Opinion
Education Opinion

Singapore’s City Upon a Hill

By Anthony J. Mullen — April 16, 2010 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Massachusetts

Someplace near where the pilgrims first landed.

Quite a few critics of the American system of education are kept busy seeking “A City Upon a Hill” on foreign shores. One such country is Singapore. After all, Singaporean students rank 1st in the world in mathematics on the latest TIMSS (U.S. students rank 16th) and Singapore boasts a nation of high performing students and excellent schools. Could Singapore be the City Upon a Hill that Puritan leader John Winthrop described while giving a speech aboard the ship Arbelle en route to the Massachusetts Bat Colony? Maybe. But Winthrop was careful to remind his fellow pilgrims that such a city would be carefully watched by “the eyes of all people” and warned of the accusation of hypocrisy should his weary and seasick flock not practice what was taught in the Good Book.

Singapore will be hosting a major education conference in September and has invited distinguished scholars and teachers from throughout the world to share ideas and presentations. One such distinguished teacher is Susan Elliot, the 2009 Colorado State Teacher of the Year and one of four finalists for the 2009 National Teacher of the Year (I may have pulled the sword from the stone but Susan will always best me as Lancelot did Arthur).

Susan Elliot has spent three decades in education and taught thousands of students. She is bright, articulate, and has a great sense of humor. She teaches social studies and history to mainstream and hearing-impaired students-all in the same classroom. Her unique ability to teach social studies and history to both “regular” and hearing-impaired students in the same classroom is a remarkable display of master teaching. Susan is the perfect educator to help represent America’s teachers and deserves a key to this Asian City Upon a Hill.

Susan was excited about traveling to Singapore and sharing her ideas and experiences about methods that could develop the potential of all students to become independent, self-supporting and contributing members of society. And then came her dismissal.

Once the Singapore education officials discovered that Susan was hearing-impaired, they retracted her invitation. The so-called discovery and subsequent retraction of her invitation was an act of disingenuous statesmanship because the Singapore education officials knew all along that Susan was deaf. The official in charge of inviting and then disinviting Susan attributes the mistake to miscommunication. Wait a minute. Singapore is renowned for its academic prowess; surely the highly educated official could read a simple biography that very clearly noted Susan was hearing-impaired. The Singapore education system may be perched on a higher hill than the American system but something is not quite right.

Susan Elliot sent a few emails to Singaporean education officials, hoping the “miscommunication” was itself a miscommunication and the whole matter an innocent mistake. She had to defend her disability and remind conference officials that America’s teachers and children are a diverse lot.

How did the Singapore officials respond? Susan was wished a successful future but remains persona non grata at the conference.

The Singapore system of education may be the envy of TIMSS groupies, and from a distance the city appears brightly lit in the night sky. But a peek behind the city walls reveals a flawed and ignorant culture of education.

Maybe, just maybe, Americans came in 16th place on the TIMSS because we are willing to carry a much heavier load. A weight gladly held by teachers such as Susan Elliot.

As I glance out at the cold Atlantic Ocean I think about the pilgrims huddled on a small ship, listening to John Winthrop preach about what it takes to create a City Upon a Hill. Singaporean education officials should heed Winthrop’s warning, lest their country be viewed as hypocrites in “the eyes of all people.”

Oh, by the way, if any teacher would like to email the education official who disinvited one of America’s top teachers, please send a message to Ms. Lynn Koh.

Her email is: KOH_Lee_Leng@moe.gov.sg

Great news! The many caring and compassionate teachers and parents of Singapore’s children have made their voice heard. Susan will be going to Singapore!

I would like to thank all the people who wrote to the education officials and helped to get Susan invited to Singapore. Teachers and parents share a universal understanding of right and wrong and have helped right a bad decision. Below is a very sincere email from the conference committee. I thank them for inviting Susan back to their wonderful country.


Dear Dr Lim

Thank you for your feedback.

The withdrawal of our invitation to Ms Susan Elliot was a mistake on our part. It arose from our misunderstanding about the need for interpreters and her professional experience. The chairman of the Organising Committee has since contacted Ms Elliot and spoken to her personally to convey our sincere apologies. We should have clarified these matters before making the decision. Ms Elliot has accepted our apology and the Organising Committee is delighted that she will participate at the Teachers’ Conference in September. We look forward to her contributions in making the Conference a success.

Ms Sucillia Sukiman
Secretary
Teachers’ Conference 2010 Organising Committee

The opinions expressed in Road Diaries: 2009 Teacher of the Year are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP