On donation drives and the ACS spirit

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 aw_meng_yin@acsbr.moe.edu.sg. 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):

acs carnival 1

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?

NOTHING.

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 acsbr@moe.edu.sg 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.

34 Replies to “On donation drives and the ACS spirit”

  1. I attended the fun fair with two of my kids, and they thoroughly enjoyed myself. It is admirable to see how these young boys, primary and secondary level kids, organised themselves and ran their booths. I do find that the principal could have been kinder with his words, but perhaps the bluntness can serve to “wake up” those needing to be pushed. I have been through two fun fairs while in ACS, and while certainly fund-raising is an important objective (I still recall one of my principals characterising the fun fair as really a “fund fair”), the whole experience serves to enrich the students too, learning many soft skills, building bond and camaraderie between themselves, etc. The Best Is Yet To Be.

    1. I’m old school in many ways, and I’m tired of all this political correctness that’s going on in schools and companies. People online are complaining the principal did not write “diplomaticly” (yes, that’s how one guy spelled it) and he should be fired. We ACS boys grew up on heavy dosage of the hard truths from our discipline masters and teachers, and this letter was already pretty mild in my opinion.

  2. This fool of a woman don’t realise the practical value of this exercise carried out by ACS.
    I am 62 years old doing network marketing in Vietnam.
    I can tell you schools should have more of this kind of activities to build thick skins, persistence, and positive attitudes in boys.
    If they can”t even sell some coupons, how can they carve out a living in the real world?

  3. My husband and I were parent volunteers at the Carnival and it was such a positive experience seeing parents all rolling up their sleeves to do all things from manning stores, transporting food items, liaising and coordinating with suppliers right down to cleaning up after the event. For us, it is to live by example for our son – to pay it forward, and we had a very edifying experience. And my best reward, my son telling me he will want to come back to help even after he graduates ?. Indeed, the best is yet to be!!

  4. Very surprise to see so much support to the principal action.
    I do charity too, but it must be a ‘out of willingness’ to do it and not by fear or pressure.
    Instead of puttIng pressure on the kids, the principal should educate them or even set examples by selling the coupons to show the students that it can be done.

  5. The problem arises when the child has put in effort and is unable to raise much money and is made to feel bad. I think the letter could have been worded better. Just remind the parents to encourage their child to put in the due diligence. Anyways school spirit /school friends network is highly over rated. I mean as a businessman i am not going buy a product from a close friend just becos he is my close friend i am going to look for the best price for the product i need. I have never taken part in my school carnivals and put in just enough effort to sell the minimum sum of coupons and i refuse to sell more when asked. My teacher tried to “encourage” me but i still refused and told her i would rather spend time studying to ensure my grades can get me into jc when i leave.FYI I come from a top sec school with super strong school spirit .

    1. blanka, it’s your choice whether you wanted to work hard for your school carnival or not, and you made that choice. Same situation here – “can means can, cannot means cannot”.

    2. I’m sorry you did not feel the school spirit and also feel that your old school’s friends network is highly over-rated.

      I was given my first job because I was from ACS. I did have to put in lots of effort and hard work to not let the interviewer down.

      I had given employment to my juniors from ACS, simply because its stated in the employment application form they were from ACS, none of them let me down.

      I wouldn’t take lightly what an ACS old boy is trying to sell me. However, I want him to succeed. I will try to source for better competing product but I will not buy that product, I will inform him of his competitions product and see if he can offer the same and hoping that he can pay it forward, if its just a bit more expensive, I will gladly buy it. Because he is an ACS boy.

      In my dealings with ACS boys, be it personal or business, I’m happy to say I have never ever been let down.

      It might be hard for you to comprehend since you did not come from our school. You might see it as superficial and unfortunately.. you might not experience the ACS way. But the ACS way is very real.

      The best is yet to be.

  6. We helped out at the carnival. We didn’t feel pressurized to buy the tickets. It was great seeing the fathers and sons working together to raise funds for their school.

    My in-laws are grateful to the school for grooming their sons. They helped out at the stall and made donations.

    The school needs the funds to maintain / upgrade the facilities. There is no such thing as a free lunch.

  7. I suppose I’ll be labeled shortsighted and selfish, but the school shouldn’t be coercing its charges into raising funds for the school. If the boy really cannot raise any money, then so be it. Not everyone is cut out to be a salesperson, and not every family can afford to buy these tickets. I have heard that the school also provides an outlet for the boys to go sell tickets at a Methodist church on a Sunday as well, and I don’t think it’s fair to expect the boys to give up their weekend to help the school meet its target. I don’t think slinging mud at the poor boy and their families is reflective of a scholar or a gentleman.

    Also, nice echo chamber going on here.

    1. They gave up their Saturday for the carnival, but they got Monday as a holiday too. Not sure about the Sunday Methodist church outing, but was it a mandatory event?

      And before you say anyone is slinging mud, you can’t possibly sling mud at an anonymous STOMP user who may or may not be telling the truth.

  8. My son is a third-generation ACSian. His grandfather, uncle, auntie and myself came from ACPS, ACSS, ACJC, and MGS. You can imagine the number of times we were approached to donate, and we did. Request for donation was just once annually. Our family was a story of rags to fairly comfortable. Even in the days when we grew up in a 2-room flat several decades ago, we donated at least $20. This is because the ACSian spirit and can-do attitude (Hokkien: pak bui si) that the school and my teachers imbued in us are priceless. ACSians are confident, courageous and chivalrous. Thus it surprised me that the said mother (if she indeed exists) had resorted to surface this story to STOMP in an anonymous manner. We are taught in school to speak up and voice our opinions and disagreements. The boys’ father would have been an ACSian as most of them at ACSBR are. He should have stopped her and explain they could voice out to the Principal. Obviously the ACSian spirit did not rub off onto the mother. But in the first place, is this story real in the current climate? ACSians are not cowards and we do not resort to anonymity. And I see no wrong in the Principal’s letter in trying to be persuasive. ACS is not fully-funded and requires help from all of us.

    1. Hi Ian and Edmund, I read both the blog post and your comment, and I think you’ve pretty much got it spot on. This complain culture of the new generation (and their parents) really besmirches the ACS spirit. As an old boy like yourselves, it’s really depressing how some people are so self-absorbed that they fail to see the bigger picture.

      And at the end of the day, all I can say to these boys is that ACS didn’t choose to have them. THEY chose to join ACS. And if they’re not happy with how the school works, then they can jolly well find themselves another school to go to. And good riddance!

      Many outsiders only see ACS as a rich boy’s school, but what they don’t see are the lessons that ACS imparts to us – lessons like resilience, fortitude and compassion. Let the tongues wag all they want. I’m proud to be ACSian. Always have been, always will.

      The best is yet to be!

      1. Hi Eddie,

        Thanks for reading and your words of encouragement to the boys. Not all ACS old boys share our views though!

        But you know who does? Old boys who have become parents themselves. I was telling my P6 son last night – the ACS journey really becomes complete when you send off your son to ACS and impart the same values our teachers and principals taught us but in the home setting.

        One thing other people don’t understand or accept easily – ACS boys don’t apologize for who we are and the ideals we strive towards.

  9. No student present or past has ever been coerced to sell fun fair tickets. We all do our part to contribute back to our beloved school. In my days of schooling, I returned all tickets to my teacher as there was no takers. Did I try to sell the tickets? Of course not-hence no sales. But for the last fun fair, I bought the full $200 booklet. No question asked. Why? Because this is my school and I’m from ACS.

    1. In response to William – I’m sure the school staff including the principal would have either bought tickets, sold tickets, or donated items for the carnival. I’m an ex-teacher from a school that does fund raising too and we were always encouraged to set the example and our principals past and present have also been setting that example.

      In response to Blanka, perhaps if you had taken part in your school’s carnival, you would have felt more of the “school spirit” and not think it overrated. It certainly speaks volumes about your individualistic perspective! It sure does not take a lot more time just to ask a few extra people to donate! I suppose that’s the same sad reality about students selling flags for charity too…that it’s a waste of time rather than it being a way to help someone or an organization wishing to help a need.

      In response to TacoBot, any event that is outside of school hours would require a parental consent form. No student nor parent is forced to consent to it. The visit to the church is usually an additional help for students who may not have friends or relatives to sell to but would have really liked to help. Again, that’s about the attitude difference, not because they are coerced.

      As with everything, both parties, parent and principal could have done things differently. But, what this incident has done for me is to highlight how different parents and students are now compared with our time. Something for us to think about as we raise the next generation of Singaporeans.

  10. To add on, the parent should know that independent or government-aided schools will always face this situation of having to raise funds, so if she has chosen to put her son in the school to enjoy the current facilities and programmes made able by past donors and fund-raising carnivals, would it be too much to expect the student to contribute his best for the school and future generations of students? Again, it causes us to ponder how we are raising our next generation – whether as contributing citizens or self-centres ones. By the way, I forgot to mention that I was an ACSian (JC) and proud to be one.

    1. Mrs Tan you are still an ACSsian(JC) we all are! I have left school since 1972 but my cohorts are still in contact with each other and the ACS Spirit is still very much alive in us. Remember, born in ACS forever will be ACSian too! So drop the ‘was’ please!

    1. Thanks for your comments, Mrs Tan, much appreciated. It’s a sad world we live in today with the attitudes you pointed out, but there are still many ACS boys and girls who refuse to back down for the principles (and principals) we believe in. There’s still hope yet.

  11. Refusing to buy school funfair tickets from a relative or friend is like saying No to a relative/friend trying to sell you insurance…you end up feeling lousy and miserly through no fault of your own- and it’s not even a product you want or need in the first place!

    Please- if you want to train your boys to acquire a thick skin, there are many other ways to do so. Don’t sully ties among family and friends just for this. We aren’t the ones who asked you to send your sons there in the first place.

    1. Then you might want to consider developing a thick skin too in saying no to something you don’t wish to donate to or purchase. I say no often to friends who want to sell me insurance, and there are no hard feelings between us. You always have a choice and nobody’s forcing you to buy it. Same thing for the kids – if they really don’t want to (or cannot) sell the tickets, they can just return all the tickets. As long as they know they tried. No need to “sully ties” among friends and families at all, if you recognize their effort and the kids accept your refusal. This is life – people will always come to you with requests and it’s your call how to react.

      And you’ll never know who will ask you for a donation next, so don’t assume it’s only kids from ACS who will do so.

      1. Oh don’t worry- I have made plenty of donations to organisations which don’t have the luxury of bringing Maseratis and Ferraris into their fundraising efforts????

        1. Like I wrote, the sentence in the letter about Ferrari and Maseratis is probably not too appropriate but I don’t have an issue with it. The parents who owned those cars brought them to the school for photo-taking to raise funds as well, and it’s the good intentions that count. I can never afford a supercar but I don’t begrudge those who do – they’ve earned their keep and they can own whatever car they want. People get upset with this because of the materialism it may convey, but again, like I wrote – most of the attendees I saw didn’t really bother about it either. It’s not like you don’t see Ferraris, Maseratis, McLarens, Porsches on our roads, they’re just about everywhere this days in the world’s most expensive city. I admire them if they drive past, because they are beautiful cars, and then I carry on.

          And again, if you don’t like a particular organisation, it’s your choice not to donate to it.

  12. Fund raising is not the issue.

    Teachers do not share enough to have the students WANT TO raise funds. They have too much routine work to do.

    All they do is to have the boys sign for the coupons and instruct them to go sell the lot. Yes, they may not say “you must sell all”
    But how would you feel if I told you to go collect money in exchange for some coupons for the purpose of extending my home?

    perhaps you may ask:

    – whats in it for me?

    So that you develop into a scholar & gentleman?
    What is a scholar & a gentleman in the minds of teenagers or younger?
    I become a scholar & gentleman by selling coupons?

    There is an absence of “buy-in”.
    That is why some feel the “pressure”

    My grandfather, father, brothers, cousins, my sons and I are ASCians.
    But through all the generations, we disliked fund raising particularly because the lack of joining the dots.

    Dont get me started on founder’s day dinner.

    1. As a student raising funds and feeling unhappy then about the entire exercise, I didn’t really ask “What was in it for me?” However I was given a task and I did my best to sell whatever I could. I never contributed very much because my family wasn’t rich but I was happy just to turn in a card that I had filled up as much as I could.

      As an adult today, I’m not wringing my hands over it as some people do, because it’s over and done with, and it was merely part of the many many experiences I had in ACS.

      1. As parents all of us want the best for the kids.

        Parent & child would also want to support the school.
        But we should not do it based purely on blind support either.
        So, the school wants a new annex, building, laboratory, pool etc. Fine.

        We have questions:
        What is wrong with the current situation?
        What projections have been done in terms of student population?
        What is the current financial situation of the school?
        What grants can be used from the Gov?

        This is where critical thought comes in.
        This is the value.
        This is a teachable/ learning moment.

        Lets not do things just because it is our school
        Lets do it because we understand.

        We need to ask more rather than mere sheep, shallow and appearing to be involved.

        1. Haha, I’m not sure whether you’re from ACS, but mindless and shallow sheep is the last thing to call the boys and their fathers.

          1. Ian, I think you got your blinkers on. Wilson makes a very good point, a lot of times ACS just fund raises as a matter of routine.

            For those of us used to it, we do not question. But maybe we should. Do you know that the refurbishment of Monk’s Hill Secondary to turn it into ACS Junior was more costly than just demolishing and rebuilding anew? And the resulting building was still not optimal?

            I’ve read the letter in it’s entirety, and to me there seems to be a significant emphasis on reaching the $300K goal. I can see why the mother may have gotten the wrong idea.

            And to be honest, the “Maserati and Ferrari” choice of words by the principle is highly unfortunate. ACS is accused all around of elitism. For starters, ACS(I) chartering MRT trains. So I hope administrators do not pour fuel on the fire.

  13. Thanks for making your posts public, Ian and also to Leslie, for speaking up for Mr Peter Tan. I still don’t understand the ruckus over the letter. I have two boys in ACS and I get that fundraising is voluntary. I always give what I could afford to. I went to a Catholic school and every year we raised funds for different purposes including new buildings benefiting the young girls that enrolled long after I graduated. Till this day, I still get friends telling me they want to send their daughters there because of the existing facilities.
    And being a parent, I wouldn’t have posted the letter even if I was unhappy. That thought makes me wonder if the person behind the post was even genuinely a parent with sons in the school? My gut feel would be posting on such undesirable sites will only cause problems to the school management. Many parents of ACS students give their precious time and energy as volunteers to the events like the cross country run and the carnival. Thank you to those who helped the kids for the carnival.

  14. Letter From An ACS Father To His ACS Son

    Dear Son

    I write you from beautiful Spring in Arlington, Virginia. Under a cool 18 degrees clear skies, one can see the memorials of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln in the distance.

    As a cadet, I had jogged inumerous times through the shortcuts from Fort Lesley McNair to the read the inscriptions of individual headstones. Purple Hearts, Medal of Valour, Civil War Heroes, Challenger plaque; how young they when died ! How brave they were !

    Arlington reminded me of the fragility of life, the certainty of our mortal coil and the definitive time we shall meet our maker. These young boys, knowing that death would eventually befall them in battles, joined combat for the greater causes that transcended worldly possessions. The volley of rifle shots, hymns and the accompanying band during a military funeral bequeath me á sense of inner calm and inspiration. This has always been the favourite place for me.

    I have not been the most perfect father, but the most joyous decision that I had made was to enrol you into ACS. What makes ACSians different? What makes those Arlington boys special?

    My professor, who is a foremost military strategies thinker, knows much about your school. I have often shared with him how Oldham, an Indian born British-American missionary of the United States Methodist Episcopal Church founded ACS to be a place of refugee for young illiterate boys in Chinatown and to teach English to all regardless of race, creed or class.

    In those days, Chinatown was the first stop for immigrants from China. It was not a safe place. Crime-laden, rats-infested and opium den-populated; a far cry from the Padang area where the British setup an elite school to train young mandarins as future local administrators to perpetuate colonial rule and to pacify the local population.

    Your grandfather was a young immigrant from China. First enrolled with ACS Continuation School (Coleman Street) and then Oldham Methodist School (Cairnhill), he learned English by night and repaired bicycles by day in Hill Street. Later he succeeded in gaining a chartered accountant qualification and rose through the ranks of a large local bank.

    Your father, me, was initially to be enrolled in a Chinese school in Queen Street. Grandpa was a Chinese culture and language loyalist. But he judged the British-trained local administrators would surely, at independence, demolish the Chinese system schools as part of power play.

    As well, for Singapore to succeed as a young nation, we must be the best of East and West. The “Anglo” and the “Chinese” in your school name exemplified this view succinctly. The school name did not celebrate or worship any colonialist. ACS was a reach-out and outreach by Westerners to Orientals. Me and your uncle were registered for ACPS in Coleman Street across the road from the old shop houses where grandpa earlier worked. Over 6 years, we commuted from Tanglin Halt to Coleman Street and later Barker Road (ACSS).

    – To be con’td –

  15. Part Two: Letter From An ACS Father To His ACS Son

    Before I heave a last breath and take the train to glory, like all eventually would, I like to pen down for and to you what makes ACSians different. The following points might appear to be religious-driven; the ACS brand of education (an ecosystem of dedicated teachers, old boys and girls, chapel worship service, sermons, camaraderie and school leaders) underlies the fundamental difference between ACSians and non-ACSians.

    1) Many schools inculcate the values of passion, compassion, excellence, character, resilience, tenacity, courage, leadership, enterprise, integrity and more. ACS imbues beyond these individual character attributes to include forgiveness, renunciation of violence, unconditional love, stewardship, fidelity, brotherhood, humility, servant leadership, justice, peace, righteousness, faith, hope, thankfulness, grace, ideals and friendship. These are individual as well as group and community values;

    2) Many ACS families started off several decades and a century and a half ago in Singapore penniless. Through diligence and discipline and the belief that the best we put in shall pay off, each succeeding generation of ACSians fared better than the previous. The ACS motto – “The Best Is Yet To Be” reminds us that we should not believe that we have arrived and succeeded in a better age. That sort of latter mind-set lapses us into absolute complacency and self-conceitedness. Instead, no matter what we do, we must believe one will not hit the best and we shall need to strive further and better not only for our society but also for our maker;

    3) ACSians do not have a sense of entitlement. We neither believe that the inheritance we received from our parents and grandparents and the assets of landed properties or fast cars are a permanent landscape, nor should we apologise for having inherited them. These are just the outcomes of their diligence and practising doing their very best. I do not want you to take your inheritance for granted. You should believe and rely only on Providence. The present day assumption that good PSLE, “O” or “A” level grades entitle us to fast track careers and high offices later in life is a misguided understanding and application of meritocracy. Education and learning enables social mobility; not report cards;

    4) No ACSian shows off outlandishly. We do not steal, shift funds, manipulate accounts, or commit fraud. We do not take what is not ours. ACSians are low key. The headline grabbers in recent times came mostly from a single school. ACSians did not seek publicity; it was journalists for want of work to fill their spaces sensationalised and over-generalised ACS most of the time;

    4) ACSians do not look down or speak ill of each other in school. Every class will have students from GCB properties to 2-room flats. We have boys who had travelled widely and some who could not due to economic circumstance. In 1970, my classmate whose parents own a 40,000 sq feet GCB in the Holland area invited me, your uncle and your grandma to his house, notwithstanding knowing we were staying in Tanglin Halt then. Preaching of egalitarianism, the value of treating all the same, in ACS stems from teachings that otherwise shall be sinful. Recently my classmates had a reunion. Present were high court judges, hospital specialists, university dean, lawyers, bankers, entrepreneurs, unemployed, the healthy and the ill. The sense of brotherhood, the joy of meeting again was immense. We did not care for each other’s current status; we reminisced our ACS experience. By JC 2, the ACSian bonding is like 6 times that of NS. By retirement, the ACSian spirit is multiplied by a factor of almost 25 times NS;

    5) Our belief that all blessings come from the maker each and every day accords us a degree of inner calm and confidence. In failure, ACSians are not down-trodden. In defeat, we are not lamenting. In tragedy, we celebrates life. In sorrow, we offers comfort. ACSians are taught to believe that there is a time and season for everything. That there will be war and peace; love and hate; joy and sadness; birth and death; lost and found; mourn and dance; built and destroyed. That not everything in life will always go our way. And not every outcome explainable. Inspite of imperfections, chaos and calamities, we give thanks for the little blessings that are bestowed upon us.

    6) Above worldly possessions and academic grades, ACSians champion the underdog and revolt against injustice, authoritarianism, hypocrisy and falsehood; always seeking to be examples of truth and light. ACSians keep to ourselves, our families, our church, our alma mater and our charity. We serve society in small little ways. ACSians are not overwhelmingly spectacular in our academic results. But we shall fight for the greater causes even if these shall command our sacrifice. If ACSians go down following the footsteps of Washington, Lincoln and Jefferson; it would have been worth the short but meaningful life, instead of being an ordinary mortal soul;

    7) Being an ACSian is to think and behave differently in a way that complies us with Christian teaching and philosophy of Oldham. Our sense of calmness is interpreted by others as aloofness. Our assertiveness towards right and wrong is viewed as aggressiveness. Our speaking up and voicing our opinion is labelled as arrogance. Our brotherhood and camaraderie is read as elitism. Our reliance on Providence is considered detachment. We cannot change the perception of others. But we can increase the opportunity for many to experience the ACS brand of education. One way is to expand campuses in Singapore to the north and west. Until the authorities, who fear sparking a campus building race, can grant consent, more who failed to get their child enrolled will critique the school as elitist and will seek to tear down the ecosystem that makes the ACSian experience different. After the 5Cs of material pursuit, a Classy School is viewed as the 6th C. These parents desires ACS as another luxury collectible. Materialism breeds jealously, envy and contempt. It encourages equalism – “pulling down others to level up”, a tipping point towards communism revival;

    8) A Scholar, an Officer and Gentleman – Every ACSian, a young Gentleman of character towards each other and society; Educated Scholar and ready for the future, always an Officer of Christ. So far, very few commentators have understood this phrase completely.

    So, my son, you now understand why my professor remarked that ACSians are like a Band of Brothers, with courage, valour and gumption, helping Saving Private Ryan to the end. Those with a sense of worldly entitlement would decry Saving Private Ryan as stupidity and illogical. But we are different. We think there are causes worthwhile; that even though we will die, yet we shall live.

    ACS is the best mini example of soft power in international relations and political-military doctrine.

    Vive Liberté, égalité, fraternité
    Vive ACS Forever
    The Best Is Yet To Be

    Dad

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