Reader Opinion: Elitism From Your Peers Sucks
- Current Affairs
In an article published on RICE last Thursday, Clarence Ching touched on the issue of elitism from others, and cited many examples of toxic elitism and the effect it has had. Like Clarence, I was from Normal (Academic), but I moved to the express stream in Secondary 3.
I wanted to add to Clarence’s article by asking a question: how is elitism fostered and socially constructed in our society?
Simply put, how did these concepts of elite and non-elite schools come about?
Surely, if elite students are not exposed to non-elite students, logic would dictate that these impressions (of non-elite and elite) have to come from someone else.
I think this is a question we do not ask ourselves often enough. My experience saw elitism come not always from elite students, but sometimes from my fellow peers and usually my teachers.
Now here’s the idea that everyone has of non-elite students: dim, uncultured, and hooligans. Career choices should be limited and almost definitely not include the humanities or arts. Chances of making it to University are also slim.
On the other side, the elite student: the Confucius Junzi, scholar-officer, Oxbridge bound etc. etc.
I think this rarely comes up in the contemporary discussion because it is an awkward conversation. Who created this image? The elite or the non-elite community?
This image haunted me throughout most of my educational journey, and when I was trying to move on from N(A), my fellow non-elite peers enforced these ideas.
I’m not sure when I decided to try and get into the express stream. But I do remember one event, during class, when I made it known that I wanted to do so.
Accordingly, I was met with laughter.
While I cannot say what was going through their minds, the event taught me that to my peers, the idea of advancing out of our situation was laughable. There was no point. We were at the bottom, and we should have made do with our position.
Those laughs left a scar. I didn’t see it as solidarity or a sense of belonging to a community of N(A) students. Instead, I saw it as a reminder from everyone that they were stuck there with me. While in the end, I did manage to advance from N(A) to Express, I still question how many of us (those from non-elite backgrounds) have just given up?
Imagine, every school day, going to a classroom and being told, “No, this is the best it will get”.
I do want to clarify that your experience might vary, and the blame is not always on one’s fellow peers.
Perhaps by luck, you will get good classmates and teachers. People will encourage you and tell you that you can fulfil your dreams.
But some will cry, “Eh stop following your dreams. Can be realistic or not?”
We have grown up being pummelled with the importance of pragmatism. And so to try and convince your peers that you dream about social mobility is to go against conventional norms.
How does one encourage social mobility when dreaming of a better life is seen as ‘ridiculous’? So ridiculous that even teachers would be pessimistic about your chances.
I have had my fair share of good teachers and even an excellent principal. But I cannot deny that some teachers in my life have reinforced the limitations of being non-elite.
In Secondary 2, my teacher was set on putting me on the path to a career in sales, reinforcing the belief that other occupations were unavailable to those in N(A).
Now, some people want to settle down and don’t need (nor want) to have larger dreams. I understand.
But these fixed ideas hinder social mobility, making it difficult for individuals to even try getting themselves out of their situation.
I don’t blame my peers or teachers. After all, these cultural stereotypes cannot be traced to one person. Instead, as Clarence’s article highlights, we cannot and should not expect the government to intervene.
We obnoxiously joke about comparing PSLE scores and avoiding those so-called kiasu aunties come every Chinese New Year (or any other family get-together). By joking about this toxic behaviour, we do nothing to address the underlying problem.
We should interrogate how these images are created. More importantly, how do we project a less toxic image of a non-elite student, one which will encourage them to rise rather than remain in their position?