12 October 2014

Complicated: My son attended 'sexist' relationship workshop & survived!



I know I’m not a very good parent.

But I didn't realise the depths of my suckitude until last week.

I have a son in the first year of junior college like Agatha Tan, the Hwa Chong Institution student whose open letter to her principal went viral.

Her letter expressed “sincere concerns” about an Oct 4 relationship workshop called “It’s UNcomplicated” conducted in her school.

She said the accompanying booklet taught her that “bigotry is very much alive" and it was na├»ve of her to think she could be safe from it even in school.

So she did learn something from the workshop.

I’m such a terrible parent that I wasn't even sure if my son knew what “bigotry" meant.

He sounded rather insulted when I asked him.

“You know, I did study the book The Chrysalids in secondary school and it was all about bigotry,” he said.

Oh.

I pretended I remembered what The Chrysalids was about.

I was so afraid of annoying him any further that I took him at his word.

Yes, I’m such a terrible parent that I'm afraid of my own offspring. He’s taller than me and can get pretty surly.

I quickly looked up The Chrysalids. The book by John Wyndham is about some kid getting into trouble in some future society because he or she is “different”. It might as well be called Divergent. Or The Giver. Or Astro Boy.

In a way, Agatha is also “different”.

According to Focus On The Family Singapore, more than 14,000 young people have attended its workshop since it started last year.

And none of those 14,000 young people wrote an open letter three times longer than this article complaining about the workshop.

Except Agatha.

She is clearly Divergent and Shailene Woodley should play her in a movie.



If Woodley isn’t available, get Lim Kay Tong.

In Agatha's letter, she used such fancy words like “binary model of a nuclear family", “binary heterosexual norm" and “polyamorous individuals".

Why can't my son use fancy words like that?

Or can he?

I dare not ask.

I’m such a terrible parent that I almost wished I could trade in my son for Agatha.

I hope she’s not the surly type.

In response to her letter, the principal of Hwa Chong Institution, Dr Hon Chiew Weng, wrote in an internal school circular sent out on Thursday:
“One lesson we can learn from this episode is that even if a programme is approved by both MSF (Ministry of Social and Family Development) and MOE (Ministry of Education), things can go wrong."
Way to throw two ministries under the bus, Dr Hon.

The principal also blamed the workshop facilitator, calling him “ineffective” as “several students objected to various viewpoints, and (the male facilitator) was not able to address their concerns satisfactorily”.

Agatha had criticised the workshop facilitator in her letter for his "joking" sexist attitude and "shutting down" another participant who raised an issue.

On Friday, Focus On The Family Singapore responded:
“As Focus is an external service provider, our facilitators are instructed to adhere to approved content. Our facilitators’ efforts to stay on track may have been misunderstood as imposing certain views and that the facilitator is unconcerned with students’ questions.”
So the company’s defence is that there was a misunderstanding between the students and the facilitator teaching the students how to avoid misunderstanding between the sexes. Irony alert!

Where do these facilitators come from anyway?

Can anyone be a facilitator?

Sure.

According to the Focus On The Family Singapore website, all you had to do to be selected was send in an online application form, attend a 10-minute selection interview and participate in a $300 two-day training session.

You even get a certificate.

And voila! More than 14,000 young minds at your disposal.

Wait a minute.

Is my son one of those 14,000 young minds?

I’m such a terrible parent that I have little idea what my son does in school.

This time, I braced myself, gritted my teeth, bit the bullet, girded my loins, screwed my courage to the sticking place and asked him.

He thought about it for a while and said that he vaguely recalled attending something in school a few months ago with the word “complicated” in it.

That was the “It’s UNcomplicated” workshop!

Alamak, was he also exposed to the casual gender stereotyping? It’s worse than being exposed to Ebola.

Was he told to “conform to traditional gender roles” instead of being his own person as described by Agatha in her letter?

Was he taught that “the acceptance of diversity in people is unimportant”?

Did he read the booklet that “actively serve to promote rape culture in school”?

Did he learn that “no” means “yes”?

Was he going to start referring to girls as “gals”?

My son said that he barely remembers anything from the workshop because he wasn’t paying attention. He was busy doodling on the booklet they gave out.

Oh.

That’s a relief.

For once, being a slacker might have been to his advantage.

I may not be such a terrible parent after all.

- Published in The New Paper, 12 October 2014



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