I was looking forward to visiting the ACS Barker Carnival today with my family when I read the most distasteful story in the Straits Times titled “Carnival tickets: Students feel sales pressure“.
An upset housewife had uploaded the principal’s letter (original PDF here) to STOMP (no, I don’t link to hate-filled sites) and claimed that she couldn’t sleep over the letter as she felt that the students were being forced to donate.
Extracts from the principal Peter Tan’s letter :
As of last Thursday, we have achieved a third of our targeted amount of $300,000. Your son/ward was told to bring in all cash/cheque proceeds from sales today. I hope that as parents, you have been checking with your son/ward on his efforts. As I told the boys, their effort in selling coupons reflect on their attitude.
It is less of an issue of “rich” friends or relatives, but their willingness to step-out of their comfort zone. A student I spoke with this morning said he did not try to contact or speak to any of his relatives, though knowing that even if they are unable to attend, the coupons will be donated to needy families living in 1-room rental flats in the Moulmein-Kallang GRC and also families supported by Prison Fellowship. I told the student that his effort would bring some joy to people who have far less than he has. I wonder if your son/ward is like him? My concern is that this lack of drive becomes a habit in him that will not do him any good.
In contrast, we have boys who have sold over $600 worth of coupons because they want to do their best! These boys, some of whom are also from financially challenged families, made the effort to speak to everyone they could and most Singaporeans would not mind parting with $10 if they know that it is going to make someone else happy.
We will know how your son/ward has done. They were reminded before the recent long week-end to complete their sales and bring the cash/cheques in today and I am hopeful they will not let themselves down. By this Wednesday, all cash/cheques and coupons must be returned.
All coupons not returned by Wednesday would be considered sold. Please note that your son/ward will need coupons for himself on that day so that he can enjoy the Carnival too. We would recommend that he has at least $50 worth of coupons for use on that day.
….As I shared earlier, aside from raising funds through Carnival ACS 5, the larger objectives of the Carnival are to develop the entrepreneurial spirit of our young men. Thus, the efforts they put into planning, sourcing for resources, selling their coupons and engaging people to patronize their Games or Food stalls are all part of the learning experience.
…In addition to this, the Carnival is an excellent opportunity for old boys, parents and well-wishers to come to the school. This year, as part of SG50 ACtS, we will, besides hosting needy families, be hosting our Retired ACS Teachers. Fathers who studied at the various ACS schools can look forward to the possibility of bumping into some of the teachers who taught you. So, we look forward to seeing you with your friends and relatives at the Carnival!!!
In expectation of the good effort and the long hours all staff and students will have to put in on Carnival Day, Monday, 13 April will be a recovery day and school holiday. This week will be the final push for all of us to make a significant difference in raising the funds that will be necessary for us to make Carnival ACS 5 a success, and I look forward to your support and seeing you that day.
Finally, if you find now that you are able to help in any way during the Carnival, please contact Mrs Aw Meng Yin, Vice-Principal, either at 6256-1633 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Extra pairs of hands ready and willing to help that day would be great! For instance, we have a parent who has offered to drive in his Ferrari and Maserati to add to the Carnival atmosphere on that day. We still need parents to assist in picking-up and dropping-off food items over the course of the day, so even if you have a few hours, do step up to make Carnival ACS 5 a great success!
In the ST article that was published online too (funny how they didn’t put this story behind their usual paywall):
When contacted by The Straits Times, the housewife, who declined to be named to protect her sons, said: “The letter worked me up so much that I couldn’t sleep. You cannot force people to donate.”
The mother said: “My boys approached relatives, but they did not want to buy. One of my sons was so stressed he wanted to buy the tickets using his own savings but I told him not to do so.” She said it was “too much” to expect each boy to buy $50 worth of tickets as it is not a small sum.
Responding on behalf of the principal, ACS (Barker) vice-principal John Wu said: “There is no compulsion for students to sell or buy up all their coupons.” He told The Straits Times that funds raised would support various school programmes and improvement works. Mr Wu added that the school has “always ensured that students understand the significance of the school’s fund-raising efforts as a way to make a difference and give back to society”.
You know, no student really likes to get involved in donation drives, whether they’re from ACS or not. It takes extra effort to ask relatives or strangers for money, and you get worried whether you’ll get chastised for not being able to fill up the donation card.
My nephew came up to me during CNY to sell the Carnival tickets and I bought $20 worth, even though I had just given him a CNY ang-pao. The young man looked embarrassed to be asking for donations, but I was happy to donate to my alma mater and absolve his sheepishness. This same scene probably played out thousands of times during the CNY period with other ACS Barker and Primary school students.
What annoys me about this ST story is how the key newsmaker (the housewife) is kicking up a fuss over a letter (which I didn’t have an issue with, because I bothered to read it several times), and how she chose to deal with her unhappiness.
In case you didn’t know, ACS has been in the news decades ago for promoting “snobbishness” and “elitism”. Being criticised by the press and public is nothing new to ACS, yet the places in the various schools remain highly sought after by parents.
I’m not going to go into all that.
But to this upset mother, I have a few thoughts to share as an old boy of ACS.
Talk things over like adults
ACS boys are taught to aspire to be “a scholar, an officer and a gentleman”.
No real scholar, officer or gentleman uses STOMP – where people upload photos of people sleeping in MRT seats because they didn’t dare to confront them themselves, or post all sorts of videos of base human behavior in our fine city.
No major commercial brand wants to be associated with this “citizen journalism” site, and its existence remains an embarrassment to just about every hardworking press journalist in SPH who works hard for his/her byline.
If you’re not happy with the principal’s letter, go talk to him. Or at least your sons’ teachers.
Boys do need to get out of their comfort zone
Like I said, nobody likes to ask for donations.
But it builds a thicker skin and greater confidence in young people to ask for money in a one-way transaction. One of the most important mantras I learned in the working world is to “ask for help if you need help” and another one is “if you don’t ask, you don’t know.”
It’s unbelievable when the mother claims that none of her relatives wanted to donate. Either the family has really heartless, miserly individuals, or her boys didn’t try hard enough…or maybe they didn’t even ask. Who knows? But COME ON.
And where do you think the vast infrastructure and resources of ACS schools came from? Generations of ACS boys asked for donations, or gave donations. It sure didn’t come from sitting around, complaining and waiting for handouts from the Govt.
As grumpy students with donation cards, we couldn’t possibly predict what the school would evolve into, but as adults we now see the fruits of our past donation drives, and will heartily give back for all the good memories and solid upbringing ACS provided us.
(12 April update: There are folks saying that the entire extended family of the housewife could be very poor and I didn’t give them benefit of the doubt. That could be true but we don’t know either. If selling the coupons was a real impossibility, well, just read on.)
No need to lose sleep over this lah
So you want your boys to go out and be successful in this world like many ACS alumni but you lose sleep over a donation drive and a principal’s rather direct way of asking the students to buck up on their efforts?
What would happen to the school if they failed to meet their fund-raising targets?
They would not be able to carry out some programs as planned but it’s not the end of the world. There’s always another year to raise funds.
What would happen to your child if he didn’t manage to sell any tickets?
There are far more important things to lose sleep over in the world, my dear woman.
Some critics online are focused on the principal’s use of “Ferrari and Maserati” in the letter, saying it promotes crass materialism.
Ok, I agree maybe that was not very appropriate, but I saw the Ferrari at the Carnival and it was being used to raise donations if you take a photo with it. By the way, not many people bothered to take a photo with the supercar, since you can do the same in many CBD carparks for free.
We’re pragmatic too ok?
In any case, I hope the housewife and her sons enjoyed the carnival today. We had a good time there despite the sweltering heat, and met quite a few old friends.
Thousands of other people sweated it out, and put in all their blood and tears into an event they won’t forget for the rest of their lives. You can see all the fun photos here on the carnival’s blog page.
Finally – The Best Is Yet To Be.
Postscript 12 April 2014
This post has been shared widely on social media and received different responses from agreement to criticism. I would like to share another Facebook post from Leslie Tan, a parent of an ACS Barker boy to provide more context. Leslie, I hope you don’t mind me sharing this.
Mr Peter Tan, the principal of ACS (Barker Rd), is a good man.
My Sec 1 son is in ACS (Barker). No boy is celebrated for raising the most money; no boy is humiliated for not raising any. There was no pressure to sell the tickets. You just do your best.
When I was in ACS, I benefited from the generosity of generations past. Now that my sons are in the school, we donate so that the generations to come can benefit.
I say Peter is a good man. Why? Because in a talk he gave to parents, he showed that he cares about the boys; that he cares about parents, especially fathers, spending time with their children. He cares about the boys doing their best, and having discipline.
Since the start of the school year, he has written nine letters to parents. He takes equal delight in the achievements of boys from both the Normal and Express streams. He bothers to highlight the good and worthy actions of boys. Perhaps the letter that went viral could have been phrased differently, but we all make mistakes, and we should judge a man by the length and breadth of his record, and not by just one letter.
He is a teacher at heart and will probably keep doing what he does until he loses the remaining 10% of his eyesight. With his wife also nursing an illness, a lesser man, a less courageous man, a less dedicated man, would have stepped down long ago.
We stand with him, because he embodies all that is good about ACS.
To God be the glory.
The best is yet to be.
FYI, I have emailed the school at email@example.com if they still need donations to meet their targets and will send in a cheque if they do need help. Fellow brothers and sisters, please consider doing the same.