This is echoed in his sentences, " we must teach these students discretion. Just because they believe in something (and are right), they are not obliged to loudly and widely broadcast it. Or use emotional or inflammatory language." and "So being humble, or pretending to be, is a good tactic that will pay off when the wheel of fortune turns."
Does he mean to tell us that it is perfectly all right for elites to "look down" on others as long as we do it in a hush hush or politically correct way?
Moreover, what is precisely the meaning of an "elite"? According to him, it seems to be studying in Raffles or living in private housing.
Does it encompass wealth or material acquisition? Does it include decision makers, leaders and bureacrats (and their children) in governmental and public sector?
Elitism breeds arrogance. Pretending not to be elitist but having that idea is hypocritical.
I expected TODAY to practise much better taste when choosing to print an opinion piece. This article hits rock bottom.
Elites, be not proud
Friday • December 15, 2006
RECENTLY, there has been a lot of hand-wringing in the media and among Members of Parliament, about public attitudes to the elite and how the elite contribute to these attitudes.
In particular, a fair amount was said about the attitudes of students in "elite" schools.
Elites have always been with us. While we can, and must, have a society that recognises the diversity of talents, the idea of creating many elites, as has been suggested, sounds Alice-in-Wonderlandish: "At last the Dodo said, 'Everybody has won, and all must have prizes.'"
Many students in elite schools have always thought themselves better than others from "lesser" schools and perhaps other people in general — with or without the help of their teachers.
I speak from experience, having spent the six years from Secondary 1 to Pre-U II in the most elite school at the time (although ex-pupils of St Joseph's Institution, National Junior College, Catholic High and Anglican High would dispute that, naturally) albeit at the wrong end of the examination lists.
Among such schools during my time, there was a lot of elitism which local political scientist Associate Professor Kenneth Paul Tan defines as an "often exaggerated in-group sense of superiority" and a dismissive view of others' abilities.
But we didn't have much opportunity to boast of these attributes because we didn't have the Internet. Today, the Internet allows students from premier schools to boast about their "superiority". They can make fun of and insult students from "lesser" schools and their "loser" elders. And other people read such stuff and rightly get upset.
So, what should we do?
Trying to persuade them that they are not the "special ones" is a waste of time because they "know" otherwise. Most of them will only learn the hard way when they miss the glittering prizes they think they deserve.
The most important thing that can be done is to remind these students constantly that — in the words of the prime minister, albeit in a slightly different context — they "must not end up selfish".
In my time, the premier schools and Government ministers (especially then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew) constantly said that those who were smarter or better off ought to help others.
Unfortunately, as Singapore prospered, this message — while still being articulated — got lost amid other messages and background noise. So, I am glad that Mr Lee Hsien Loong has emphasised that the winners in a meritocracy "must not end up selfish".
Another reason to articulate this message loudly and repeatedly is that today, unlike in my time, scholars come from wealthier families. The Public Service Commission is reported to have said that in the last five years, one in three students awarded scholarships are from families that have household incomes of $10,000 a month, even though official statistics show that such families make up just 13 per cent of all households here. Students from households on monthly incomes of less than $2,000 made up only 7 per cent of scholarship holders.
And I was surprised to read that of 21 classmates of a Raffles Junior College student, only four live in public housing. In my time, most of my Raffles Institution pre-university classmates lived in public housing.
All this means that the sense of superiority and entitlement is less likely to be tempered by the duty to help others. Hence, the need for reminders.
Secondly, we must teach these students discretion. Just because they believe in something (and are right), they are not obliged to loudly and widely broadcast it. Or use emotional or inflammatory language.
They should be reminded that Singapore is a safe place, and it is in their interest to keep it that way.
I have lived in Sydney and Manila, where a remark like "get out of my elite, uncaring face" could result in severe consequences.
And finally, these students should be reminded that just because they are doing well now, this may not continue. The world is unpredictable and messy. Even making decisions that maximise success, does not always lead to the desired outcomes.
So being humble, or pretending to be, is a good tactic that will pay off when the wheel of fortune turns.
The contributor was in the legal and stockbroking professions. He is now a freelance financial writer.
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