A Postmodern Analysis of a Primary 5 Social Studies Chapter

Postmodern theory helps us examine how and why particular pasts are constructed, legitimated and disseminated (Segall, 2006). Postmodern theory includes deconstructionism, whereby meaning and values are constructed using binary oppositions that represent certain ideologies and the role of power in the society to privilege certain terms over others (Khezerloo, 2010). In this article, I use postmodern theory to analyze the Primary 5 Social Studies chapter, “Singapore’s Journey to Self-Government.”  I focus on the binary opposites presented in the text, the relevant political and social contexts, and the language used to persuade readers.

The chapter discusses David Marshall’s government, its lack of full control over Singapore’s internal affairs, and the problems it faced due to the lack of support from the British powers and the Communist challenge. In particular, the chapter features the Hock Lee Bus Riots in order to highlight the seriousness of the problems caused by the Communists. The chapter goes on to talk about David Marshall’s quest to gain full internal self-government from Britain through the Merdeka talks. The next section of the chapter highlights Lim Yew Hock succeeding Marshall as Singapore’s Second Chief Minister and the strict measures he took against Communist-led organizations. His tough stand against the Communists pleased the British who granted full internal self-government to Singapore in the 1959 election. Subsequently, the PAP under Lee Kuan Yew emerged victorious with the most votes and formed the new government. The chapter then concludes by explaining the areas of responsibility of the Elected Government and the British Government.

Binary Opposites in the Chapter

A few binary opposites can be identified in the chapter, such as colonialism and communism, the British government and the Singapore government, the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) and other political parties, and lastly, an active government and its passive people. In this section, I focus on two binary opposites: (1) the idea of an active government and a passive people; and (2) the PAP and other political parties.

Active government versus passive people

Hong and Huang (2008) state that Singapore’s history is narrowly focused on leadership struggles that emphasize the triumph of the morally upright PAP over the communists. Focusing on Singapore’s struggle for government, the text presents the government’s perspective and highlights the actions taken at the bureaucratic level to achieve full internal self-government. It neglects the people’s voices and portrays voting as their only passive means of participation in the journey of self-government. The chapter, however, leaves out the issue of how self-government can affect and benefit its people. Notably, despite the absence of the peoples’ voices, a question appears on page 29 asking pupils to discuss how they think the people of Singapore felt during the election rallies in 1959.  Given the omission of sources representing different perspectives, it is unlike that primary school pupils would be able to relate to the 1959 experience simply via the official perspective and conduct a meaningful discussion of this issue.

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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