Thursday, 17 April 2008

Class Part Is Out, Class Party Is In!

I recall awhile back when Yitwen and I were having this conversation that surrounded the central rhetoric of the cutthroat nature of life and studies in general in SMU. Forget back-stabbing - of the front-stabbing in a class I will refrain from disclosing, I remember his resigned exclamation, "damn real world man... Bring it on." Not that he's a particularly self-centred GPA-slut, but he was quite driven to that height of angered sentiment like most others would and hence perpetuate that good ol' vicious cycle of self-centred, heartless reciprocity.

I guess when friendship means nothing to people in the pursuit of grades (which, to me, is quite the school-version parallel to money/status/etc in the real world), then they've really got nothing to lose.

I've seen some of this myself. Some people are seriously willing to cut off ties in a bid to up their GPAs. And that's just the passive bit and isn't quite the worst yet. Further down this road of social decadence, some either exploit their friends, like hooking up long-lost 'buddies' just because it is known that those friends have taken a similar module before and have the exam answers, or they find means to kill off competition by sabotaging their friends' presentations or work, or withholding help and assistance when their friends need it. Shit happens, and then many don't know who to trust anymore.

Merits, and consequently grades and exams, are a necessary evil, but they matter as long as the purpose and goodwill of their rationale is kept intact. When people start resorting to unscrupulous ways - and you can be damned sure people will given the opportunity - just to stay ahead in fear and cowardice, it can be a really detestable aberration of matters.

That's why I've never bothered to rationalise with the idea of the importance of grades. In fact, I spend more time rationalising why it is better when grades don't matter, and that stuff seems to make greater sense. To me, at least, based on the things I've seen and my subsequent understanding from personal experience, grades are far too plastic and inherently material and obsessable in nature. Grades are the kinds of things that breed theoretical prowess but an inability to apply, the desperate desire for tried-and-tested answers without wanting to really know why, especially when subjected to a largely spoon-fed society like ours. So we get all these multiple-A students who tell me they don't know who Kim Jong Il is.

The major problem with this viewpoint is that I cannot vouch for those who think grades don't matter and know nuts about stuff also. And I'm sure there are a host of other valid counterarguments. And of course, to rationalise that grades don't matter just because you're too lazy to study is plain stupid. But I have digressed too far; I didn't initially want to write about grades anyway.

So the other day, I met Ah Seah, a great colleague I had in the army, who's in SMU too. We were both headed off to our own respective destinations away from school. I might be opening a can of worms here, but sometimes I think it's bad enough if you're from a neighbourhood JC and then you come to SMU, but Ah Seah was, worse, from a polytechnic, and he's trying to slug it out all the same in good ol' wonderful LKC School of Business. So we revisited the social capital of SMU (or lack thereof) in that brief amount of catching up time before we went our ways. From the way he puts it, I know it really hasn't been easy for him.

Last Tuesday, we held a committee meeting to plan for Prof Rahul Sagar's farewell party, titled Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité, and codenamed Operation Baguette (for his favourite obsession with French political quirks). It's gonna be very political-science-themed, so we can expect the democratic doughnuts, freedom fries, communist cheese and red, white and blue balloons, and the response thus far has been pretty decent. Last term, my management communications classmates took it on ourselves to come up with a party for Prof Aileen Bong at Früjch as well.

Some of the profs have been organising pot-luck-style class parties this term to commemorate those last-class days as the term came to a close. However, these aren't quite essentially the same. There's some intrinsic social value of the initiative of doing stuff like this coming from the students themselves, and it's really kinda more of that we need. I'm not saying that we should then go on a party-organising frenzy as if it would make school a warmer and friendlier place overnight. But I guess we've gotta do things from the heart.

Stop class participating just for the marks, start doing it because you've really got something of value to contribute. Study because you know you want it, because the knowledge you gain would make you a better, wiser person. And don't lose sight of yourself and your friends in the pursuit of other material gains. This could ultimately be yet another long-winded rhetoric; a new round in the same fight, but it could all be worth it insofar as it articulates for the better.

The human race is faced with a cruel choice: work or daytime television.

Audio Candy:
The Get Up Kids - I'll Catch You

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