Sunday, May 22, 2005 - Student journalists sue school district - May 20, 2005

As mentioned previously, it would really be nice to have an organisation like the ACLU who will stump up the expertise and skills necessary to fight a suit (whether filing or defending against one) with regards to civil liberties).

And it's very nice to see students who are willing to fight the chilling effects of censorship. While taking a good hard look at myself, I hesitate to say I would do similarly. In fact, I'll probably freely admit to be more than willing to be co-opted (others might say sell-out). But I like to think that there are lines I won't cross, but if faced with the prospect of a lawsuit, I again would hesitate to claim that I would fight it to thr death. And I doubt I'm the only person who feels this way, hence my prior suggestion not to use the nuclear option when dealing with defamation.

At any rate, while granting that the Supreme Court has previously ruled on the existence of the Freedom of Speech in school (and by extension school papers) which sets a legal precedent for those school journalist to follow, and further granting that the Freedom of Speech probably means a lot to them there (Article 1 of the US Constitution: Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech). Nevertheless, why do we see an absolute dearth of material in our local context.

First off, I think the accusation has been levered before, that Singaporean (and students) are basically apolitical, whether through natural inclination or societal conditioning. As such it is no wonder we don't see the sort of hard hitting and provocative articles that some of us have demanding from time to time. Cherian George argues that Singapore is an 'air-conditioned nation', so comfortable that we effectively become depolitised and apolitical.

Secondly, I don't think we can deny the fact that we self-censor sometimes unthinkingly or sometimes even consciously due to a culture of fear (whether justified or not). This was James Gomez's thesis which I have quite a lot of sympathy for. But fear is not easily overcomed and any reversal in policy has have a massive reversal effect.

And even should the journalist decide not to self-censor, the editors might. A curious manner in which our society works is that sometimes it is not the writer or the poet who gets into trouble by the higher-up who allowed it or allowed it to happen (yes this is an oblique reference...go find out if you can =P). This does extend beyond the editor to the owners or even organisations that control the paper.

And even more fundamentally, this even assumes that school papers are meant to be intellectually heavy and thoughtful as opposed to being a properganda and simple fact recitation for the school (see in particular school magazines from secondary and JC level)

I think that this scenario does not generate so much of anger as it does sadness, that what these people and organisations are doing, they are doing (I hopes) from the best of intentions. But the result is the converse. Free debate and discussion is important. You can't make a point with simply one line of argumentation, you need a non-parallel line of argumentation to decide an issue by one-self. After all, why are in we school; to get an education and not simply to be topped up with facts or be trained. Passive learning is bad and not simply because of lower fact retention. By not actively engaging in what is being taught, one does not question what one is being taught and might simply be perpetuating an error that has gone on unchallanged because no one is thinking.

*Mr Fluffy snorts and thinks that the author talks and writes too much and actually does too little to act on his inclinations. But the author thinks that the big difference is that Mr Fluffy is effectively immortal as long as someone who changes his stuffing on a semi-regular basis. Besides Mr Fluffy has his minions of twilight and sufficient virtual weaponary to talk over a medium sized nation. In fact, look out for a forthcoming series on the adventures of Mr Fluffy as he takes over an island and reshapes it in his image.*



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