From ‘Teachers should read newspapers’, 11 Aug 2014, ST Forum
(Dr V Subramaniam): WHEN I had lunch with two secondary school teachers one recent weekend, I was taken aback when both admitted that they do not read newspapers. The Straits Times was not part of their daily reading content, and they were ignorant of the Forum pages. I had expected these teachers of English and Literature to take a keener interest in what was happening around them through the medium of newsprint, so that they could disseminate more informed knowledge and wisdom to their students.
I explained to them that newspapers carry models of clear and concise writing that can stand alone as teaching tools – or supplement other instructional materials, such as the Internet. Newspapers contain many different types of writing models – narrative, persuasive, expository – and are written for various reading levels that would help students.
Newspapers help teachers bridge the gap between the classroom and the “real world” by extending the boundaries of knowledge, and help teachers and students feel like a part of the world.
In this way, educators’ interest in new teaching techniques is heightened while their intellectual skills and critical and independent thinking are sharpened for the benefit of their students, who are being nurtured for active citizenship.
Newspapers also air the grievances of the public and help shape public opinion, and keep the public and the Government in close contact. The newspaper helps teachers gain knowledge, wisdom and power that they can inculcate in their students.
It is imperative that the Ministry of Education strives to ensure that teachers read beyond their teaching materials and syllabus. The reading habit has gradually waned with the advent of new technological devices and gadgets. It needs to be reawakened in our society so that we can keep up with the rest of the world.
If you’re an English/Literature teacher and you know you’re about to have lunch with Dr V Subramaniam, make sure you read the Straits Times from beginning to end, including the Obituaries section, so that you won’t get caught in a situation where this champion of newspapers decides to complain about your competence as a role model in the national medium. It’s one thing to suggest using the newspapers as a ‘tool’ to engage students, which is fine, but another to run down a couple of teachers because they’ve never heard of the Forum page. Give them a break, they work some of the LONGEST hours in the world, and you want to them read Today in Parliament before bedtime?(Then again probably not a bad idea if you have insomnia)
As far back as 1979, proponents of the medium we use to pick up dogshit with have hailed its ability to stimulate ‘functional literacy’. Other claimed benefits include improving ‘general knowledge’ and ‘skimming and scanning skills’. In 1984, in a bid to inculcate the habit, a newspaper-reading CONTEST was held. V Subramaniam goes further, using hyperbole like ‘wisdom’ and ‘power’, like a cleric promoting the Old Testament, forgetting that the newspaper industry is not out to instill ‘independent thinking’ in young minds. It’s a business that sensationalises, filters content or sells sex scandals if necessary to make money. Come, class, let’s discuss what Cecilia Sue said in court about her steamy affair with Ng Boon Gay! It can supplement your sex education class as well!
The ST is also often accused of having a political agenda, a mouthpiece for the ruling party, and if it can’t possibly ‘air the grievances’ of EVERY concerned citizen, then it can’t be a bridge to the ‘real world’. That would make it, well, OBJECTIVE. And no newspaper in the world has the audacity of claiming they’re such. Newspapers have a responsibility to their stakeholders, mostly the Government, and thrive on a gullible public willing to swallow information wholesale, not pupils taking an English test. The paper is just ONE of the many sources of knowledge and current affairs out there, whether it’s online commentaries, magazines, books, documentaries or the now defunct Encyclopedia Britannica. The ST is generally a decent ‘textbook’ for concise writing, reading skills and vocabulary, and a source of cheap gossip fodder every now and then to bond readers, but it doesn’t necessarily make a teacher better at his job if he has to make an obligatory ritual out of it. Other than that, it’s excellent for wiping windows during CNY spring cleaning.
Real world? Maybe the writer needs to live in it too.
(According to the ST feature ‘Writer of the Week’ in Apr 29 2013, Dr V Subramaniam is 71 years old and a retired assistant commissioner of the IRA and university lecturer. He thinks the Forum page offers at a single glance the ‘pulse of our society’, which is flattering considering how many letters get rejected every day)