Friday, July 21, 2006

Fear and Loathing in Kuala Lumpur

Waxing philosophical here and on my soapbox.

Moral values.
Positive moral values.
To turn kids into model Malaysian citizens.

When I was teaching teachers here (in my previous life when I was a respectable upholder of societal norms) I was supposed to check my students' lesson plans for the inclusion of "moral values" and make sure that they were slipped into the lessons at the approriate point. Moral value included? Tick the box.

Literature lessons too, of course, were supposed to have a moral message for the kids. Texts were supposed to be morally uplifting. Every ounce of moral message was supposed to be wrung out from the words and soaked up by the kids' souls.

"What's the moral value for today, class?" "Tolerancepatiencepatriotismcleanlinesshelpfulness".

It seems to me that a whole generation got hung up on that literature-has-to-equal-morality gig.

Which is terribly sad, because heavily laboured morality turns most kids off.

And, (shock horror!) literature at its best is deliciously delightfully wonderfully subversive.

And if we become better people because of reading, it is not because a text has preached at us, but because we've learned how it feels to step inside someone else's head and life.

Related Posts

Matric Blues (24/5/06)
Malaysian Anti-Semitism (11/6/05)
To His Coy Mistress (24/4/06)


Poppadumdum said...

I reckon many of our present batch of politicians skipped their Moral Classes while in school.

Ted Mahsun said...

That's because they were in Agama, reading comics under the desks in the back of the class.

Or was that me?

Poppadumdum said...


Anonymous said...

I still remember that in my BM and Moral classes, the teachers forced students to read and memorise pantuns and sajaks that contains a pengajaran, which, of course, bore us to the point of death. I think it still is happening in most schools...

Then, when I became a teacher at an international school, I brought some books I was reading to the school and among them was a manga and a literature classic Lord of the Flies.

A few of the English teachers were curious about what I was reading so I shared them the books and the first thing they asked me, "Is there a moral to the stories in these books?" Another teacher added, "I can't imagine teaching about books like these that have no morals in them." And they proceeded to advise me to not let the children see what I was reading.

This was a locally owned international school that prided itself in opening the minds of its students but the teachers are feeding them a load of righteous morality crap that certainly explains the dullness of the English lessons in the school.

dreameridiot said...

Hahahaa, Sharon, I like how you reddened the word 'subversive' - a visual 'colouring' and representation of the idea.

Morality? Mmmm, I think there is still a place for it in literature, but definitely not pedagogically and didactically force-fed to people. I'm more for the view that literature opens our consciousness to 'see' more about ourselves and others, and to confront the 'darkness' either within or without, and hence, come to a kind of understaning, a personal vision of the world and who we are are living in it and our roles and responsibilities in relation to others.

Poppadumdum said...

And we should all read Alexander McCall Smith's Morality For Beautiful Girls hahaha!

Anonymous said...


You should have just passed them all those ancient Greek treatise on morals and ethics. That would have confused them.
And why should we look to literature for morals. Why not ask students to look around them. What morality does an officer shooting dogs have? What morality does a DBKL who has been suspended for corruption have in quoting the Rukunnegara on morality in terms of arresting a couple for hugging and kissing. Is it moral to accept favours in exchange for awarding a contract, or bypassing a tender procedure?
Why don't we accept that we all have our faults and stop trying to say we are morally upstanding. How can I stop my daughter from biting my nails when I, almost 40, still bite mine?
Let's focus instead on being caring and compassionate.
I'll stop now before I go on and rant. Will call you re Atria??

Karen said...

"...because heavily laboured morality turns most kids off...."

"...literature at its best is deliciously delightfully wonderfully subversive.... And if we become better people because of reading, it is not because a text has preached at us, but because we've learned how it feels to step inside someone else's head and life."

I have never heard/seen you teach before, Sharon, but by those lines alone, I am convinced you would be a great teacher for young children :)

bibliobibuli said...

sympozium - ooohh cynical!

ted - so that's why! hopeless case you

eternal wanderer - it was great to see you last night and be able to introduce you to my present group! you talk a lot of sense here. and of course there is morality in literature and we learn a great deal about the human condition by reading. just it doesn't have to be made exlicit "boom boom - this the the moral" as in aesop's fables. literature should be enjoyable but using it as a vehicle for moral education squashes out the fun.

animah - good questions and pertinent. and yes, give me a call. my sister and the kids are here next week so might drag them along.

bibliobibuli said...

snowdrop - thanks!

you know it's so funny - i bumped into an old student of mine 20 years on in starbucks. he said he remembered the most important lesson i'd taught him.

i asked him what it was.

and he said i'd told him to always "be subversive" and he's carried the lesson with him ever since.

i asked him where he works now. and he's pretty high up in the PM's department! ooooooopppppppssssssss

ISA me!

Poppadumdum said...

For a good dose of subversive thought PLUS a dollop of subtle moralising, PLUS lashings of laugh-out loud humour, watch any episode of The Simpsons...that series has got it down to a fine art.

Sharon - of course I'm cynical! :-)

Anonymous said...

Be that as it may, I've yet to hear anyone with kids say "I want their school to teach them something subversive" :)

bibliobibuli said...

sympozium - am already a simpsons fan!

anonymous - you are right, of course. which is why kids love the idea of being subversive all the more! (what parents want just isn't cool!) i wouldn't teach kids to do anything like become suicide bombers (i am in some senses a responsible individual) ... but a natural fallout of reading good literature is that you question everything people tell you, you open up your mind to new possibilities ... literature, causes (if it's well taught) kids to THINK!!! that's dangerous enough on a curriculum where everything else is rote learning, regurgitation, and the swallowing of moral platitudes

Thaatch said...

After watching The Libertine (2004), based on the 1994 play written by Stephen Jeffreys, it is hard to see this connection between morality and literature. I'm not too sure, whether the play itself had a moral to it - all libertines get syphillis and rot to death?

Wilde says it best: "There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written."

You're right Sharon, literature must be subversive. Without subversion, all we have is another Sang Kancil & Buaya story.

lainieyeoh said...

there were moral lessons in my schoolbooks? no wonder i couldn't pay attention to any of them.

Anonymous said...

Actually SK+B (or Brer Rabbit even) is pretty subversive -- it really depends on the interpretation. Most fairy tales do a good job of subversion -- especially in instilling the notion that anyone that's physically attractive/meek/graceful is honest and pure of heart etc. :)

Anonymous said...

I want my daughter's school to teach her something subversive.