Lemonnator

Holistic education

In Uncategorized on October 9, 2012 at 2:14 pm

So according to some friends of mine, I am not “all-rounded” enough.

In Singapore, the word “all-rounded” is synonymous to the word “holistic”. Both words are used to describe people, or more commonly, pupils who excel in academics as well as “aesthetics”. “Aesthetics” typically refer to performing arts (like dance), musical ability (usually piano or violin), and personality (though I doubt this is as prized as the former two.)

What inspired–or rather, pressured me to write this post about “all-roundedness”:

1) Innocuous and well-intended criticism from a very good friend

2) Not-so-innocuous and rather blunt/untactful/downright rude and annoying criticism from another very distant friend who insisted I was not well-rounded because I didn’t know how to “have fun”, >.<

3) Overachieving schoolmates who are able to balance more academic subjects than me, and at the same time excel in terms of aesthetics (grade 1000 or so in piano).

4) I did not win an award for my school project this year, which hurt my ego.

And after noticing so many brilliant schoolmates of mine surpass me in both academics and aesthetics, I began searching for an excuse as to why I wasn’t as brilliant as them.

Naturally, I blamed my parents.

My parents weren’t the kind who’d send their kids to violin/piano/ballet lessons at the tender age of five. They weren’t the kind who’d limit television and computer games in favour of Andrew Er math assessment books. Perhaps it was their fault that I am now achieving mediocre results.

But JK Rowling once said:

“There is an expiry date on blaming your parents for steering you in the wrong direction; the moment you are old enough to take the wheel, responsibility lies with you.”

Damn, that’s true. After all, it’s not like my parents ever limited my horizons by preventing me from taking certain opportunities. That was never the case. So why am I, by Singapore’s standards, not all-rounded enough? How is it that I’ve been going to a school that is famous for offering a “holistic education”, only to turn out unbalanced?

Singapore’s known for being this education hothouse that just churns out students who are bright, articulate and talented. So when someone tells you that you’re not that “wholesome”, the kind of inadequacy and inferiority you experience is just downright painful. That’s why we students are just so competitive–losing out, even in the smallest of ways, hurts. Especially when you dream of someday going to an Ivy League University and making it big in life. It always, always hurts to think that you’re not up to par.

But now I realise I’ve accepted such criticisms too willingly and I’ve accepted the yardstick for all-rounded success far too readily. I don’t know why my ego didn’t kick in and I don’t know why I hadn’t bothered to go into the automatic mode of defensiveness. Yes, I do want to be humble, and I’ve paid too high a price for not being humble. But accepting such criticisms unquestioningly was just plain stupid. The yardstick by which we measure our individual successes must not ever be dictated by social norm or peer pressure, and that’s the secret to surviving the hothouse environment.

So, what’s MY yardstick? It’s pretty much the same stuff society prizes–intelligence, integrity, personality and talents. EXCEPT my definition of those things differ greatly.

Intelligence need not be measured A1s and C5s. Integrity is not about picking up litter even when it’s not your own. Having a great personality is not just embodying the one-dimensional trait of “being nice”. Talent is not defined by having a Grade 10 Piano cert.

Intelligence is about intellectual rigour; it’s about being able to see rhythms and patterns and nuances in the world around you and make sense of it all, it’s about being able to empathise with opposing perspectives in controversies, delve deeper, go beyond the surface, and not just accept things at face-value. That’s intelligence.

Oprah Winfrey says “Real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody’s going to know whether you did it or not.” Integrity does encompass picking up litter, like what the school teaches us. And it does encompass–let’s say, if you’re a prefect and your friend does something against the rules, I guess it would indeed be morally upright for you to book them anyway.

But in a deeper, more intangible sense, integrity and moral courage means daring to go against what’s popular in order to do what’s right. Standing by your friends, even when they are the most geeky people in class and hanging out with them is going to hurt your popularity–that’s integrity. It is never just about playing by the rules and being a law-abiding citizen. In fact, if the establishment does something of injustice and against morality, and if you have the moral courage to speak out against such injustice on behalf of others, that’s definitely integrity. If you are powerful, but still choose to stand with the powerless, yes, that is integrity.

Having a great personality IS about being nice, yes. Treating others the way you would like to be treated is extremely important. However, a striking personality goes beyond this niceness, and is one of passions and humors and gumption. It’s the ability to wholeheartedly embrace being human, and allowing yourself to feel intense pleasure, sorrow, anger and fear. It’s about melting away every bit of ice-cold indifference and not letting the monotony of life numb you out from the world.  Furthermore, being able to radiate confidence and warmth and friendliness even in the most uncertain of situations, and imbuing in your peers that same confidence, is essential. Most importantly, being able to forge a connection with the people around you and develop genuine friendships–that’s part of having a great personality.

Lastly, talent is intrinsically linked to your passion. It’s whatever you define it to be, If it’s piano/ballet/violin, sure. But if it’s writing fanfiction and limericks, well, why not? If your talent is academia, science, current affairs and philosophy, you’re not going to have the easiest time finding like-minded individuals, but hey, that’s just who you are.

The establishment will never be able to measure an individual’s true potential, and not all individuals will match up to the cookie-cutter definition of all-roundedness. And that’s okay. Like all other teenagers, I’m trying feel my way to success, groping around in an attempt to find my own gumption. In the face of so much competition to fit into the die-cast mold of being holistic, we have–well, I have lost sight of what is truly holistic–a value that is meant to vary from individual to individual.

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