Alas, it’s nearing the end of my journey in Zhonghua Secondary School. How I have changed considerably after these 4 years. With all the humility in the world, I think my experience, comparable to others, was very much more unique, because I am for better or worse, a completely unique individual, void of any established social construct that dear close-minded conservatives hold so sweetly to their hearts. And when such a person is placed in a not-so-unique setting, oh the things that happen.And oh! So sweet, now students have been tasked as a celebration to our graduation, to share our thoughts and experiences in our dear Secondary School. Oh how I relish at the opportunity.
PART 1: SOCIAL LIFE
Because I was so different, and was interested in talking about things that most people would shy away from, and was completely bored by what people normally talked about, there wasthis alienation from everyone for majority of my school years. It’s not that I only had a few friends, that isn’t a problem at all, it’s that I had absolutely no friends and had no one to talk, much less have a connection with.
Admittedly, it was also because of my own personal flaws, that contributed to my alienation. I was not a person who was capable of empathy, and was short of the capability to say things that made people feel good. However I think after acknowledging these problems, I’ve managed to effectively subdue them after knowing how detrimental they could be to myself, and I think from there it did open more gateways for me to form close relationships with friends, which currently I’m still trying to forge. But even with that, I’ll never associate myself with big groups of people for a long time and consider myself popular, and that’s good because I never wanted that. There is this novelty of having friends that can be maintained from Secondary School, but of course the most important thing in such relationships is it’s genuine nature.
I detested how most of my peers valued popularity. It seemed like one’s social life was considered better based on one’s popularity, so much so that I heard that there was even a tier-system which ranked peers on how popular they were, where many people in lower tiers should try to get to the top. Majority of my peers valued that, but I think I always knew that that being popular was never the ideal way. Which is why I felt, and I think still feel that the worst part in me making Youtube videos is the stupid people who come up to me and say ‘HI AMOS!’ like 5 times a week, now you might think that being famous and having people shout your name and hyperventilate to you would make you feel good, that’s actually the worst thing of being an artist. It’s terribly annoying and ironically none of them actually respect you or your work, and I don’t think necessarily that an artist should be a celebrity.
Anyways, I recalled trying to hang out with what is considered the supposedly ‘cool’ people, with cliques that reach the dozens and then feeling so empty afterwards, even more empty than when I was alone with no one to talk to.
Many don’t realize, but popular people and people in huge cliques don’t engage in any communication that actually forges a relationship. They talk a lot about where to take pictures, where to go, academic results and the weather, but they don’t talk about the really good stuff like feelings, plans for the future and hopes. At least…. Not nearly as much as I wanted. And how can you, when the most effective communication is between 2 people, and you’re surrounded by so many people you barely know about other than the information presented on their facebook profiles. It’s ironic how one can have so many people to go out with, but still feel so lonely. What’s magical is that although I was alone most of the time, I don’t think I ever felt lonely.
One should not have friends because they want to seem more popular, not lonely and have someone to hang out with in idle places in the holiday and post a constant barrage of Instagram pics to tell everyone that they’re popular, and then go back to school thinking that they possess an aura that they’re better than anyone who didn’t go out to as many places that they did with their ‘friends’. They value this really superficial form of’ friendship’ that thankfully for them, they can share with many others, but not me. So with that, I am not going to force myself to hang out with people I don’t like, was never interested in, just because they hold a popularity status that would make you more respected in the eyes of people as superficial as you, but because I genuinely like, and am interested in, and have a connection with that person. That’s what I held with most of the the time, and because I valued that aspect of a friendship much more than anyone else I knew, I was alienated because I never wanted a relationship that was insincere. However, that was the way that fortunately, or unfortunately, was the most honest, and I think at least for me, the most happy with.
PART 2: TEACHERS
I was very shocked and rather disappointed by the teachers in our school. Lessons were taught by mindless drones with remotely no zest or any conceivable passion. In my experience, specifically, Chemistry, literature and E maths. The turmoil and mundanity that I and I’m sure my peers feel, radiates from our class. It sickens me that about a-fifth of my life was spent in a class with these people. None of them advocate thinking outside of the box and expressing new and innovative ideas, just rote-learning and memorisation, which is why neither the teachers nor the students are interested in anything taught in class, it is neither stimulating nor satisfying to learn. Furthermore, the teachers seemed to work better as students, than teachers. They seem to know the material needed to study, but they don’t know how they managed to acquire that material, which is why there were many times when I was simply baffled by how horrible and ineffective some of the advice given by teachers were for students desperate to try to find a correct way to study.
I was absolutely traumatized when my Chemistry Teacher claimed, with a seeming air of unabashed wisdom that ‘copying was memorising’. I think of the dozens of students with every subsequent batch that joins her, and is plagued and misled by this archaic notion, used by primitive Chinese folks centuries ago to memorize ancient poems characterized by sexism and racism, and I weep . One time I even felt that I needed to openly rebel against the E maths teacher in class, so that I could retain a decent E maths mark, never have I seen a string of Maths exercises so repetitive and useless provided by a teacher, and I cry for anyone who thought that it was efficient to spend 7 hours doing 120 quadratic equations, and then wondering why they didn’t score well. When my mark for E maths was reduced from 90 to 80 in CA2, because I postponed studying for E maths due to me progressively losing zest in learning E maths and putting off learning the new chapters and reviewing the syllables 2 days before the exam, my dear E maths teacher said something along the lines of ‘maybe you wouldn’t have done so bad if you did my work’.No , that was the reason why I didn’t do even worse.
Most of my academic achievement is attributed to learning outside of class by myself, in the comfort of my room Which is very ironic considering the titular reputation of school as an ‘educational institution’, you would expect it to be more responsible in educating you in the syllables than yourself, especially since you spend so much more time there in a day. I’m very sure that the ex-students that come back to visit the teachers do so not because they were good teachers, but because they might have been good people, who were nice, social and funny. But were they effective as educators, who made learning fun and managed to involve the students in thinking and the acquisition of knowledge? No.
They also seemed to lack an understanding of what impression I was trying to portray to them. The most common thing I hear from teachers is that I’m not ‘mindful of my words’ because whatever I say always comes out as condescending and insulting to them. However, I think my fellow teachers misunderstood the point, those words were so obviously meant to be insulting. So in that regard, I am actually very mindful of my words.
PART 3: CCAS
My experience in co-curricular activities was in the Drama Club, and I absolutely hated it. This is a club where it was quite clearly evident that the teachers are not concerned with it’s welfare, although they are supposedly ‘in-charge’, where the venue can’t even be specified for majority of rehearsals, and even worst, when the situation is obviously not handled properly, the teacher hides it and doesn’t make any of the mishandling known to any of the students mindlessly following the teacher, wondering when rehearsal will start. And when one expresses contempt at how poorly managed the whole situation is, the Teacher doesn’t apologize for it or takes responsibility, but instead says, ‘you’re not cooperating with the drama club. Show respect to the teacher’.
Rehearsals were characterized by sheer repetition, plagued by runs of the same performance over and over again without any feedback, specifically during my SYF rehearsal. And when feedback was given by the trainers, it was obvious that they were inexperienced and were ineffective in providing useful and good advice to improve one’s performance. I might not be adept in skills on acting and drama, but I am adept at spotting someone who is unsure of themselves. We constantly changed trainers supposedly because of a lack of funding, causing the quality of the trainers to become progressively worst, to the point that the drama club has disintegrated to being coached by the teachers who were not specifically trained in that area, and the seniors who delude themselves with the knowledge that they knew something because they were leaders. The club doesn’t participate in any competitions anymore, but only churns out performances about twice a year on school events, with an act that is devoid of any dramatic or acting skills, that is reminiscent of a classroom skit. Because of the lack of proper guidance and platforms to perform well and improve, one gets demotivated to perform their role well because even if they did, would they necessarily be acknowledged for it? Not in their opinion. We laze off, eventually gaining the reputation that we are a ‘slack CCA’ among the other CCAs, which the teachers and student leaders vehemently object to, but we are. And then we wonder, ‘why did we get silver for SYF? WE WORKED SO HARD!’ Believe me, you neither worked hard, nor well.
I think personally, the worst part of my experience in the Drama Club was the student leaders, specifically the ones who were a year older than me. There was this black president, who literally darkened the mood with her presence, she was senseless, illogical and had this air of arrogance that unfortunately unlike me, was not validated by intelligence. She was oblivious to how inadequate her knowledge of drama was and always made herself seem like she knew her stuff, but we always knew she was full of bull. When she was voted for president, I literally thought a holocaust would happen to the drama club, which it did! I cannot count how many black jokes I have made ever since we were ‘graced’ by her reign. And the coincidence that many of the subsequent presidents and vice presidents who were elected all constantly sucked up to her, introduced a surplus of whore jokes as well. She made me racist all over again.
Then there was this really fat vice-president, who I remembered kicked me out of a whole drama session because I vented my frustrations on how unorganized our preparation was during an NDP performance. He always seemed to be struggling to give advice that made sense, as much as he did in standing . Who single-handedly ruined our SYF performance with his final monologue(But really we should really blame the trainer for the casting decision). Who demanded respect and did so with the argument that ‘ I AM YOUR SENIOR’. He made an impression with his pompousness, stupidity and the need to gain respect from his juniors, which was virtually impossible for him to receive and was so painful when he tried to demand it. Such negative attributes plagued my experience in the club, where the only thing more obtrusive was his size.
PART 4: AN AVENUE THAT FOSTERS CREATIVE THINKING
New and creative ideas are meant to be controversial, and people who portray these ideas are controversial, but they are also influential. Lincoln was never popular when he tried to abolish slavery, and Gandhi went to jail and was shot for advocating independence to Indians. But they were great people, people who removed what was accepted as right but was so innately wrong in the world, and abolished them, making it better for more people in our world to live for all coming time. Modern issues such as the inane nature of religion, LGBT rights, whether or not one can use what is supposedly vulgar language, and the meat-headed need to abolish porn, all have definitive solutions based on logic, and with many avenues presented in an educational system, these solutions will be presented in one humorous form or another, especially by several youths studying in an educational institution, capable of being very influential in the future. Talking about these solutions should be advocated and discussion based on these issues should be encouraged and condoned.
Admittedly there will be people who are rebellious but are completely ridiculous and dumb, who advocate something controversial that makes hardly any shred of sense or has any evidence to support it. Distincting those 2 types should be dictated not by rules, but by logic. Such people should not be derided upon because they are controversial, supposedly shamed their family and pissed off a great deal of people, they should be derided upon because what they are saying is stupid.
However obviously, rules are valued more than discourse. When I wrote my email as ‘Cocksucker@gmail.com’ when you had to write a PERSONAL email address in a piece of situational writing, and was penalized for it not because it had some form of negative impact on anyone, or did not adhere to the rules of writing a PERSONAL address, but because ‘it is against the rules’ to write something ‘vulgar’. It is evident that the discipline in the school is more concerned about punishing the student than talking to the student about ideas and what he thinks, and generalizes every student who watches pornography and says vulgar language as sinful and unruly. Think of all the people in the world who do those 2 things, who are successful and influential (George Carlin, Bill Maher, Tj Kirk) and then you see the huge amount of lost potential in cultivating great people. The school and its employees collectively try to rid of controversy, sees thinking of issues that are deemed sensitive to the public and sticks a knife to its back.
The ability to speak about these types of issues is the soul of creativity, art and expression. You disagree with it, fine, but don’t even have the gall to portray yourself like you welcome and encourage such people. Don’t hold an assembly talk and say that you respect what Nelson Mandela stood for, when you really don’t.
PART 5: SWEET MEMORIES
So in my experience of being the rebellious, iconoclastic individual that I am. The most terrifying thing, much more than detentions, suspension or caning, was the vice principal, the vice-principal with an arrogance as big as his size, where when many principals and vice-principals were changed constantly, he stayed…. oh god he stayed… I have never seen someone so close-minded, pompous and repetitive in my whole life. I am absolutely awestruck at how one is able to convey the same sentence in the long span of 40 minutes, without any awareness that he has said the word ‘values’ more than 20 times. A student would feel threatened and intimidated in such sessions if it weren’t for the fact that he is overcomed with boredom. Praise whoever enlightened our dear vice principal on his horrendous oratorical skills, so that future batches would never be ‘graced’ by his presence during festivities held in the School hall. Many of my other peers, I heard whom were unfortunately plagued with bad results and had to meet him, were simply flabbergasted by how one human can dissolve to such a degree, with a pompous attitude and his ‘salt and water’ metaphor. How does one possess that level of monotony? If such a person is able to hold a position of power, then as history has stated, another Great Depression will befall us
Then of course I recall the incident which I think had some form of deep, psychological impact on me. The time where I was compelled to read out the most insincere, hypocritical ‘apology’ out loud to my fellow peers, that was written by teachers, for a video that should be more abhorred for its stupidity than for its supposed racism, that was absolutely non-existent. I witnessed firsthand, things that were completely beyond my level of comprehension at that time, that was completely beyond my preconceptions of how a school worked,where rules of an official institution was dictated by the unreliable stupidity of the public, and where punishment was dictated not by logic, or by an understanding of a scenario, but because, a book says so. That ‘apology’ given two years ago, and the subsequent deletion of my first Youtube account was not a sign that I knew my ‘mistakes’ and wanted to ‘change for the better’, it was a sign that other people effectively made me say so. Never have I felt so much anger, unjust, and indignation for how things are, how people are and how it affected me and probably many others too. Before that I was passive, soft-spoken and enjoyed the supposed goodness of the world. Never again would I be the same.
Looking back in hindsight, bravo for that.
PART 6: DISCIPLINE
The school genuinely feels that maturity is dictated by one’s age, it has access to long pants that look strikingly good and is extremely comfortable, and yet one doesn’t grant a student those pants until they reach secondary 3 and 4. The pants become a sign of authority, power and a supposed wisdom above those who are younger. Age doesn’t make maturity, maturity makes maturity. Even as a junior I saw my fellow ‘seniors’ engaging in fights and tailoring one’s uniform so it would be virtually impossible to button it. I’m pretty sure I was more mature than them.
Also, when you are placed in an institution where every student is obligated to respect the teacher, and if any defiance is seen (Whether substantiated or not), one gets punished, students do not learn to genuinely respect someone based on their qualities and attributes, but through authority, based on age and the fear of being punished. We create an atmosphere where respect is demanded rather than gained. Has any teacher ever asked, is that the kind of respect that they want and value?
On a weekly basis, we see the loud Ex-Discipline master with his booming voice, that is heard across the whole school. Was this in the display in our recent open house? Because this is really one of the classic sights in our school. Using a loud voice shows that one has valued ordering people to obey instead of enlightening them on why they should follow some established rules. The offenders who were afflicted with our Ex-discipline master’s admonishment, from what I heard still repeat their offences. And of course that isn’t surprising, how do they know why what they are doing is wrong when one is more focused in punishing them, than educating them. It is shame how one values handing out punishments instead of helping a student distinct right from wrong, however based on my observations, they’re not sure of that themselves, restricted to a rule book that is primarily archaic.
But undoubtedly, the discipline committee did it’s job as it’s titular title suggests, it advocated discipline, which is following without question, without discussion and without intellgence. Truly in the name of democracy. Of course, we as a country values such disciplined people, who would follow any person in a position of power who are supposedly more intelligent in making decisions for them. We have a top-notch army with a plethora of equipment (Which is not used and is overspent on), a string of teachers and educators working to nurture students (With whom I have mentioned will never touch anything controversial with an 8-inch pole, in fears of losing their job, therefore hindering thinking and creativity) and thousands of office workers, who work tirelessly every week for the economic benefits of our country (Leading to us being one of the richest but unhappiest country in the world, how ironic isn’t it?)
Therefore with such a flawed disciplinary system in place, it creates an environment where understanding and discussion is not valued, And in turn, it reduces one’s willingness to indulge in creative endeavors like art. And then we wonder why is the arts scene in Singapore so weak and why aren’t Singaporeans creative and innovative people? This pervades the school atmosphere, which scorns the creative, the thinkers and intellectually adept, in favor of cultivating followers, brainless, dogs.
Of course in the long-term hopes of every students, we undergo all of this for the allure of gaining good results. A joy that is non-existent, or at least ephemeral. One gains as much joy from that as catching a ball with one hand, or finally unloosing one’s bowels and taking a very satisfying shit. And for that, we rot our brains in school, voiding ourselves from the ability to think, interacting with people we don’t necessarily like, and spending decades learning things we don’t necessarily want or need. No no, never again.
All of that to gain a piece of paper, that minimally guarantees a job of stability, a job where one follows a daily routine and gets a monthly salary, and a job, in my opinion, of sheer boredom and unhappiness. And they with the piece of paper, claiming that they have faired better in their lives, compared to fellow hawkers and construction workers. But I retort, at least they didn’t spend up to 10 years in a place they didn’t like, filling their brains with knowledge they never wanted. Some people say it’s a life they want, not for me. Some people they say it is worth going to school for over 10 years for such a life, no it isn’t.
I’m so glad that the organisers of this prom opened up this avenue for all us graduands to share our final views on our 4 years of school life, and does not restrict it to only positive pandering and allows for more antithetical negative ones too (I hope).
Without the ‘undying’ help of the teachers and the people of authority, and their vicious punishment of me, I would not have gained a greater insight on the implications of the decisions that I made, and on the supposedly democratic, supposedly open-minded, completely conservative, archaic atmosphere of school. And fortunately (or unfortunately in your case), unlike many others, it did not stop me from, but heightened my passion to reveal and logically condemn the flawed established social structures that you advocate. I could make a whole career out of it.
I’ve learnt a lot. But it’s kind of like a starving child in Africa who has been hunted by wild animals daily. It’s quite miserable, but you sort of learn survival skills that you can’t learn anywhere else. But would I want to return to such a scenario? No.
Ultimately, these 4 years of experience in school, at least in my opinion, fucking sucked.
– Amos Yee