The above is a segment of a TV production that was broadcast on ChannelNews Asia on Tuesday, 9 July 2012. The “Talking Point” episode was entitled, “Should we promote safe sex along with abstinence?” This segment however is about homosexuality.
The three participants speaking are a curriculum director from the Ministry of Education, a pupil development specialist from a secondary school and a student. It begins with someone calling in with a question.
Coloured boxes contain my comments.
Here’s a transcript:
Presenter: Madeline (spelling?) is joining us, who I understand is a teacher as well. Madeline, hello?
Presenter: Hi, as an educator, Madeline, what do you believe?
Madeline: Erm, my question is because earlier I saw this ah 2013 curriculum, so homosexuality was not mention, so I was wondering, er, were it be included in the new curriculum?
|She’s a teacher? Her standard of spoken English makes me worry about the state of our schools.|
Presenter: Okay, Madeline, I must ask you, are you involved in teaching sexuality education?
Presenter: No, okay. Now let’s address your point to, er, Wei Li maybe. Wei Li, will homosexuality be included in the 2013 curriculum? Madeline, stay with us, we’ll going to get your question answered right now.
Liew Wei Li, Director, Student Development Curriculum, Ministry of Education: Yes, we actually teach what homosexuality is, as well as the provisions in the law about homosexuality.
|Straight off the bat, she nails in the fact that the law criminalises homosexuality. This strongly suggests that the curriculum will require the same opening from all teachers.|
Wei Li, continuing: But More important than that, we actually er gather teachers to teach about gender roles and identity which I think is very important because students when they go through puberty, they go through this, er, identity crisis, and they need to find themselves. So it’s a bigger topic rather than just homosexuality itself, and that, that is relevant to everyone.
|Seriously? Do most students go through identity crises? And the stress on gender roles is precisely what education should not be about. To valorise gender roles is to demand conformity with heterosexist and patriarchal structures, which intrinsically devalues non-heterosexual and transgendered people. And women generally.|
Wei Li, continuing: So its not just sexual orientation. And in fact we that do teach, er, that they should respect everyone regardless of their sexual orientation. Because er, er, we want relationshoips then to form good sound relationships based on friendships, based on love, based on respect. Yah, that’s why . .
Presenter: Madeline, does that answer your question as to whether or not this will be included?
Madeline: Erm, right. Er, can I ask one more question?
Presenter: Yes, go ahead, quickly.
Madeline: Er, yes. Okay. The other thing is because I have teenagers chirren at home, what if my teeangers were to go to school and ask the teacher erm, is it okay, er, you know, if I, er, is going into this homosexually, er, activities?
Presenter: Okay, thanks Madeline. Maybe I’ll ask Mohana that point. Mohana, I would imagine that if somebody brought this up, came up to their teacher and asked this, it might be on a one-on-one situation perhaps? Er, how would the teacher deal with this?
Mohana Eswaran, Head of Department, Pupil Development, Regent Secondary School: Okay, I mean, er, this is the kind of question that the student would not present in a classroom, so it’s a one-on-one. So, er, in such a situation, you know, we have to understand where the student’s coming from. Is it seeking knowledge, or is it that the child is already into such a, you know, a relationship? And if it’s the case, then I would probably escalate it up to the counsellor who is more er proficient and professional in dealing with such situations. So do we . . .
Presenter: Just to clarify with our parents, these are trained qualified counsellors that every school has . .
Mohana: Every school has.
Presenter: Mm, hm . . .
Another presenter: And it looks like you have something to add. . .
Melissa Tsang, Student: I, I’m not so sure about what you mean by giving the child help if the child comes to you and erm, and ask about homosexuality. Whether or not he or she wants to know more about homosexuality or, or if he or she identifies as, as gay, lesbian, bi, or transgender. How are you going to help this child? What, what kind of counselling are you going to give to this child? Are you going to give this child support, or, or are you going to, or are you going, are you going to portray homosexuality or transgenderism, erm, in the light of deviancy, ya, because you say that you are going to educate children, children and teenagers about the legal provisions in Singapore about homosexuality, but you have to note that in Singapore the legal provisions about homosexuality is to criminalise homosexuality and to wrap, to wrap it simply as just homosexual acts — it’s an act of gross in, indecency …
|She knows more, and has a clearer mind than the Ministry official.|
Presenter: Yes, you’re referring to certain aspects of the Penal Code, I do understand. Wei Li …
Melissa: Which I feel is not fair.
Presenter: … what do you say to that, I mean, a young person might not want to feel that when they take this step of asking for advice that they would get a response that would be in line perhaps with what they feel is a negative impression.
Wei Li: We understand that this is quite sensitive. So, we actually give you full information about the, the legal provisions about the homosexual acts. So we don’t criminalise er homosexuality at all.
|There she goes again — opening an answer by spotlighting the law. And this disingenuous attempt to say “we don’t criminalise homosexuality at all” is squirming around, trying to have it both ways. The substantive fact is that having such a law on the books grotesquely changes the climate and legitimises a cascade of discriminatory actions and policies.|
Presenter: Is that the starting point? Because if it is the starting point,
Wei Li: yes…
Present: …like Melissa says,
Wei Li: Oh no, no. That’s why I tell you that it is er, actually, er, in the larger area of gender and roles and sexual identity and, er, the terms, what they mean, and the various terms . . . because some of the students are actually ignorant of the terms, so we have to start from some of the basics. I think where Melissa comes from is, er, she is an older teen, whereas, er, when we start from Secondary One and Two, er they really are exploring their own roles. I have a crush on somebody of my own sex; is that, am I homosexual? And we have to address things like this for their mental and social well-being.
|She never quite gets around to answering the question about the curriculum framing the issue as deviancy. In fact, you see an attempt to change the focus, to use roundabout language.|
Presenter: Mm hm
Wei Li: And no counsellor will want to make a child feel bad. The idea is er you would want them to be, er, to have the full information and also to have the the ability to have that social and mental well-being , er, so they er they are helped through the various decisions that they make. Er. It is not from, er, point of view that is one-sided.
|The issue is: what is the stance? How are students helped? The mention of “social and mental well-being” raises more questions. Do teachers and counsellors adopt the view that being gay, bi or transgender is not consistent with well-being? And therefore in the interest of well-being, students must be urged to hate their true selves and try to act straight? Why is it so hard to come right out and say it’s OK to be gay, and that that is the fundamental message?|
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On a slightly related note, here’s the latest from Frank Ocean, the rapper and singer whom I mentioned in the earlier post The Ministry of Education and the abstinence from intelligence. The song’s called Bad religion. And it’s beautiful.
(if the above video link doesn’t work, try http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sDSPybTFYHU)