Rules of engagement

This one's for the kids who asked the questions today --- you know who you are.

How to do well in General Paper
(Or rather, and more importantly: How to become a reasoning, thinking citizen as a result of --- or perhaps in spite of --- the General Paper course.)

1. Be curious. Question everything. And I don't mean question everything in the way that you badger your parents, "Why can't I have an increase in my allowance so that I can buy an iPod?" Question why you need money, where the allowance comes from, how is money organised in our society, what are the broader implications of an increased allowance (not just for you), how else you can (legally) get the money, how you can make those other sources of income work for you, why you need an iPod in the first place, why does an iPod cost so much anyway, how will having an iPod truly improve your standard of living, or will it just make you want more iThings, why do we need stuff anyway, when did having food and water and shelter and safety stop being enough, oh all right will an iPod mini do, why does Apple sell the mini anyway, what happens if you don't get an iPod or a mini, what happens if we all stop buying iPods and minis and stuff, and ...

2. Advance your reading. If you're not reading at all, then read anything --- even the local tabloid The New Paper is better than nothing. When you're done with the local tabloid, move on to the Nation-Builder Press, and from there on to more cerebral publications. If you're done with Harry Potter, why not try a little Philip Pullman, and from there it's a small leap to Salman Rushdie's Haroun and the Sea of Stories, and Rushdie's written a lot of other interesting books that'll take you all over. Start with the thin books if the thick ones daunt you, but don't get stuck on 200-page chick lit forever. Time and Newsweek are better than nothing, but have a go at The Economist, which you don't have to read cover to cover, or The Guardian or The New York Times. The web is just full of interesting stuff. Try Salon or Slate or Alternet or my latest find (thanks, BoKo!), Arts & Letters Daily. Best of all, find something good that your teacher hasn't read and impress the hell out of him/her when you cite the source.

And whatever you read, refer back to step 1: Question everything. Don't accept something as gospel truth because it's in the Nation-Builder Press or The New York Times or on a sheet of paper that your teacher gave you. Ask yourself: Does the writer make sense? Is the argument convincing? Is the evidence watertight? Is there wiggle room? What's the other side of the story that the writer's not telling you? Can you find another piece of writing that deals thoroughly with that other side? Can you come up with the other side of the story on your own?

3. At the end of the day, formulate your own informed opinion. Where do you stand, and why? Yes, you --- don't avoid eye contact or look down at your shoes as though having an opinion is a dirty thing. You should have a stand, not just to be able to write a satisfactory General Paper essay, but because we're thinking, feeling human beings, and if humankind as a whole is going to make any sort of progress over this century, we're going to need every mind that's capable of intelligent, clear reasoning. Yes, I know it's hard to formulate an opinion because there are so many competing narratives and views shouting for your attention, but if you refuse to think hard and make sense of it, you might as well just check your brain in at the school gate and sign yourself up for some automaton-level task for the rest of your life. Lead, don't be led. Set the agenda, don't let others set it for you.

We don't all gotta be intellectuals or experts at everything. The world is too large, too dense for that. There's too much for any one brain to contain at one time. That's why you have to figure out your own patterns and structures for making sense of this crazy whirlspin of activity.

The more I teach, the more I think that while being blessed natural intelligence is an advantage, having a genuine open-mindedness and curiosity about the grand human experiment --- now that's when the magic really begins to happen.


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At 7/25/2005 11:01 pm , Blogger naixuhs said...

True formulating an opinion is one thing but formulating an informed one is quite another.

Inquiry into and of the world as well challenging what many take for granted or certainly except without forethought are the start to acquistion of knowledge and perhaps becoming intellectual but more importantly, it is the basis of true democracy and a just society.

At 7/25/2005 11:21 pm , Blogger JellyGirl said...

Dangerous-o, you are teaching kids today to...think! *gasp!*

At 7/26/2005 12:23 am , Blogger NARDAC said...

Passion for thinking is hard to teach, but when seen in a mentor is infectious as hell.

I like this post a lot.

At 7/26/2005 12:52 am , Blogger Cowboy Caleb said...

to do well, you must start a blog.

and must read a lot of blogs.

At 7/26/2005 1:41 am , Blogger limegreenspyda said...

wow. wish i had a charismatic GP 'cher back in JC too.

i think the mark of a inspiring lecturer is a real passion for what he/she teaches, and an open mind. you go, girl!

At 7/26/2005 3:32 am , Blogger louist said...

hi tym, i'm interested in teaching gp at jc level (what other level huh) and had some questions i'd like to ask. do you think you can drop me a mail at ltkw (at) hotmail (dot) com? thanks a lot...

At 7/26/2005 4:28 am , Blogger Unknown said...

I disagree. The Government should teach us how to think.

There should be a 10-year Series for Thought. If not, how to score?

At 7/26/2005 10:43 am , Blogger Han said...

I didn't know you're a teacher at JC too!


At 7/26/2005 11:27 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Go http://www.cie.org.uk/CIE/WebSite/qualificationsandawardshub/qualificationhubs/generalqualsubject/generalqualsubject.jsp?oid=2969&name=A+%26amp%3B+AS+Level+General+Paper&typeoid=2208

At 7/26/2005 11:35 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

mmm Tym teaches? At which JC?

am very interested in the guidelines directing language marks, especially with regards to paper1. *grouses about arbitrary marks given*


At 7/26/2005 11:54 am , Blogger Tym said...

Addendum: Being a thinking citizen is a good thing, but being stirred to action is an important next step too.

Naixuhs --- An oversight on my part. Indeed, an informed opinion is essential. Blog post thusly edited.

mb --- Guai lan!!

Anonymous2 --- Ask your teacher for the marking guidelines. They're not classified top secret or anything.

At 7/26/2005 12:53 pm , Blogger -ben said...

The advice given by one of my teachers was invaluable: just read everything you can get your hands on (Of course, IMHO, the revised version doesn't include a certain pink blog). Anyone who spends at least 1-2 hours a day reading can't do badly in GP...

At 7/26/2005 8:51 pm , Blogger PensiveTabby said...


Totally agree with you, when one really opens up his mind, thats when one become truly aware.

The sad thing is, my peers from my time, aren't really doing as much thinking as they should, and the younger generation even less.

But I'm very heartened by your effort in teaching your students, and extremely impressed by your post. Wished I had you as my GP tutor then.(I only got a 3) :p


IMHO, starting a blog only allows one to practise his/her writing, and puts his/her thoughts on paper.

Reading a lot of blogs, exposes one to a myriad of information which he/she might not know exists in the first place. But like Tym said, the utmost importance is, the individual must be able sieve through all the information, and come up with their own opinion.

Without the ability to do that, starting a blog, or reading a lot of blogs, wont really matter.

MB -

IMHO, the culture in Sg is such that one gradually loses the will or ability to think, as The Govt has done the thinking, and has implemented what is the best solution. The people, though heard, know they cant change much.

Its a challenge to maintain our individual thoughts against such a social background(which is not undesirable, considering that it has brought Singpaore to where it is today)

Just my 2 cents.

At 7/26/2005 10:18 pm , Blogger Unknown said...

mb was kiiiidddding...

Besides, I cannot comment too much on GP. I only got a B3. Heheh

At 7/26/2005 11:01 pm , Blogger Tym said...

I've noticed that a person's GP grade frequently has little correlation with their ability to think, reason or write clearly.

At 7/27/2005 12:13 am , Blogger Han said...

That's not true all of the time lah... I got A1 what. The only respectable grade I got. lol

At 7/27/2005 4:03 am , Blogger Agagooga said...

Please, half the Science Stream just memorises points for the "perils of Science and Technology" question and just regurgitates them out in essay form.

At 7/27/2005 9:55 am , Blogger Jaschocolate said...

i wish you were my GP teacher..

At 7/27/2005 10:03 am , Blogger aeiou said...

I'm just starting my PGDE next week and I must say it's admirable (or unbelievable to others) that you have such optimism after teaching all these years.

I wonder how long I can hold on when my Sec Three Normal Acad students have absolutely no idea what bungee jumping is, who Tang Howe Liang is (even after being shown his picture), nor does Lance Armstrong ring any bell (isn't Live Strong bands all the rage today?). The closest they got to was the trampoline.

At 7/27/2005 9:12 pm , Blogger visceral said...

its not in the interests of the ruling classes to have a thinking populace. once you have enough folks asking the right questions, perhaps we'll simply see a re-enactment of 1987

At 7/28/2005 3:32 am , Blogger joe said...

A1. for that post.
From the Kid who was just in JC.
Not for a GP grade but how to properly receive a A'level education.

BUt fact remains that a healthy balance is already pretty difficult in JC. 'cheatsheets' save sanity. All we can do is think later,learn the writing formula and mug now. That inquiring mind is not something just JC can make, it starts from Primary 1.

But your students are fortunate to have you tym. All the best for them.

Viceral: It is in the goverments interest to have a thinking population. They and we have alot more to loose if we are a generation of mugging dimwits. If they don't there's nothing left to rule, they know it.

All the best the ride of the '06 syllabus, so long Cambridge hullo Bona V.

At 7/28/2005 1:50 pm , Blogger Agagooga said...

I was asked to give the Indonesian kids in my block english tuition, but declined.

I'm a simple man with simple needs. No need so much money :0

At 7/29/2005 3:30 am , Blogger Tym said...

karp ace wrote:

Actually formulating an independent, well-thought out opinion a) is beyond the reach of most people at the junior college age of maturity b) beyond the reach of Singaporeans of ANY maturity c) not possible within the time constraints of the exam d)pointless with some of the inane topics the GP Paper has like "The Pen is Mightier Than the Sword" or the like

I disagree. There's no age limit on formulating an informed opinion, nor should it be a process that takes place during the examination. If anything, as far as the GP subject is concerned, the formulation should take place before the examination: the ideas have already been wrought and the examination is merely an opportunity to air the ideas that have already taken up happy residence in one's mind.

And to dismiss an entire nation of people as being unable to think well or independently? Because people behave in a similar or certain fashion doesn't mean that there isn't independent thinking behind it. If anything (sorry to use the same phraseology twice), it's more often the case that people have not fully explored the rationale or basis for their opinions, and that what they need is a closer examination of their beliefs. That is not to say that they will change their beliefs once they're done examining them, but I'm not saying they have to. All I would like is for more people to question themselves and understand why they believe something.

As for the notion that GP topics are pointless, I would argue that "the pen is mightier than the sword", for instance, is something Dubya might want to think a little harder about before he launches another invasion on some purported axis of evil.

Cheatsheets, memorising tricks --- kids do all this to get by, yes. That's ultimately a choice left to the individual student. But I don't endorse any of these methods and I would certainly take issue with any colleague who felt that such "strategies" were the be-all and end-all of the GP curriculum.

At 7/29/2005 4:45 am , Blogger pAnDaR~ said...

well, your advice came about 4 years too late :P i did great in mine despite all that. but during the time i did my general paper, and learnt how to write it, i was totally insecure about it because of the teachers i had.

i was a fiction writer my entire life, suddenly having to writ argumentative and having no option out of it can get scary. my point is, don't let what your teachers say daunt you either. for the students reading this post of tym's anyways.

i mean, i was told my reasons sucks, that my support sucks. i had NEVER passed a single gp paper in my entire 3 years in JI back then. i made it thru those 3 years somehow, but post-prelims, my teachers secretly called up my parents and told them to prepare me for a life of hardship coz i am going to fail gp.

to put it simply, i passed. and i have to thank only a teacher who just let things run its course than anything else.

so... it also starts with you believing that you can write something than nothing. really.

sorry for the long comment :P

At 7/30/2005 12:39 am , Blogger NARDAC said...

I'm not so convinced people like to think independantly. Deep down, most of us know that thinking for oneself only leads to a lifelong career in thinking independantly in a job you hate... or being unemployed. After all, weren't you the one that jibed me because I kept going back to university instead of getting a career (a career I knew I would hate)?

Given the choice between blind happiness and irritated enlightenment, I know there's many who would go for the former.

At 8/01/2005 12:25 pm , Blogger Agagooga said...

It's comforting in a sense to know that this problem is not exclusive to the Premier Institution of Social Engineering.


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