Why We Don't Need To Panic Over That Temasek Junior College Photograph

(This post by Mr Kevin Seah first appeared on his English tutoring website on 4 July 2014. It is reproduced with permission.)

By Kevin Seah

I understand why a conservative parent would panic if s/he sees notes for students that contain the following statement: “Discrimination based on one’s sexual orientation violates the right for all human beings to be free and equal in dignity and rights.” It is as if schools are “pro-gay” in teaching impressionable young minds.

This was brought up recently in a letter to the"All Singapore Stuff " website.

It is unfortunate, but true, that the letter writer has misinterpreted the information found in the photograph. The most sinister part of the picture comes under the “UDHR” field, which may sound like some kind of evil conspiracy if one did not know that it stands for The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The notes do not say that homosexuality should be accepted, they only observe that discrimination (unfair or unequal treatment) on the basis of sexual orientation violates the codes found in the UDHR.

(Background information: The UDHR arose partially as a result of the Allied experience in World War II, where Nazi Germany curtailed certain freedoms. In other words, the UDHR arose as a force to fight against the evils that Adolf Hitler put into play. Read more here. )

Whether this discrimination is acceptable, or not, is up to the student to argue. To put it in simpler terms, whether or not homosexuals should be discriminated against (treated unequally or unfairly) is a decision that we leave to a student to decide for himself or herself.

In fact, nothing in the photograph condones or promotes homosexuality. It simply observes facts. At the top of the photograph we find this statement: “Removal of laws that discriminate LGBT community as state recognition is fundamental to the acceptance and integration of the LGBT community.” Ignoring the fact that the sentence structure is a little bit awkward, this statement observes the fact that if a society desired to accept the LGBT community fully (“acceptance and integration”), then the laws that work against that community have to be abolished. The notes even go on to observe that this is a “fairly complicated” thing. There is nothing here that promotes homosexuality, it only states facts.

It is also a fact that some religions (especially the “Abrahamic religions” referenced to in the notes) see homosexuality as a sin, and this fact is presented to students. Again, this is not the promotion of religion but a statement of fact.

Since I do not have the notes in front of me, I do not have the whole picture (pun intended). It is extremely unlikely, but possible, that the notes say “everyone should be homosexual”. In that case, we should be very concerned, because the teacher who makes such a statement may have some underlying mental health issues that we need to deal with in order to protect our students from any harmful behaviour. However, teachers in Singapore, by and large, understand the sensitive nature of these topics, and teach our students so that they can satisfy the requirements of the syllabus:

The syllabus aims to enable candidates to achieve the following outcomes:

2.1 Understand better the world in which they live by fostering a critical awareness of continuity and change in the human experience

2.2 Appreciate the interrelationship of ideas across disciplines

2.3 Broaden their global outlook while enabling them to remain mindful of shared historical, social and cultural experiences both within Singapore and regionally

2.4 Develop maturity of thought and apply critical reading and creative thinking skills

2.5 Develop the skills of clear, accurate and effective communication

2.6 Develop the skills of evaluation of arguments and opinions

2.7 Promote extensive and independent reading and research.

(From http://www.seab.gov.sg/aLevel/2014Syllabus/8807_2014.pdf )

When I teach GP, I expect students to think for themselves. The attempt to parrot the teacher’s views often results in disaster, anyway. To do well in GP, a student needs to know about the world s/he lives in (see statement 2.1 above). This includes knowledge about the UDHR, the struggles that the LGBT community faces, and the religious response to the issue.

There is no excuse for ignorance, especially if you are a student. In the academic arena, ignorance means failure. Parents, if you see notes that make you worried, ask your child about them. S/he should be able to explain them to you. If s/he cannot, it may indeed be time to panic.

Teachers do not have an interest in “corrupting” their students. We are more interested in shaping them into individuals who understand the world they live in, and who can think critically to form mature responses.

It means better results, anyway!

Edit: “Critical thinking” is not code for “must accept homosexuality”. If a student believes that to be homosexual is a sin, I do not try to change that view. In fact, I encourage the student to speak to his/her pastor or youth leader if s/he does not know why homosexuality can be considered to be a sin. What is more important is that the student understands how to write a proper GP essay. This includes thinking about theocracies, democracies, and the separation (or not) of the church and state.

About The Author

Mr Kevin Seah is an unconventional tutor who believes in equipping students not just with the skills required to ace exams, but also with the skills necessary to becoming a successful adult. His aim is to give students the language and thinking skills that can help them find their way through the modern world, and as a result, enable them to do well in school.

To learn more about his tutoring services, visit his website at English Classes And Essays.


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