*Unpublished Article for the Ridge*
This was meant to be a clarion call to arms and an inducement to the supposedly best and brightest of our nation (those who haven't gone overseas on scholarships) to talk more at any rate. To be honest, I'm still a little frustrated that there wasn't a broader and more energetic discussion last week of what is the biggest problem to face modern societies today i.e. how does a tolerant society deal with intolerance? But no matter, the dumber or more silent the populace, the easier my plan to take over the world! *Evil laughter*
Students: Be seen AND heard
It’s not easy to be outspoken sometimes (pardon the bad pun), and at other times, downright inconvenient. It really is no wonder considering that we still live under a culture of (misplaced) fear of speaking out,
As for theories as to why this situation exists as such, there are pretty much a dime a dozen, the two most applicable being Cherian George’s Air-conditioned nation i.e. we are so comfortable that we have effectively been depoliticised and James Gomez’s critique that we basically self-censor ourselves.
Now, this is of course not to say that certain events have not had a chilling effect on speech, in particular, the exercising of legal rights on potentially defamatory speech has seen much an self-censoring and a massive premium placed on anonymity online. But I like to believe it is all in our minds, or as a lecturer once memorably put it, “Do you honestly think that the government can be bothered to monitor you?”
At any rate, one might legitimately ask, what does speaking up have anything to do with us students? But not oddly enough, perhaps everything.
Welcome to the National University of Singapore (to all the Freshies out there), a centre of learning, research, the free exchange of ideas and one of the top 20 universities in the world.
The basis of knowledge has always been facts built upon facts. The idea behind science is a concept of competing theories. In the humanities, competing viewpoints. Research does not simply seek to validate but also challenge what we ‘know'.
As such, the impetus behind education is to enable students to think and not simply be trained. Our opinions do count, and are sometimes integral to the entire lesson (and I do not simply mean for your class participation grades). Essentially an education requires more than one viewpoint. The necessity for more than one non-parallel line of argumentation is at the very heart of making up your mind about an issue i.e. you need two lines to make a point.
So it’s always a little disheartening to enter a lesson or a seminar where the professor asks for an opinion only to be greeted with dead chilly silence. No one gains from it ladies and gentlemen, time is wasted, and we are deprived of someone’s thoughtful and incisive remark (not always but often enough). More than that there are considerations and implications of not speaking out. On a most basic level, you miss the chance of correcting an error or to make your voice heard.
But the bigger problem is that you have effectively made yourself into a passive spectator instead of an active participant, thereby giving up control over your own education. So instead of charting your own course, you become at best directed, and at worst an extension of your ‘education(al system)’.
On a wider societal level, it is symptomatic of a broader situation of disassociation with matters that do and should concern us. The vitality of discourse is intrinsic to the continual survival of any institution. By not speaking up and out, we are abdicating responsibility for what happens. More importantly, we fail in what is perhaps the most important responsibility as a citizen - to care about our country.
It would be naïve of me to believe that any structural changes will happen overnight but individuals can start somewhere and make a difference. So if you have not started, please do so. To the incoming batch of fresh(wo)men, you can really make a difference, the next time a question is asked, do respond. You might be pleasantly surprised at the result.