One father is more than a hundred schoolmasters

Yesterday was Father’s Day, a tradition first started in America in 1910 by Sonora Smart Dodd, in honour of her single parent father, the Civil War veteran William Jackson Smart, who reared his six children singlehandedly.

I searched online for quotes on ‘Fathers’. One quote that caught my attention is by 17th century British Poet, George Herbet who said, “One father is more than a hundred schoolmasters.”

George Herbet was educated in Trinity College, Cambridge. He excelled in music and literature. His scholarly talents were admired by King James and he served in the British Parliament. He also held a prominent position in Cambridge University and in the last part of his life, served as rector in a small parish in the Church of England. He was noted for his unfailing care for his parishioners, especially those who were ill or in need.

For a highly educated scholar who had received the best education available in Britian in his time, it must be something for him to declare that the father’s role is more important than a hundred schoolmasters.

I do not think he was referring to the academic aspect of education because as a student, he must have interacted with some of the best teachers and headmasters in Britian at that time, who certainly had more academic knowledge than his own father. He must have been referring to the holistic development of the child and how important the parents’ role is in this development, much more than what schools can teach to the child.

I recall the recent flurry of letters and online comments in response to Education Minister Heng Swee Kiat’s call for parents to relearn the way they teach their children. Mr Heng has asked parents to adapt to new teaching methods in Mathematics, particularly in problem solving at the primary school level. One writer responded by calling attention to the ‘arms race’ by schools and tuition centres in setting harder and harder Maths problems to show that they have the toughest test papers. Another writer criticised the unrealistic expectations put onto parents over their children’s ‘academic excellence’. She prefers to focus on helping her children have happy childhood memories and to develop them into good people and citizens.

 TODAY newspaper also carried an interview of Sony Board member and mentor-to-CEOs, Hsieh Tsun-Yan who amongst other things, shared his parenting philosophy. He and his wife decided they did not need to see their children’s report cards. To them, the report card is meaningless. They rather judge their children by what comes out of their education: “Are you well-mannered, are you making friends with the right people, are you thinking more about the world than about yourself, are you involved in community work, and making some modicum of contribution.” He also felt Singaporeans had become too preoccupied about elite schools, scholarships and the “pecking order of things”. These, he felt meant nothing on the global stage. For him, the important things are the inner resources of the person, the humility to learn and the resilience to pick oneself up after a setback.

Years of exercise in ranking and branding schools, as well as many streaming examinations to constantly sort students over the years into different buckets have created excessive stress. Education outcome has become measured by grades schools can churn out. Our society has now been conditioned to put a huge premium on academic achievements. This has caused many parents to push their children to develop themselves mainly in the academics.

It is timely this Father’s Day to remember that a very important role for parents is also to develop values and character in children, to give them the inner strength to see themselves through challenges the real world will throw at them in the future. A proverb from the Bible says, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.”

Parents can certainly do much more than schoolmasters. A belated Happy Father’s Day to all fathers out there.

Sticker Lady: Time to look at Streetart

Two years ago, when the MRT cabins were spray painted, I wrote an article to TODAY expressing the need for spaces to be set aside in which creative people can express their artistic desires in an orderly manner (

The recent arrest of the 25 year old lady, dubbed The Sticker Lady by netizens has sparked calls again on how we can better manage the desire for creative expressions in our society. I do not agree that one can express themselves as they wish on public property. However, we need to create enough spaces for people to express themselves. If we have such spaces and processes clearly spelt out, then those who defy the rules will have few excuses for what they do. Right now, our enviroment is too drab and sterile. Hence many people are openly supporting The Sticker Lady because they identify with the lighthearted nature she had gone about looking at our way of life. I certainly hope the authorities can apply a lighter touch to her case.

Moving forward, I feel the authorities can be more daring to allow designated public spaces to be set aside for public expressions of creativity. I suggest that postboxes, MRT cabins and selected void decks and street corners can be set aside for proper application by aspiring artists with design proposals to work on, subject to approval. Places like Youth Park where youths gather regularly will also be an ideal location for this.  If done in a proper manner, we can have a more creative and colourful Singapore without compromising the respect for law and order.

Additional comments:

After my posting, my parliamentary colleague, Mr Hri Kumar commented on my proposal to have an approval committee look at applications to use designated public spaces for art.

My response to that in my FB page is as follow: … I suggested having a committee to look at proposals by artists to use designated spaces is because I think Singapore is not yet at a stage where we can accept random art, as well as to screen for objectionable language or attacks against race/religion. I would have suggested letting it free for all in designated spaces but I think society needs time to progress to that stage. So a compromise is to have a review process and some space for creative expressions. It is a bit like us having Speakers Corner at Hong Lim Park. It is not a free-for-all. There are some rules and an application to be made in advance. Why can’t Hong Lim Park be like Hyde Park in London? Is Singapore ready for that?

Another additional thought that came to me is to have organisations like Singapore Post or our train operators commission The Sticker Lady to put up ‘approved’ stickers at PostBoxes and inside train cabins. It would certainly add spice to our lives and give us something to think about while we are commuting in our crowded trains. If crafted carefully, the messages might even be effective in our campaigns such as being courteous, promoting neighbourliness, speak good English, etc.