From ‘Burning question on post-PSLE ‘celebration’, 10 Oct 2013, ST
(Desiree Tan): IT SADDENED me to read about a group of children and parents burning school material right after the Primary School Leaving Examination (“Post-PSLE book-burning photo inflames netizens”; Tuesday). While I agree with netizens that these items should be recycled or given to needy pupils, the more disturbing issue is the celebratory connotation of the act of burning to signify the end of a major examination.
I can understand people blaming the system for placing too great an emphasis on exam grades. I can also understand that in their quest to excel, children experience a great deal of stress sitting the PSLE.
But to use these reasons to justify the act of burning school material is inexcusable. Are we teaching 12-year-olds that once they complete the PSLE, they can burn away what they have learnt?
What is the point of achieving stellar results if our children grow up with such thinking? The damage that has been done is far more serious than just killing trees.
Bonfire organiser Arnold Gay said the symbolic act of destroying schoolwork was ‘cathartic and fun’. One critic of the celebration said ‘books and writings’ should be revered and are a ‘sacred part of civilisation’ as if they were magical scrolls or scripture (We were not burning textbooks, says Kiss92 DJ Arnold Gay, 9 Oct 2013). While my sympathies go to the authors of such assessment books or worksheets, tossing educational material into the fire isn’t a culmination of resentment against the system or deliberately erasing from memory everything primary school taught us so much as a stark, dramatic exaggeration of what people actually do with their old worksheets after the PSLE. Not many of us would laminate them and stack them nicely in a chest as an heirloom to our descendents, hoping that they would look upon our maths notes like they just stumbled upon ancient manuscripts that foretell the ultimate fate of the Universe.
During my time there were no recycling bins to speak of, and most of what I threw away would have ended up disintegrating into ashes in the incinerator anyway. In fact, the most heinous acts of violence on school material were performed BEFORE the actual exam. Wooden rulers were snapped, pages were stabbed with pens and flunked test papers were ripped to shreds, sometimes by angry parents themselves. The holiest of tomes have been vandalised by the luminous scrawling of highlighter pens, battered into tatters, riddled with stains, disfigured by ugly dog ears and left to die like they were humiliated and gangraped a thousand times over. Though sometimes that is EXACTLY how some kids feel when they’re taking the PSLE. Better we take it out on homework than on ourselves, I say. A search on Youtube will reveal the many creative ways that liberated kids around the world destroy their schoolwork, by torching it with an acetylene flame, flushing it down a toilet, or literally letting their DOG EAT the damn thing.
I would imagine kids hurling schoolwork into the flames with the hedonistic zest of one destroying the autobiography of a ruthless dictator, the belongings of a spouse’s illicit lover, or the Pope condemning to Eternal Hell ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’. There is nothing ‘sacred’ about mass-produced assessment sheets, and there’s no reason to treat the act as if someone blew up the National Archives and important knowledge has been lost forever, that these book-burning kids would grow up into rebellious troublemakers who would run their bosses’ family photo through the office shredder. Still, you shouldn’t need to make a party out of it like Arnold Gay did, and any torture that you’d wish to inflict on your notes just to fulfill your wildest, sickest fantasy should be performed in strictest privacy, like how I would gyrate to Ricky Martin songs when nobody’s watching.
Arnold Gay didn’t round up some Satanists to burn bibles or the Declaration of Independence, but such tribal abandon strikes me as rather premature. Let’s hope his kids actually PASS the exam, otherwise it’s not just assessment papers, but hopes and aspirations, that go up in flames.