Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Ivy League Responds

Written by johnleemk on 9:04:16 am Apr 6, 2007.

Finally, a little scandal to brighten up my dreary days. After the obscenity of Ivy League, Here I Come, liz wong writes:

"Ivy League students bitching about the Malaysian school system very often" + all your other rants of similar vein.

wow, you really do generalize. either that or your entire article was targeted at me and the other guy from harvard. because i looked through the recom pages that you kindly archived for your readers - and, um, there were only two ivy league students on the thread as far i can tell. i think i only posted two posts in the entire thread. can't say the same for the harvard guy, but his posts only made up one-eight of the thread, at most. so... what's with the generalizing? or do the both of us make up all the "ivy league students" that you seem so continually obsessed about?

i like how you rant the fact that other people use a specific experience of theirs and assume that it to be true for the entire population, yet you do the exact same thing too.

congrats on dartmouth! welcome to the ivies! join the crowd of elite snobbish privileged students...

Initially I thought I must have made a mistake somewhere, because I couldn't remember making much reference to Ivy Leaguers (and for the record, I'm well aware that there weren't many Ivy Leaguers in the original thread). Then I doubled back and looked, and lo and behold, it turns out that somehow I had written of "Ivy League students" a few times in reference to the original thread.

So, statement of correction/clarification: "Ivy League students" should actually be read as "Ivy League university-calibre students", because most of those in the thread, if I'm not mistaken, were the sort who are clearly able enough to attend a university of Ivy League calibre.

Looking back at the original article, as well as its sequel, after a few instances of "Ivy League students", I switched to more general terminology that emphasises the fact that most students who get into Ivy League-calibre universities in the first place hail from an atypical educational background.

It strikes me that the Recom thread alone may not provide enough context, so to clarify further, while idly Googling my name last year, I stumbled upon a blog written by someone who had stumbled on this website and its criticisms of the education system. The blog contained several not-too-subtle attacks on my arguments and my person (mainly the latter) by both the blogger and commentors, including at least one statement expressing the author's wish to, if I recall correctly, shove a Kilometrico ballpoint pen into my eyeballs.

This blog (and although I have no way of determining this, I also assume the comments on it) was penned by an alumnus from one of our elite public schools. It's since been deleted, but anyway since it was private, even if it was public, I wouldn't link to it out of respect for the author's wishes.

What's troubling is not that there are many good graduates from our elite local schools, or that these people have made it into the world's finest universities. What's troubling is that many of these people seem incapable of understanding that not everyone has had the same kind of opportunities as them.

Of course, you can't really blame the uninformed for not knowing of their ignorance. But these people had been informed, and they chose to respond with personal attacks rather than actually asking why someone would go to the trouble of writing a draft book criticising the Malaysian education system.

I didn't understand at the time why there was so much misunderstanding about the nature of my criticisms, but after I went to a college and mixed with alumni of elite schools, especially public ones, I began to better understand why there had been such an uproar at Recom about my remarks on the education system.

Many alumni of our elite public schools simply aren't aware that not all public schools are like theirs. This isn't malicious; it's just blissful, serendipitous ignorance. The students of private schools at least understand that because they went to a private school, the education they received isn't typical of Malaysian education, but alumni of elite public schools often seem to be under the impression that they have received roughly the same quality of education and opportunities as anyone else.

Did I generalise? I don't think so — and even if I did, that's why I penned a follow-up — to clear the air and make my perhaps originally unclear statements more precise and accurate.

Finally, I don't think I need a welcome to the elite, snobbish crowd, since I've always been excessively privileged compared to my counterparts. It's just that somehow, I've ended up straddling the line between the bourgeouisie and the proletariat, thanks to my extraordinarily strange upbringing (not many people can say they've been to both a private school with expatriates, and also to a public school with kampung kids).

And it irks me to see people take the things they have for granted. I don't have anything against the people of privilege — they're welcome to their riches. But they shouldn't subtly discriminate against the non-elite by assuming everyone has the same opportunies and experiences as them.

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