Campfire's Burning Bright

My friend TT sent me a photograph of Singaporean parents burning books with their kids to celebrate the end of their painful PSLE exams, which marked the end of their excruciating quest for certification.

It sparked a debate on and offline, as fiery as the impressive bonfire the folks managed with mere assessment books as shown on the picture above.

The me in Perth is as slow to comment as usual, only when everyone has left the hall, leaving their used tissue paper and mineral water bottles on the floor. The case of the moral high grounders will be for the sacredness of knowledge, books being the temple. So it seems really disrespectful to use them as campfire fuel. There is the rational camp which noted the symbolic nature of our educational system, which is to study for the paper and not to learn. Then we have the "chill" yuppies who "cool" stuff like YOLO who'll dismiss such antics as simply acts of fun. Chill bro. Yeah. Cool is not cool enough for chill bandwagoners. What's next? Freeze? Yo bro, you need a freezie, yo.  tmd. Damn irritating.

I see some wrong in burning books but for practical reasons such fueling the already bad air quality in Singapore and that books can be recycled for better use, for we know that Singaporean folks turns up to fairs in Mercedes to grab second hand books meant for the poor. So we can conclude that books are precious commodities indeed. So why burn?

Face it. Children want to burn books all the time. I was one of them. More about that later. Parents should know if their children want to burn books, they will do so with or without their permissions. It is difficult for a parent to coax their children in keeping books stained with their drool during their midnight oil burning sessions. Space is one realistic constraints for those who live in HDB flats. It is impossible to convince children to keep anyway. All the kids have to do is to ask the parents if they have seen any kungfu master fighting and referring to their kungfu manual at the same time. By right, kids should have accumulated enough knowledge to graduate from Primary so much as they don't need the books anymore. 

By right. By left, they burn books and cannot apply their masterful exam performance to the harsh realities of life. So if we can't stop them from keeping books, then throw or donate, why burn? Again, you can never be sure if the books land in correct hands even if the kids leave the house with innocent watery eyes. They can still very well burn them with their friends. If you think it is appropriate for parents to accompany kids of that age to every single task, you might not be minority by now and that depicts why one of the columns of the nation is falling. So these parents are probably resigned to the flaming end of the faithful books and decided that it was better to join them if they couldn't stop them. 

It's difficult to judge if that is setting a bad example or parents putting in an effort to communicate with their kids. You know the times where you'll die if your parents turn up at your gaming session with friends because they'll start asking stupid questions like, "What does leet means?" or "What do you mean by ebay zerg inc to briar?" Some parents want to be relevant to their kids, to be involved with their thinking (even if they are bad) so that they can understand and try to find other means to explain the morality of issues to their kids. I am only assuming these as intentions of those parents involved. It beats leaving their kids to surrogate mothers. ("Maria! Dashiel wants to burn books! Bring him down and burn with him!)

I always wanted to burn books as a kid and that thought followed me to my teenage. Alas, no friends wanted to join me. We might very well be arrested by burning down the Parliament House by mistake in a burn-books-outside-the-Parliament-House escapade gone wrong so fortunately I was surrounded by law-abiding nice buddies who helped me dodge the bullet. I understand that mentality perfectly because I was one of the unintended bad products of our educational system. I didn't pay attention in school, skip my entire third year in University but even escaped with a second class honors where many of my comrades died in battle. I spotted questions like how my dad shades his toto ticket and got my calculated gambles right. I passed the exams but failed in education and hated the physical subjects that put me through the ordeal.

So I grew up with little knowledge and I am not street smart enough to apply whatever bits left to good use. Hey, presto, the failed Singaporean!  I only realise my folly in later life but the real precious commodity time, not books nor knowledge, is lost forever. What methods can my parents help by instilling the right mindset into the mind of a child too dense to understand back then? That is one question parents should be asking themselves today.


  1. I used to hear complaints that schools change the syllabus ever so slightly each year and parents have to buy new books very year instead of using hand-me-downs or recycled books. Now they are burning them! The book vendors must be laughing all the way to the banks.

  2. Hi there
    According to the organiser in the letter to the ST forum page, they burnt assessment books not the textbook.

    As you know the used workbook are always had the blanks filled in (as intended) so unless someone wants to take all the time to erase every page (of the pencil marks and their indent imprint) then the only recycling you can do is to recycle as paper.

    And it is not as if it is the Nazi book burning of 1933, it is just a way to relieve any frustrations in a visual and physical way for children who have at least another 6 years of cramming before University.

    Frankly although Australian (public) education system is less than ideal, I will not consider having my kids undergo streaming the way that I had since Primary 3.....