Friday, April 21, 2006

Clash of the generations

Ruins of the Roman ForumMany things have been said and written about the conversation that some under-30s Singaporeans had with Mr Lee Kuan Yew a week ago. This was broadcast a couple of times over local TV. I caught one of these broadcast. I must say that the verbal sparring was interesting. While I sometimes thought the youths were naive in some of the questions they asked, and views they spouted, I am nonetheless impressed with their candidness.

There is nothing wrong in these youths expressing themselves in public in the manner in which they did so, especially when they had the courage of their convictions behind it. That is what educators in Singapore have always encouraged or at least, dreamed, our students would do - to be critical, to question, to reason and not accept the conventional view as necessarily a given all the time. What is happening now is that students tend to committing the whole gobe to memory in order that they can be regurgitated at the right time and place so that they can move on to a 'higher' level where they can then repeat the same gobe formula, ad nauseum, until they 'graduate'. Rote learning is not the way to go.

So I cannot understand people criticizing some of the forum participants for being disrespectful to Mr Lee in the way and words they used. Yes, Mr Lee had to 'put down' some opinions he thought were perhaps frivolous or not readily backed by facts, but that is Mr Lee for you. He is not one who sits around allowing what he thinks are untruths to go unchallenged. But I don't think he feels offended personally and I think both parties would have learnt something new, including Mr Lee, from this forum.

If we keep going on with the attitude that "you don't speak like that to a man who built Singapore with blood...", we will probably never progress. We will always be living in the past, and all effort to get youths engaged, to think about how to face new challenges as the world changes, will come to nought. So I applaud the courage of all the young forum participants in voicing their frank views. In doing so, they have also probably helped to express the views of many in Singapore society today. Like it or not, we are all products of our times. While history remains an important signpost (some would say guardpost), we are influenced far more by what is happening today than something that happened to our grandfathers fifty years ago. As products of the times, the current generation will voice concerns that are immediately meaningful to them. There is no right our wrong here. Each generation must accept this and try to bridge the divide, if it exists at all.

So, give yourself a pat on the back, chaps. All of you have done well.

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