The 'Elitist Mentality'

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

I was rather concerned when I read this post on how some people view others purely based on their educational background.

Perhaps what struck me worse than the generalised opinion that the ‘product’ of certain educational institutions are destined for a career in the bottom rungs of the rat race society is the fact that there are some who are ready to write them off as not being able to perform as well as (if not better) than those who have been through the ‘accepted’ norms of higher tertiary education.

Based on this fact alone, if the biasness is already there, do we even take into account their personal characters? Do we discount the fact that everyone are human beings by birthright, and thus, need to build their own characters, so as to survive in society?

Truth be told, this ‘Elitist Mentality’ is one that many people are guilty of, and it doesn’t even need to be nurtured to flourish.

When I was searching for a suitable preschool for the boy, I wasn’t really surprised to note that many people recommended ‘high-end’ ones. One of the most interesting arguments that I have encountered was that a parent chose to enrol the kid in a well-known school simply because there seems to be less chance of her children mixing around with other kids from dubious backgrounds. At that time, when I first heard of this avenue of thought, I wondered out loud to the husband what exactly is the definition of a ‘dubious background’. Are the elite rich (or those who can afford to send their kid to an expensive school) exempt from this select group of people? Does it mean that a rich man’s kid is less likely to engage in fights, and playground bullying? Are they less likely to instigate mischief or create trouble?

The husband, in his usual dismissive way, laughed and said: “I would rather he mixes around with riff-raffs and be exposed to the ‘real’ world, rather than be wrapped up in a bubble of greenbacks, rainbows and roses. It is our duty as parents to then steer him in the right direction, and make sure that while he is aware of the world in all its dirty glory, he does not fall prey to the temptation, and is able to hold his own."

For us, it’s not about protecting him from the world. It’s about teaching him values, and making him understand that while he is taught the virtues of humility and respect, there are others who are not lucky enough to have adults who care enough to teach them what they need to get by. The world is not simply black or white... grey is also a colour.

I’m not arguing the fact that perhaps there are other privileges which these schools are able to provide for in which middle and lower tier ones don’t, but what I find hard to accept is simply the mentality of many parents who enrol their children there NOT because they believe in the methods of foundation learning, but because they feel that it will be a better environment for their children based on the fact that 90% of the students will come from the upper echelons of society, financially. The other 10% cannot really afford it, but they scrimp and save so as to provide their children with the very best, based on what they feel will be best for them.

I’m not going to adopt a ‘holier-than-thou’ stance and claim that I do not worry about how my kid will turn out in the future, and hope that his life partner will be able to at least ‘see’ things from our perspective. It is no secret that certain ‘value systems’ of a family is unique to each unit, and at the risk of sounding elitist, I do believe that in a majority of cases, values differ between one socio- economic level to the next. What I would like to emphasise is that I will not treat or form an opinion about his choice of friends based on their financial backgrounds or educational levels per se. I’m totally fine with someone who shares our values, but have no paperwork to boast of.

The hubs and I work in companies which place great importance on people as individuals, and not simply what they have on paper, so we are totally aware of how some who may have the string of titles behind their names measure up to those who have worked their way up from the bottom. We are all aware that while education forms a basis to an increase in aptitude, knowledge without compassion and humility is simply - a search engine.

Some may argue that an 'elitist mentality' is pretty necessary in this day and age. We are expected to have optimal performance and optimal efforts put into work, play and parenting for optimal results. I have found myself in that trap as well, numerous times, more of my own concerted expectations of myself rather than societal pressures. While I concede that the optimum results can be unattainable, I do try to come as close to it as possible. That said, I do not and will not look down on anybody else who may, perhaps, perform to a lesser degree. After all, expectations are set only on oneself, and there is the all-important clause to take note of: Optimum results, according to whose / what benchmarks?

It doesn't mean that just because a person has humble beginnings, he / she is less privileged and cannot be a person of higher standing in society in the future. It just means that they may just have to try harder because they may not have the little stepping stones which may aid them in their journey. What I cannot understand, is why people seem to already form an impression of a person, simply based on their Alma mater, or by the uniform they wear.

I enrolled BabyMoo in a school based on a number of factors. The accessibility to my in-laws’ place (just in case), the general ‘feel’ I have about the school when I visited it, the teachers, the ratio of students to teachers, it’s mission statement, and the fact that we are comfortable with the school fees. Of course, as parents, we would want our children to have the best, and we are constantly making sure that they have the right 'start up' in life. But is it really necessary to look down on other families who may not be able to accord the same privileges on their children? Worse, do we then view these children as being lesser equipped to handle life?

Ultimately, I think the child education factor still lies heavily on our shoulders, because we are not parents who expect a school to do what parents are supposed to. Our parents disciplined us, taught us right and wrong, and ingrained values in us. School was merely a place where we were taught to read and write, used the values we learnt from our parents to play well with others, formed friendships, and (tried) to not break any rules!

More than anything else, we want to teach our son to be adaptable. We would rather he be street smart and savvy in his everyday dealings, because not everyone is as straight as an arrow. That is something which perhaps even the most elite school is not equipped to handle. It's all good and fine if BabyMoo has a BA, BS, MBA, MD, PhD or MSc, but if he has no heart, humility and compassion, we have failed as his parents. Life goes far beyond society standings and paper qualifications.

I am not going to bother to compete with a person who has the elitist mentality, because chances are, their character is such that they will always find a way to put themselves above me. They will try to make us see that they are bigger, brighter and smarter than us, and will not hesitate to be condescending to us in every available opportunity.

I dread to think that moving forward; we are going to see and encounter more and more of these people, because perhaps, they were brought up that way. With the direction which the society is heading, it is almost quite impossible to change a collective mindset.

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  1. Its a dog eat dog world out there. While I agree that the emphasis on EQ should be greater than IQ, as parents, we also want our children to have a brighter future than what we have - regardless of our education or financial background. Aiya... cannot run away from this branding.

    1. I'm not arguing the fact that we all want the best for our children... but more for the way that people are so quick to judge others based on their school, what they have, or what they wear.

      Does it mean that a person who wears a $5 frayed tee shirt is written off completely as a poor man? For all you know, he has $5m in the bank! I know of a person who wears a faded tee shirt and frayed jeans, with longish hair and a Seiko watch... who owns a string of restaurants and nightclubs. Even he mentioned that he uses the garb to disarm people, because he wants to be treated as a normal person, and not someone to be sucked up to.

      That's the main thing which saddens me. The society is not only quick to judge people superficially, but to also 'dowan mix around with them because they are not our equal' simply based on the qualifications or financial means!

  2. Wow! Thanks Regina for such an eloquently written post. Every single bit of it resonates with me.

    We only get to live once. I have always placed EQ over IQ, common sense over 'what is expected' and being inclusive over being exclusive.

    Let us give thanks to our parents who instil those qualities in us and for accepting us for who we are. Hence we always know that we are loved, supported and accepted for being authentic without the need to be otherwise.

    1. We are also sometimes guilty of it... but I always choose to give the benefit of the doubt, or just to simply accept a person based on how they communicate with me, and see their genuine worth.

  3. *ahem* I read the post on sparrows and sandcastles and I'm proud to admit that I am an ITE graduate.

    We all know of such pple who has no EQ and with their nose pointed upwards. We can avoid them but its really hard for our kids to avoid kids who are like that. We can only explain or try to explain why their friends behave such a way.

    Do you feel that every thing has gone back to the beginning? To the era many years ago where the society thinks of equality?

    1. I think the society in general place that onus on each individual. It's hard not to be caught up in the rat race when doing so may result in us (and our children) losing out. We can rebel against it... but ultimately, there is always a price to pay.

  4. How true and how sad. I did not come from an elite school and neither did most of my close friends. I get that parents want the best for their children but I draw a line at snubbing at those who are not able to afford or as you termed it, do not have those stepping stones to aid them.

    Of course it does matter how my child does in school. But if you were to ask me to choose between having a child who is in the top cohort, scores 95 marks but snubs at an aged man because he smells and looks dirty, versus a child who scored 70 and is compassionate enough to forgo the last $2 in her purse to buy that money a plate of rice? I'd go for the latter. Anytime.

    Being bright and all is certainly a plus point but it is a moot point for me if my child lacks values. Therein lies the difference between education and educated.

    1. Correct. Education is so beneficial and necessary... but being educated doesn't mean that we should forget our roots, or humility. A high self esteem, too, does not mean that we should look down on others who may not have had the opportunities which we do.

      I would be proud of my kid if he has compassion. More than if I were to be told that he scored 95 marks, but walks by a blind man who is trying to cross the road without rendering his assistance, because he doesn't have time to stop, or just simply cannot be bothered to.

  5. How true, Regina. I dread it too when people judge us based on certificates and not characters. Very typical of our land, right? As for me, I chose Angel's school based on convenience, it's right next block! Lol. I love how you said that it's not about protecting them from the rest of the world, it's about steering them in the right direction. And that part about a man with $5 T-shirt but $5m in bank, I think there are more than we can count!

    1. You know, the sad thing is - many many kids are judged by adults based on their educational performance alone. Maybe not by their parents, but how would they feel if they go to family gatherings, and then hears the adults commenting how wonderful and great that Cousin X is, just because he achieved higher marks in the exams as compared to them? Does it do anything for their self worth? Worse if Cousin X comes from a branded school. Never mind that his parents pulled a lot of strings or did what they could to get him in.

      Do these adults see beyond scholastic excellence, and give their dues to the kid who helps Granny carry the marketing, or helps to clear the table?

      Society itself is cruel. Sometimes I feel that people who are guilty of being 'elitist', are simply those who just want to keep up.

  6. I haven't hopped over to read that post yet... In fact, I haven't even finished reading the famous perverts post, too many distractions! :P

    I was from an elite sec school, and I suppose many of us had an inflated sense of self-worth back then. Thing is, I hated school at that point, wasn't comfortable in my own skin, and wasn't interested in much. I'm not saying this was necessarily because of the environment, but well, that was the way I felt.

    Later on, I decided to switch paths completely by applying for a polytechnic. A lot of people thought I was nuts back then but those were my best school years. I had so much fun and I met so many people who were smart, had an opinion, and were not afraid to voice it. I never regretted my decision.

    1. Evelyn, I was from an 'Elite' school, too... and I remember, even during those days, it was a constant accessories parade in school. Ubiquitous pinafore aside, the LA Gears, Sonia Rykiels and JPGs made their appearance complete, and I remember feeling a tad 'left out' because I didn't carry or wear any of those. Not because we couldn't afford it, but I was brought up in a household which places importance on practicality, and what a Sonia Rykiel bag could hold, an army green 'messenger' non branded version could, too.

      But I did resent my parents then, because I thought that they were thrifty and simply made me go without.

      I also transferred to a 'public' school when I was in Sec Two, because we moved away from the East and commuting to school back there would mean a 1.5 hour journey, to and fro. I had a culture shock, seriously... and I then realised how 'sheltered' my life, and views had been.

      I dare say that I wouldn't be what or who I am without having been 'exposed' to that particular 'Ah Beng' school. Like you, I experienced some of my best school times there, because nobody was competing with anyone in terms of what they had. People didn't judge one another as much, and if you adopt that 'atas' attitude, you will just be languishing in your own world up there.

      I learnt a lot there. About life, and how to live it.

  7. Hey Regina, I cannot agree more with whatever you have said. It is a very real problem in this day and age. I was from what you might call an elite junior college, but I truly hated the elitism mentality, and still do today. I am glad I stayed grounded (if i may say so) throughout the years because of my own family values, which is why, like you, I place great emphasis on values.

    I went to a pre-school open house recently and it is a well regarded pre-school with a good program. But I took issue with the fact that they call the kids "champs"! I can't get over that cos I feel it perpetuates that elitism mentality. That school is off the list for now! :p

    1. Our kids are champions in our eyes, and we don't need any school to constantly drill them that they are! :D It would be rather detrimental in the long run... because I suppose an inflated sense of self worth will hinder progress?

      I think trying to stay grounded made us more aware of this societal problem, don't you think? If we can call it a problem - because it seems to be quite the norm. If one can afford it, by all means send the kid to a $10K a semester school. Nothing less will do.

      Sad, but what I find most devastating is that many parents neglect to really attempt to 'see' if the environment will suit their children or otherwise.

  8. I came from a neighbourhood sec sch, the kind where the discipline master is also a ah beng himself and we have police patrols. My mum was initially not keen for me to attend that school, but hey it was just 2 bus stops away. I would like to think that I ended up fairly okay, both academically and character wise. The latter I attribute to family upbringing and a love for the Lord which kept me grounded. So for Sophie's primary school, hubby and I decided that we'll send her to the one nearest to our place as it makes the most sense so that she can get enough rest each day.
    I'm glad that in this sense, hubby is the one who is really not bothered with anything flashy. In fact, he wore singlet and shorts and flip flops for our first date to go roller blading. Till this day, he insists it was a test to see if I was shallow and went for what's superficial. Lets just say I aced it :)

    1. I think you turned out well, too!! Being aware and exposed to things which we may not be accustomed to should not form a basis nor influence us to follow that path, right? I think this is where family values come in. If it is strong enough - there is no danger of us following the crowd. In fact, it will just make us wiser, and more equipped to adapt.

      The clothes don't really maketh the man, especially if you decided to go out with him because you like him as a person, and not because of what he wears or has! :)

  9. I've met a few moms who are quick to judge by asking which pre-schools I intend to enroll my kid too. If it's not one of the top branded ones, then I get greeted with a "oh" response. They will then back their choice of schools with how a premium equates to better teachers, better curriculum, smarter kids, how they also attended such schools etc.
    Methodology of learning aside, shouldn't how our kids turn out be a combination of upbringing, examples parents set, values parents instill, enriching experiences instead of solely relying on which 'brand' of school they attended?

    I reckon the 'elitist mentality' does exist in one way or another (be it a tiny fragment or a huge chunk) in most of us, although the extend of it sometimes disappoint.

    It's disheartening to see this happen, especially among moms. Comparing about every single thing from kids' development/milestones to their material possessions and residential districts before quickly forming assumptions about a person. Whatever happen to the beauty of getting to know someone? Oh wait, social networks and their partial truth took care of that.

    1. I think most mums, apart from dealing with motherhood woes and lifestyle changes, also create their own burdens by COMPARING their offspring with other kids.

      From physical wellness, to their eating habits, how they dress and sleeping patterns; how cute they are, how much hair they have, how well behaved they are, etc. We are all biased, I grant you that... but many mums don't realise that motherhood is not a competition to see who is more able to have it all together.

      Once the developmental milestones are tackled, next comes the birthdays, the things they wear, the holidays they take, and the dreaded school they are / will be attending. If it's any less than a plaid print uniform or anything which doesn't start with an 'M', they have visions of a neglected kid who will not be able to read a paperback by the time he turns 3.

      You CAN get to know someone. It's harder with the anonymity accorded by online presence, but it's then up to us to be able to read between the lines. While technology is amazing, it has also made us more judgemental creatures, simply based on visual aesthetics. There is no longer the warmth of a voice or a handshake following a "Hi, How Are You?" greeting.

      We just have to stay firm in our beliefs.

  10. Hear! Hear! Just because one is a product of a high-end school does not mean one has common sense either. I can think of many instances when I roll my eyes and think WTF? at some of the stuff some products of elite sec schools have come up with. *still rolling eyes now, in fact*



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