Social Studies Textbook Controversy

Recently, there was some controversy over a Secondary 3 Social Studies book regarding the idea of socio-economic status (SES). Link:

(Regarding this thing about online furore, Bill Maher has made an excellent point arguing for perspective, criticizing journalism that sensationalizes their headlines with phrases like “twitter in uproar” etc, when the scale and intensity of the reactions clearly do not match the headline. Link: But that is a point for another time and the objective of this piece is my personal learning point anyway)

I was having lunch with my mother when she brought up this topic, and I shared that I did not really understand what the big fuss was about. Being a sociology undergraduate, “class”, or in this case SES, was merely a classification tool and did not actually discriminate against people, merely reflecting the relative positions that people find themselves in society.  She responded by reminding me that not many understand class from an academic perspective, and colloquially “class” is used often in conjunction with the adjectives “high” and “low”. In Singapore, “high class” or “atas” is used predominantly in a positive way and expresses admiration and praise e.g. this hotel very high class/ he very high class while “low class” is a definite derogatory term. It suddenly dawned on me why earlier in the semester, the professor spent half the first lecture asking us what is “class”. (And also highlighted my problems when I speak to less knowledgable people, be it about color or logic or food etc) Regardless, it was a very enlightening moment for me, because for a start I really appreciated the fact my mum challenged my thinking and offered another perspective; and also in the context of the larger picture it was a very important reminder about the sensibilities of the public. It seems fair in this situation to take a more sympathetic view towards those who complain about the book. On one level if they understood class in the colloquial sense, perhaps it seems logical that they take offense at what they perceive to be denigration and discrimination; and on a more important level perhaps secondary three students would not have the maturity and knowledge to understand a “holistic and accurate picture of the context of what is discussed”and deepen their “understanding of current issues and the society that they live in”, as mentioned by the publisher.

This incident reinforced the notion that class remains a prickly issue in Singapore, and strengthened my belief of how majority of people are not ready for the marketplace of ideas suggested as early as the Greek philosophers, where the ideal is for an impartial assessment of all ideas before agreeing on the optimal one.


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