Is it Mandarin-Teaching methods or Qin-ese Thinking methods that require address?There has been quite a spate of articles on the progresses made with bilingualism, its problems, how teaching mandarin can be improved, or how it has not been taught well over the past 30 years.
Has anyone else detected how much of this discussion has centred around bilingualism=English/Mandarin. That quite evidences the self-absorption amongst those discussing it, or Qin-centredness. (I prefer the multi-perspectival Chou-centredness myself – ref. 100 schools of philosophy of the Chou/Zhou era.)
But most importantly, this itself indicates that people are, analogously, reaching into a bag of live vipers for an antidote. Think about that for a moment.
The point here is the ole ‘frog in the well’ problem where people are tabulating their losses, gains, insights, and oversights from the vantage of the aforementioned amphibian. S/he who knows not more, knows no better – no, that’s not a Confucian proverb but an ed-wardian one. People, given their being mired in monoculturalism, are actually attempting to resolve a problem emerging from the few decades-long absence of true multiculturalism. This applies to all arenas, be it why singapore requires ‘foreign talent’, why democracy is yet to be, why ‘singaporeans’ don’t have enough sex, why the opposition is fascist when held against the British criteria, why singapore doesn’t have 101 additional industries, et cetera.
Has anyone ever considered if bilingualism has had its problems because it is traditionally pursued? In other words, people learning the languages of their biological ancestors? In such a case, people bred into the same perspectives pick up the associated language. Given that language usage, the ways they are taught, and the associated culture are interlinked, and being generally a part of the selfsame socio-cultural-political milieu, historically speaking, they tend to impose ceilings on each other’s development. It is only with the infusion of new ideas taken from outside that see further development within. The point here is that if singapore didn’t fascistically goad people to sticking with their own – which is effectuated, intentionally/consequentially/unintentionally by a host of means such as associating Chinese lookalikes with the culture of the Qin, gross prejudices in media representations, promoting said culture over all others, and so on – bilingualism might have produced far greater positives. If we had various races learning each other’s languages, not only would this have engendered egalitarian respect for all cultures, but we might have reaped the advantages that come with an out-of-the-box experience. Thus, ‘crosslingualism’ would have produced far more intelligent minds than ‘traditional bilingualism’ and much of the woes expressed at present, whether by Lee or others, might not have been.
With regards to teaching methods, as I read one article after another on how Mandarin-teaching methods need improvement, I couldn’t but attribute a significant part of the cause in, again, the absence of egalitarian multiculturalism. Do we not learn teaching methods from various cultures, and which more forward-looking persons apply in their homes. No one culture can produce all methods of learning and much of the educational toys that parents buy their children these days is a testament to that fact. They may have been ‘made in China’, but the logic lies elsewhere. So let’s imagine Malay and Indian children in a Mandarin class. They would all exhibit varying difficulties and proficiencies given their varying cultural make-up. In this, the teacher would have to revise her/is teaching methods to eke the most out of the student. In other words, the teacher would have to evolve with variations in the classroom. Not only variations between Ah Tans and Ah Kows, but also Ravis and Gopals, Azmis and Nurhaidahs, and Dereks and Janes. Enrichment in this case, is two-ways between student and teacher, and student and student.
Personally, Mandarin was my 2nd language, and I recall how there was no adaptation whatsoever on the part of the teacher – just as I witnessed no adaptation on the part of the Confucianised Chinese in singapore in the face of difference after the 80s – in the face of my presence. So the entire language was taught in Mandarin, and I was basically ignored throughout primary school – a uniquely Qin-gaporean strategy in contending with difference, i.e. ignore it till it goes away, and experienced in the relationship between the government and the people, between people and ‘complainers’, between husbands and wives, between varying opinions, between Qin Shih Huang Ti and alternative schools of thought (ref. ‘burning of the books and burying of scholars incident’), etc – though I’m sure this was/is not the case all the time. Perhaps there ought to have been more Indians and Malays in Mandarin classes before the teacher felt compelled to revise her/is teaching methods, just as more Malays and Indians in singapore might have made more of ‘Singaporean’ culture. The only thing the teacher would do now and then was to give me an essay written in mandarin to copy out – this went on all the way through to secondary school. And, also, I was given 10 words to learn in the first few weeks for ‘ding xie’ (‘listen and write’, or a ‘spelling test’). Thereafter, in Primary 1, I wrote the same words every week for a whole year and was marked 10/10 for it. Nobody told me that the words changed every week. I know, it’s hilarious now that I think of it. But it did cause my not bothering about my studies in secondary school since one needed a ‘second language’ to prove that one could do sociology and psychology in university - leave it to the Confucian/legalists to come up with rules whose sense lies in its being rules and little besides. Needless to say, I’m quite monolingual at present, given that my grades in mandarin sounds similar to the name of some fighter jets, but found it a great medium to get to know people of all races as if they were ‘my own’, whilst being freed of stupefying ‘exclusive cultural pride’ which I’ll leave for dogs and cats (‘cultural pride’ oftentimes induces the taking on of perspectives as ‘reflex’ and brings about the same unthinkingness that comes with ‘instinct’. Loving cultures is fine, but exclusive cultural pride is not for the stated reasons.) Of course, I can still swear in Hokkien with the accent of any hardcore ‘pai kia’ (Chinese gangster); engage in friendly banter with the coffeeshop China girls who always deliver my ‘tei siew tai’ (tea with less sugar) to me without my ordering it, and usually by the time I sit down; I can understand taxi-driver rants, Chinese drama serials, and order masala thosai (Indian ‘pancake’ with potatoes and carrots) in Serangoon road, though I dare say that my Mandarin is far better than my Tamil.
So the moral of the story is, we can either choose to be amongst ‘our own’ and suffer the consequences without, inevitably, realising that it is such a choice that caused them, whilst focusing on what we have achieved with insensible cultural exclusivity as a vindication of said cultural exclusivity. That is how all of the people are trained to be fooled by themselves all of the time. Thus, it was to be expected that even some singapore ‘Indians’ now find the company of difference – such as Indians for India – as less preferable. Shows how ‘Qin’, as opposed to ‘Chou’, they’ve become themselves. Everyone seems to be making sense of the disadvantages of monoculturalism from a monoculturally-induced perspective. i.e. reaching into a bag of vipers for an antidote. It is not ‘Mandarin-teaching methods’ that needs to be revised, but ‘Qin-ese thinking methods’. And all, thinking methods are best revised and refined via multiculturalism and multi-perspectivalism. We do that in many subjects, and more so the need when it comes to culture since it impacts on just about everything else.
The way this whole issue is being handled, amongst just about all others, serves as a concerted and unwiting effort amongst all singaporeans to make the best out of a bad (monocultural) situation, and can itself be seen as an ongoing onslaught on egalitarian multiculturalilsm. The more solutions we are able to think up within a bad situation, the more it is perpetuated.
A major paradigmatic overhaul is required here.
This, by the way, is not a critique of the Chinese, but of monoculturalism.