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"I would venture so far to suggest that while certain groups of individuals from the top schools behave in an elitist manner, the branding actually originate from the man on the street rather than the elites themselves." By Thng Yiren.

Rethinking Elitism Part 1

Thng Yiren / Writer

Always a hot topic of debate and even bitterness, elitism and general attitudes of snobbishness has frequently been featured on the spotlight especially when youths are concern. This is a legitimate cause of concern. However, I feel that if we were to engage this topic meaningfully, we would need the establishment of certain premises before an objective view can be generated. As such, allow me to humbly suggest possible “assumptions” that could possibly hinder this discussion.

The Branding of Elitism

Fundamentally, the branding of elitism begs the question: Who determines the labeling? I would venture so far to suggest that while certain groups of individuals from the top schools behave in an elitist manner, the branding actually originate from the man on the street rather than the elites themselves. We have to recognize that “elitism” may simply be a label, a collective term superimposed by others onto students in top schools. Or consider the brand “Atas”, which means top or high up in malay. “Atas school”, “Atas people”. Now I don’t think that an individual would go so far to create such a title or label from himself. “Atas School” actually originates from the man on the street himself.

Therefore, the next consideration would be why people label certain groups as being elitist. Allow me to be the defense attorney for students in top schools today. With the exclusion of the minority bunch of snobs, a layman’s benchmark of elitism may simply be speech. Perhaps the usage of proper English may be considered stiff and inflexible as compared to the hard-hitting impact of Singlish.

For example, “The lecturer is simply unable to engage his audience! I’m simply astounded by this farcical waste of time, where it is evident that the lecturer is ill-prepared and perhaps intellectually vacuous.” Compare this with “ Wah Lao! The lecturer cmi (cannot make it), I’m very sian!”. Both touch on the same aspects and carry the same message, but the packaging could possibly result in the labeling of “Elitism”. Beyond the Wee Shu Min saga, we may have to go all the way down to deal with the subconscious levels of perception.

Now, I’m not suggesting that individuals who speak Singlish are less capable. My point is that the manner of presentation of one’s thoughts combined with the prior biases of the reputation of a top school can result in this branding. This, I feel, would actually constitute to the root of the problem, where the general attitude in my humble opinion is one of “Elites do things this way lor”.

Elitism will always exist

With all due respect to many who point out that the Singaporean system of the GEP and IP programs result in social stratification, I humbly beg to differ. I think that while their intentions may be noble, they miss the point. To advocate that the system is flawed in some extents is true but inadequate. Transcending beyond systemic technicalities and schemes, we have to recognize that perception is build upon binary opposites.

BAD / GOOD

GOOD / BETTER

BETTER / BEST

BEST / BEST OF THE BEST

You see, no matter what academic system is adopted, the best among a particular group would naturally surface. Therefore, while promoting elites and not elitism may be the most desirable, how far can we promote that?
I think that critics have been too harsh and unrealistic. The propensity for one’s “head to grow big” is a flaw that we have to acknowledge. While one may argue that that there are individuals who actively contribute to society in humility, there would always be groups who would actively embrace their identity as an elite, thus leading to a proliferation of elitism. Even in young children, a kindergarten teacher would observe that some children are naturally selfish and would try to, for example, collect the most colour pencils or finish a piece of work faster. When praised for a job well done, there is already a smug look present. From young, some already receive accolades but lack the coping mechanisms to handle the “fanfare” from fellow peers.

Egalitarianism cannot be attained

Potentially, this would be a very sore point for many, so if I happen to offend anyone out there, I offer my sincere apologies but I feel that this is a pivotal point on the issue of elitism.

Simply put, egalitarianism means an equal treatment of individuals, which in context here, would mean equal funding and opportunities for each student.

However, we know that this is not the case, where certain schools do offer more privileges to the students, as they are deemed “more receptive and capable”. As such, I think that one major part of the issue on elitism is jealousy.

No doubt certain individuals may behave in an obnoxious manner, but as I have stated in my first premise, we have to consider the person who is doing the labeling. Could he be possibly sore that he does not get to enjoy the privileges accorded to others? In other words, students from top schools get many opportunities, thus making them elitist as they feel they have more than others, or is it the other way round, where students from top schools are the elite, therefore they should be exposed to maximize their potential?

It is a difficult word to hear, but this jealously is predicated upon an inferiority complex. Think about it. Would the average person be intimidated by an individual who achieves “A” grades and regular accolade from external competitions like Olympiads when he himself (the average person) is struggling?

I think so! Therefore, I think that the man on the street has to acknowledge of his capabilities and put in utmost effort, which would be responsible of him, but to keep in mind of his limitations.

Now, once again, I’m not even labeling anyone as man on the street or the average person, but then, the demarcation is already present! There are definitely individuals out there who are gifted beyond the average mind, and they really do intimidate the average man. In light of this, I think that some groups would have to acknowledge that they may not be as capable as others, and yet not dismiss these gifted individuals as “elitists”.

The concept of interpellation is defined by the French philosopher Louis Althusser as the imposition of an identity via addressing someone. The mere act of addressing someone is an act of imposing a subject position for the addressee. In other words, by labeling someone with the title of “elitist”, many connotations come to mind like arrogance and snobbish. However, is it possible that one particular connotation may be “I wish to be like them, but I can’t. Therefore out of jealously, I will denounce them?”

In conclusion, I feel that the three points surfaced are certain premises that need to be kept in mind when discussing elitism in Singaporean Youths. By no means is this a definitive view, but simply some reflections that I garnered from the discussion of the entire issue. In the follow up, I would like to examine students from the other spectrum, that is the students who are not so academically capable so as to obtain an objective view by weighting both sides of the equation. Ultimately, I think that there would be a general consensus that an apathetic disposition would be a great loss to this aspect of education.

PS: The above views may be potentially offending, and I would be happy to engage any individual who vehemently feels that I am grossly mistaken. Please email me at [email protected] and I would be glad to hear your views. Thank you again for your indulgence with me.

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