Famous Amos

17 year old Amos Yee (above photo) posted a video online allegedly celebrating Mr Lee Kuan Yew's death, criticising his political career and also made disparaging remarks about Christianity. At least 15 police reports have been lodged against Yee since the video was uploaded on 27 March 2015. He was arrested on 29 March 2015.

By Basheer Khan

I would like to state for the record that I am not Amos Yee’s teacher. I have never met him nor had I the dubious honour of “moulding” his mind and so I would be very much relieved, if some of you can now lay down your online pitchforks and allow me to express myself objectively. I start my reflection as an educator with a question that perhaps most of us have in mind after watching his most recent rant on YouTube.

Why are our students now incapable of processing, analysing, criticizing and expressing controversial viewpoints without feeling the sudden, uncontrollable urge to use profanities and karate-kicking rather unfortunate listeners and readers with unpleasant and obscene languages?

If by appreciating his obvious courage to speak out and articulate quite intelligently for a 17 year old (disregarding the profanities), a series of rather interesting counter view-points on our founding father’s legacy; you instinctively conjure up an image of an average Singaporean student who’s free-thinking and open-minded, who is a critical, independent and original thinker and one who loves having a pop at orthodoxies, then you urgently need to update your mind’s picture bank.

Our average students in Singapore are pretty much an exact opposite of that. It’s hard to think of any other section of society that has undergone as epic a transformation as our students have (for good or for bad) since our nation’s independence. From freewheelin’ political activists to conformative representatives, from askers of awkward and controversial questions to suppressors of contrary views, from confident and articulate speakers to anonymous key-board warriors all in the space of a single generation.

We take so much pride as educators in the reformation of our didactic and conformative teaching styles of the 20th Century and we pat ourselves on the backs for introducing critical and creative thinking, inquiry-based learning, values centred learning and 21st Century skills but we fail to see the irony of having out-of-bound markers in student debates, discussions and writings in our education system. We hold ourselves to the mission of raising responsible and upright citizens for our nation but quiver at the thought of engaging students whose social and political views don’t chime perfectly with the prevailing groupthink.

“And as a society we need to stop suppressing dissenting and contrary views and allow for a democratic thinking culture amongst our youngsters…”

Where once during our forefather’s time, students were allowed to have their eyes and ears to be bombarded by everything from risqué political propaganda to raunchy rock and roll, now they are insulated from any rabble-rousing speeches and writings that might dent their conventionality and, crime of crimes, make them independent thinkers. We introduce cyber-wellness programmes to teach our students how to use the internet safely but we fail to create alternative safe spaces to bring them out from their anonymity and air their dissenting views without prejudice or judgement.

We have only ourselves to blame for Amos Yee.

Not for his independent and analytical view of our current social and political problems but for the anger and temperament of many of our students who have chosen to use social media instead to express themselves in such a crude and offensive manner.

It is my humble opinion that if we really want the best of Amos Yee for our students and discard the worst of his temperament, we need to change the culture of ‘thinking within the system’ that we have so blindly nurtured in our educational spaces. And as a society we need to stop suppressing dissenting and contrary views and allow for a democratic thinking culture amongst our youngsters through the promotion of intelligent and objective free speech in our education system.

This first appeared as a post on the Facebook page of teacher Basheer Khan.


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