The Ministry of Education (MOE) said on Monday (9 December) that a novel containing profanities was selected by a school for its reading programme due to its “literacy merit”. However, the Ministry added that this book was not part of its recommended text list.
Titled “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”, this novel was first brought to the public’s attention by a Facebook group called Singaporeans Defending Marriage and Family on Saturday (7 December). The page slammed the book as it has a number of swear words in it.
It said that the book is given to Secondary 2 students, and it uses “foul and blasphemous language” and claimed to “break Singapore’s racial and religious harmony laws”.
Without identifying the school, the post added, “Do parents need to inspect every single school material and sit inside every classroom to ensure our children are free from unacceptable immoral indoctrination and corruption?”
“This breaks Singapore’s racial and religious harmony laws!”
“Parents need to be very concerned and outraged and sternly tell MOE and the ministers that such books, materials should not be sneaked in, taught or given to any/ all children in Singapore schools!”
The book, which revolves around a 15-year-old protagonist with Asperger’s syndrome, was written by British author Mark Haddon.
The book was selected by the particular school for its extended reading programme to complement its English Language lesson, said Jeffrey Low, director of English Language and Literature at MOE.
“The school has chosen the book for its literary merit, and how the story teaches good values such as honesty, perseverance in the face of difficulties, love between parents and children, and appreciation of youths with special educational needs,” said Mr Low.
He added, “The reading of this particular text has been closely guided by the teacher through class discussions, where the teacher sets out the context of the piece of writing, and engages students on drawing positive lessons from the book.”
Mr Low also pointed out that teachers are careful when picking certain texts to make sure they are included as part of the lessons for good reason, adding that text of literary value “often deal with complex human conditions and reflect the imperfections in societies”.
School can decide their own texts
Mr Low also mentioned that at lower secondary levels, schools have the autonomy to decide the texts that they want to use, either based on the recommended text list from MOE or choose other texts that are not on the list if they think the books “better suit the learning profile of their students”.
However, MOE has a set of criteria that the schools can follow when selecting books out of MOE’s recommended list.
“This set of criteria includes the literary value, appropriateness and accessibility of the text in terms of themes and language for the target age-group of the students, the values the text promotes, and careful consideration of any areas of concern, such as social and cultural sensitivities,” Mr Low explained.
Separately, the controversial book made headlines in 2015 after a Florida school removed the book from its summer reading list following concerns raised by parents about swearing.
In response to this, the author told The Guardian that his book was “not just a novel that contains swearing but a novel about swearing”.
Mr Haddon explained that the lead character Christopher is “completely unaware of the offence that swearing is intended to cause and there it simply washes over him”.
Despite criticism, the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time won several awards including the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book and Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize in 2003. It was also named 2003 Whitbread Book of the Year.
Upon reading this news, many netizens highlighted in the Facebook pages of TODAY and Channel News Asia that the book is actually an excellent read and they’re not sure what’s the big issue with the book. They explained that the book “is a brilliant, thought-provoking, insightful” and has won many awards. Some even said that the only serious issue here is with the “mindset of people who sees it as a book of vulgarity”.
Others pointed out that there are many other ways for students to learn swear words, mainly from the media, games and the Internet. One user said that students pick up worse words even from primary school and they might just laugh about it upon reading it, while another one said he has “seen teachers and even principals using that word when they are outside school and off duty”.
However, a few online users slammed the book as it has the “potential to normalise vulgar words and swearing among school children”. Calling it “simply unacceptable”, one user said it’s not right to “have school children read literature and be tested, graded and examined in depth on such text, without considering the potential negative impact of such books on school children”.