Studying Literature in Singapore

By Agagooga

I was at a panel titled What Is The Point Of Reading Literature? last night.

Short thoughts follow:

People conflate the study of literature with the reading of literature. Yet they are not the same thing.

"Literature" is often used as shorthand for "everything that is clean and good upon this earth". One speaker mentioned that literature teaches you philosophy. But if you want to teach kids philosophy, you should teach them *philosophy* and not literature.

Why is it that literature is always in an existential crisis? Art, music, and philosophy - to name just a few subjects that are generally agreed upon by the cognoscenti as being good or even essential for the well-lived life - are even less popular. Yet there're no calls to force people to study those for O level.

If the study literature is really so compelling why is it so unpopular? Is this just elitist imposing of preferences on everyone else? Why is literature the only subject where there're regular calls for "protectionism" (to force people to study it)? "Literature is so wonderful that I'm going to force you to 'enjoy' it - whether you want it or not".

When many Singaporeans cannot even speak proper English, isn't it a conceit to impose Literature (as a subject) upon them before working on lower order skills? Should we force people to study A Maths if they struggle with E Maths? (Someone brought up a similar point, and one speaker called this mindset "elitist" and said students with poorer English could enjoy literature too, and gave an example of a text that resonated with one group - but that's beside the point of whether you should force them to study it when their grammar is still off).

This post was first published over at the blog of Agagooga on 5 November 2015. It is reproduced with permission.


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