A Slice of the Arts
“When I completed my streaming examinations at the end of Secondary 2, and received my streaming results, my fate had inevitably been sealed. I would always be seen as the weaker ARTS student, the student who did not have the aptitude to do triple science and double math. Instead of being offered A math, I was offered the opportunity to do literature (something that I was good at and something that I greatly enjoyed) but it did not feel like a blessing, instead it felt like something I should be ashamed of. Only the last two classes in my school were offered literature and we were constantly reminded that it was because we did not do well for math and science in secondary 2. I did not realize that that this would be the starting point of my lifelong battle to fight the “useless” arts student stereotype.
Recently, when the whole debate about the role of Literature in the school curriculum arose, I remember sniggering to myself as I watched so many parties trying to figure out what was causing the demise of literature. I believe that I know what largely caused the decrease in students wanting to take literature. It was the stigma that came with taking literature. The stigma that were are a below average student who was not “smart enough” to take up the sciences. Even during my secondary school days, I had friends in the “better” classes (triple science) who despite being genuinely interested in Literature or other humanities would give up taking the subject to remain in the coveted science classes.
The problem lies in the fact that our education system and society at large continues to place the sciences on a pedestal. Students are rarely given the opportunity to choose both Science and the Arts, its almost always either one or the other. The students, who are genuinely interested in the Arts, have to brave, the mind-sets and opinions of their parents, friends and society at large to pursue their interests. When we place so much pressure on our students, they will eventually choose the easy way out and in this case, the easy way is to abandon their own passions.
8 years later, I realize that the situation has not changed very much. Arts students are still stereotyped to be fluffy and ill disciplined individuals who deal with emotions more than logic. Many people from the science faculties believe that they are simply superior because they are studying a subject with tangible outcome. They believe that they will be able to excel in the Humanities and Social Science (HSS) faculty if they decide to. There is very little belief in the rigour of the HSS courses. There is also the notion that only rejects go into the HSS faculty. The tag of being “lower” classed individuals still remains. I have spent so many years fighting it and it pains me to know that so many more of the future generations would have to continue to fight this stereotypes.
You would rarely find a HSS major who would tell you that his field of study and expertise is the best in the whole wide world. No, most HSS majors are aware that the world they live in, is a complex one that requires the interaction of all human disciplines. The HSS major understands the concept of ethnocentrism and tries his best to see the world and the people in it with a broader mind. The HSS major is rarely certain about everything, he recognizes the world changes and he is constantly engaging with his mind to comprehend and fathom the changes. The HSS major embraces all, even the ones who do not understand him or put him down.
Before I wrote this post, I was discussing this whole issue with a very good who pointed out to me that the earliest form of scientific enquiry must have arose from the humanities. For example, Francis Bacon the person who crystallized the scientific method started out as a philosopher. It appears that he used the humanities methods of inquiry to arrive at his scientific theories. I am sure that this is highly debatable but it is something to think about, that the science and the arts are not quite as different as many people make them out to be.
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