meanings are given by humans. There's really nothing intrinsically free about freedom. But we chose to give it a meaning. That we can give meanings to things, whether tangible or intangible, may then allow for different people to attach different meanings to the same 'thing'.

If not, you wouldn't have George Bush convincing half the United States that War is needed for Peace.

And I'm very sure Agagooga knows full well the strength of being weak since he's ALWAYS argued that while women 'work less', they get to 'spend more'.

Agagooga said...

It is a curious confusion to move from the proposition that numbers may be abused to the proposition that numbers are a figment of statisticians' imaginations.

Feel free to indulge in epistemological nihilism, but it doesn't mean other people will do likewise.

And while George Bush's Iraq war has not lead to peace, it is still the case that "Except for ending slavery, fascism, Nazism, and communism, war has never solved ANYTHING!"

Weiye said...

Hmm. I think you misunderstood me when I say that numbers are used to convey the statisticians' thoughts. The numbers are certainly not a figment of their imaginations. But in a way, statistics is like a language and it represents something. So when statisticians use statistics, they are using it like a language to convey the message.

As much as I criticize empiricism, I criticize rationalism as well. This as much as I embrace both. Because they have their purpose. And I certainly never expect everyone to feel or think the same as me for that will be freaky. =)

Certainly, Bush's war has not lead to peace. Neither has freedom nor capitalism nor any other social systems or structures and events led to utopia.

At the end of the day, we just have to agree to disagree. There's really no need for any hard feelings.

Agagooga said...

What is truth?

"Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time"

"Postmodernism is the best way of thinking, except for all those other ways that have been tried from time"

Weiye said...

What is truth? I don't know. Because truth is highly related to power. And I don't have the power to determine the truth. That's why I chose to believe in press freedom as much as I know how it (re)presses people at times e.g. the Muslim who got offended by the Danish cartoons. And that's why I hope that one day people can have the open mind to simply agree to disagree.

Democracy is not the worst form of governance. There are just too many other factors involved and I admit that I don't know that much about political systems having only read a few articles, done a few modules. And so I can't claim to know the 'truth' that democracy is the worst or best. But I do recognize while the ideals of democracy is good, it's hard to put them into practice. U.S., Netherlands, Finland, any other 'western' countries that promotes democracy is not without their problems. I critique these problems in hope of "invoking the utopian insofar it 'summons forth a new earth and a new people that does not yet exist'" (What is Philosophy? 180). It doesn't mean that my critique is correct but that's my contribution.

Post-modernism is not the best way of thinking but it's one of the ways. Ultimately, all the great thinkers of the past and present aim to make this world a better place. And since I believe that truth is multiple, I encourage different ways of thinking to arrive at different truths. And everyone of these truths will be their own contribution to the greater good. =)

I must say that you've prompted me to think a lot more than I usually do. And I really enjoyed this dialogue. Unfortunately, it's nearing exams and i still have deadlines to catch. Please do add me in MSN if you may indulge me. We can chat about any other issues. Sam too! =) My msn is

Thank you very much. Have a great week and weekend ahead! God bless.

Agagooga said...

Power does not change truth. It might change how we perceive it, but the underlying facts are the same.

To call causing offence is repression is ridiculous. I am offended that people take offence as repression. But that opens up an endless cycle, nevermind.

Err go reread the Churchill quote again. It means the opposite of what you think.

Actually what is Sam's MSN? Mine is lying around the web somewhere. Gosh, I'm so promiscuous...

Weiye said...

Added you. Thanks. =) Not too sure about Sam's msn although he does state his email in this blog.

On power and truth, I still feel that power does change the truth i.e. what people think is the truth especially when the power in question has the ability to cover the real 'truth'. Unless of course u're talking about the absolute truth all along, which I also do not know what it is. I'll ask God when I see him or her. But then again, I can't even confirm if God really exists. The claim of absolute truth is always by the leap of faith.

On Churchill's quote. I apologize 'cause I didn't recognize it until you mentioned. As usual, I don't read a lot unless I'm forced to. hahah. My new understanding from it is that even though the countries I cited previously claim to be democratic, they aren't really so in the purest form of democracy we can have. That will render my examples invalid. I agree with that.

Free press represses people in that it not only offends, but also requires people to have to expose themselves to all available viewpoints and reach a conclusion on their own. But there are infinite viewpoints. So can we really read and know everything? If not, will partial knowledge suffice? I need to sleep and study. But this is so interesting. Ahh...

Agagooga said...

Merely by existing, a free press represses people?

And requiring people to make an informed judgment is repression?

""Upon my word, they will shout at you, it is no use protesting: it is a case of twice two makes four! Nature does not ask your permission, she has nothing to do with your wishes, and whether you like her laws or dislike them, you are bound to accept her as she is, and consequently all her conclusions. A wall, you see, is a wall ... and so on, and so on."

Merciful Heavens! but what do I care for the laws of nature and arithmetic, when, for some reason I dislike those laws and the fact that twice two makes four? Of course I cannot break through the wall by battering my head against it if I really have not the strength to knock it down, but I am not going to be reconciled to it simply because it is a stone wall and I have not the strength...

The laws of nature have continually all my life offended me more than anything...

The palace of crystal may be an idle dream, it may be that it is inconsistent with the laws of nature and that I have invented it only through my own stupidity, through the old-fashioned irrational habits of my generation. But what does it matter to me that it is inconsistent? That makes no difference since it exists in my desires, or rather exists as long as my desires exist. Perhaps you are laughing again? Laugh away; I will put up with any mockery rather than pretend that I am satisfied when I am hungry. I know, anyway, that I will not be put off with a compromise, with a recurring zero, simply because it is consistent with the laws of nature and actually exists."

Unfortunately the Law of Gravity represses us since it means we can't jump over a cliff without dying.

Weiye said...

You have a point.

My question then is, what is natural? Twice of two wasn't four until someone decidedly says so and others decidedly (whether forced or willingly) agree to it. Zero wasn't even in the number series until much later in history. Neither was many other knowledge in existence in the past although they are 'naturalized' now in us. How do I then know whether the information provided is natural or unnatural?

What are the laws of nature? For a period of time, geocentrism was the de facto law of nature. And then we have heliocentrism. But even so, some scientists are still arguing for modern geocentrism now. This is not unlike the arguments for and against global warming. So is global warming nature's cycle? Or is it caused by humans? But aren't humans part of nature as well? The nest that a bird builds is a natural habitat. But the house that a human builds is a man-made architecture. Why? It this an informed judgment?

What then is informed decision? If everyone agrees to something, does that make them informed? If I am not able to receive all view points, and am forced to make a decision, is my decision also considered informed?

At the end of the day, there will still always be an opposing views no matter how 'natural' an argument is. This is not only in humanities or social sciences, it's everywhere even in hard sciences as shown in the examples. Perhaps the only concensus we can have is to agree to disagree. But even this concensus is flawed in that I'm trying to force everyone to agree to it.

Questioning is always good in Socratic questioning. But can I then question the idea of questioning being good? If I can't, then is questioning good in the first place? Or does it only serve to legitimize someone's power?

Agagooga said...

The *concept* of zero didn't exist at first.

That does not mean the *state* of nothingness didn't either.

From my earlier comment:

Power does not change truth. It might change how we perceive it, but the underlying facts are the same.

I have no idea why a house is an "informed judgment". You have made a category mistake.

If everyone agrees to something, it means there is a consensus, not that they are informed. And in the real world, no one is able to receive all view points before they have to make a decision; obviously there is a fuzzy threshold somewhere.

If you question the idea of questioning being good successfully, that isn't any good because you've just shown that questioning is good. Too bad.

And where did power come in?! If you look hard enough you can find structures of power everywhere. But then again if you look hard enough you can find proof of assassination prophecies in Moby Dick.

Weiye said...

The concept of zero didn't exist before because people weren't able to grasp the idea that zero doesn't mean nothingness always. Just because one got zero for IQ test doesn't mean he/she has no IQ at all. This concept is something only later generations managed to grasp. There's a different between zero and null.

Does the state of nothingness really exist then? Black hole theory anyone? The state of nothingness might just be a momentary illusion until someone comes out some explanation that there's still something in that nothing. That's why we keep finding smaller and smaller "smallest particles".

And the knowledge of such elite information is always embedded in power even though this power can be challenged.

I'm a little lost now. Haha. I think it's because of too much media & representation. Please excuse me while I go mia again.

Agagooga said...

It's impossible to get zero for an IQ test, because IQ is calculated: (mental age/chronological age)*100

I can't think of an example where zero does not mean nothingness. Please enlighten me.

And I don't know what the mumbo jumbo about nothingness is about. Smaller particles are what things like protons, neutrons and electrons are made of, but most of an atom is empty space.

Weiye said...

0 degree Celsius doesn't mean no temperature. 0 marks for math test doesn't mean you have no knowledge of whatever is tested in the math paper.

And YES, it is POSSIBLE to get 0 for IQ test if your mental age is 0, which some people are simply because what is tested in IQ test doesn't cover every aspects of human intelligence.

Even the vacuum in space cannot be compared to nothingness. (

Nothingness is only nothing until proven otherwise. The same as every fact can only holds true until proven otherwise. Factuality has an expiry date of new knowledge.