Sunday, January 29, 2006

Reinventing the V.I.

clock tower, originally uploaded by mincaye.

Thanks to the Malaysian upper-secondary History syllabus, students are doomed to remember George Santayana's words, "Those who cannot remember history are doomed to repeat it."

I believe this will only result in throwing out the baby with the bathwater. The point that's constantly hammered in, seems to be that we learn history in order to avoid the mistakes of the past. Hardly any mention is made of keeping and perpetuating what is good.

In recent years, there have been many changes in my school, the Victoria Institution. It is becoming less and less distinct, especially with the construction of the new hostel blocks and the influx of rural students brought in under the government's FELDA distribution scheme.

What becomes of a premier school if meritocracy is not enforced? For this reason, many of my seniors have declared that they have given up on the V.I. Word has it that the 'glory days' are long gone.

But a thought came to me yesterday; one that gives me hope that the V.I. is not lost.

I have mentioned before that the school Christian Fellowship scene is undergoing some major revolutions, and Nigel commented that these changes seem to be cyclic. I believe something similar is happening to the V.I.

When I entered the school in 2000, I found out (as everyone did) that it was run almost entirely by the students. Teachers had very little control or authority over clubs and societies, and so this power was often exploited by the students.

Over the years, the teachers have been taking their revenge. One by one, the boards have been 'retaken' by the teachers; along the way, many students were sacked from their posts and replaced with those chosen by the teachers.

This is very complicated (unless you witnessed it yourself); suffice it to say that the school is increasingly being run by the teachers now.

In fact, as recently as Friday, there was word that the school administration was planning to shut the Prefects' Room during school hours, stripping them of one of their most valuable assets/privileges.

However, beneath and behind all this, I think there is another battle going on. I'm not sure if the following will come across clearly, but I will try.

There has always been, in the V.I., something known as tradition. Back in the days when I was a junior, we learned the 'traditions' from our seniors. Or at least, their version of it. To many of them, the V.I. would be nothing without these.

Now, most of the traditions were bad, and used by the seniors as a means to exploit their juniors and usurp the authority of the teachers. Even the 'V.I. Spirit' was a corrupted hypocritical ideology. And seniority became a pecking-order, caste-like thing.

So it comes as no surprise that the teachers intervened. But in reclaiming their power and authority, they have erased virtually the entire past of the V.I., both good and bad. Hence the opinion of the seniors that the V.I. is going down the drain.

The following words were spoken of T.S. Eliot, when he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature:

[For you, Mr Eliot,] Tradition is not a dead load which we drag along with us, and which in our youthful desire for freedom we seek to throw off. It is the soil in which the seeds of coming harvests are to be sown, and from which future harvests will be garnered.

I am convinced that the V.I. has many more years in her yet. For 113 years the V.I. has maintained its colossal position in the education scene of the country, and it has always been driven by a force of tradition that transcends the petty 'traditions' of the generations.

People like Mr Chung Chee Min and Kok Kin are living evidence of this. They have inspired me to serve the school as they did, and have imbued me with a love for the school and its history, which neither my seniors nor my teachers did.

And now, as the Editor-in-Chief of the Victorian Editorial Board, I feel a burden to pass this legacy on to my juniors. This board, alone of all boards (save maybe the Seladang Editorial Board) is still holding on to its independence.

Indeed, the teachers and school administration are already beginning to show signs that they want to conquer even this plot of land, but then again, I am not like other people.

Perhaps this is why I was exposed to Brian McLaren's ideas: so that I would be prepared to reinvent the board in order to resist domination by the school. And God has provided the board with a new advisory teacher who is our ally in this.

These are difficult times, and I dare not say that the Victorian is the final outpost defending the tradition of the V.I. But it is certainly one of the few remaining pockets of resistance.

Mordecai the Jew said to Queen Esther of Persia, "And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?" Perhaps this is why I have been put here. Perhaps this is my purpose as the editor this year.

I don't know for sure. But I do know two things: that there is hope for the V.I., and that it rests squarely in the hands of those who remember the good in its past, and who strive to redeem the school from itself.


-conRad- said...

Although I'm not a true Victorian, I know what you mean. I've seen the subtle changes ( ok, maybe the changes are not so subtle ! ).
Maybe there should be an article in the Victorian about the fading traditions and how it must not be misused.
I'm all for the traditions but most seniors have used it as a means for their own pleasure.
Forming a club may save these traditions. A club that focuses on practicing and preserving these traditions ( I think la ? )
The thing is, the current students have to realise that they are the problem. The have lost the trust to run the school. They seem much more immature.
I'm not that sure you'll agree with me because there may be somethings that I have said that clashes with what a Victorian would think or do.
As far as I know, the students have to change and prove that they are capable to turn the school around.
VI hasn't lost it's respect and prominence in Malaysia. However it is slowly chipping away. There is still time to piece everything back to the way it was. Glory, Glory Victoria !
When I came to Victoria, never had I so much school spirit.Glory, Glory Victoria ! :)
A bit too semangat already. :)

-conRad- said...

Yes Ben, I know there are a few errors in my post. Forgive me as I was hastily typing it . :)

lishia said...

*eagerly joins in* "Glory, glory VICTORIA!!..."

...yea, just like Conrad, before coming into VI, i was totally school-spirit-less...

Anonymous said...

Tradition... bah!! As far as I see, NONE of them were good.