Basic Idea #1: Set Our Students Free

By 2econdsight

As a response to Prof Kishore’s 2014: Year of Big Ideas, here is the first Basic Idea.

It is fashionable for politicians, in particular, to make rousing references to how we must nurture our youth. Our youth is the future of our nation.

The past is important. But it is also dead and gone. But the future’s there for anyone to change. What’s doggone certain are a) like it or not, it will surely come and b) changes will bring us the future even as the future will bring us changes.

Idea #1 is informed by Roosevelt’s assertion. In fact, it is our sacred duty to do so as adults. But there is a small problem. Why must ‘we’ be the only ones to build? Why not ‘they’? After all, it is their future we are talking about, isn’t it?

Now, of all the changes that the original team of PAP leaders did, there is one that I never understood. The rationale behind the policy and the context within which it was decided are understandable. But it’s nonetheless puzzling.

No longer discussed and long forgotten, it was the policy of forbidding our students from participating actively in politics and socio-political matters. The policy was borne of the riotous days of the student protests. If I recall correctly, the 1950’s hyper student activism of The Chinese High School (now Hwa Chong) and Chung Cheng High was legendary.

What our Singapore students did would put the recent Taiwanese Sunflower and HK Yellow Umbrella civic disobedience in the shade. Just google ‘Singapore Chinese middle school riots’ for more details.

No, I am not advocating that we return to those heady, violent days of youthful activism. And it is most certainly not because of what recently occurred in HongKong and Taiwan that I have puzzled over the matter.

Reading up on Singapore modern history decades back. I had always thought it ironic that of all the people to call for neutralizing the voice and activism of students, it was the once-in-many-lifetimes team of LKY, Goh Keng Swee, S Rajaratnam and Toh Chin Chye et al. My questions were;

– Where did they first meet?

– When did their political philosophy germinate?

– How did they first dip their feet into political activities? .

The short answer is: In the universities, as undergraduates.

Why were they able to stick through the many baptisms of fire? Amongst other reasons, it must be that their ideals were formed, forged and fortified by the rush of youth and youthful, never-say-die-must-try perseverance. Sheer will and grit to sell their ideals and sacrifice their all for the greater good of their fellowmen.

The depth of such idealism cannot be replicated in men and women, with their youth long gone.

The breadth of such ideals cannot be conceived by minds narrowed by too many failures or successes, both of which serve mostly to circumscribe the boundaries of the merely possible.

The freshness of insights can never be spontaneously recreated in the lab of adult experience.

If we cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them (Einstein), then it’s onus upon us to encourage and also look towards that other level of thinking to whom the thinking capabilities and future belong. Let us free them to listen to their own heartbeats, to march to their own drumbeats.

It is quite beyond me why the PAP team that went on to build up the better Singapore we used to know with ideals and camaraderie fashioned during their student days would cut off that basic human right and the environment that rallied them together in the first place.

Therefore, my Basic Idea #1 is Set Our Students’ Free. To do so, we must jettison at the earliest possible any and all the legal encumbrances that are currently holding back our students and our young from thinking and acting freely to discuss and push for what they see to be their own future in the making.

I call for the timely dismantling of a mistaken system that has reduced and cowed our young into mostly self-centred, self-absorbed, self-seeking cry-babies – with too few exceptions. Instead of redirecting our top young minds to focus on merely succeeding as mainly productive economic units, let us free them, dare them to…

Let the disappointments pass

Let the laughter fill your glass

Let your illusions last until they shatter

Whatever you might hope to find

Among the thoughts that crowd your mind

There won’t be many that ever really matter


And remember to be kind

When the pain of another will serve you to remind

That there are those who feel themselves exiled

On whom the fortune never smiled

And upon whose life the heartache has been piled

And when you’ve found another soul

Who sees into your own

Take good care of each other

(The Only Child, J Browne)

The future is theirs, we cannot build it for them. Building them for their future starts with allowing them their right to conceive the kind of future they think, dream possible. We certainly can – indeed, must – stand aside, cheer them on to harness their energy and exuberance, their imagination and idealism for a world better than what we leave for them.

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, 2005

This post was first published over at the 2econdsight blog on 19 January 2015. It is reproduced with permission.


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