Public Perception in Singapore: The Struggle of Defending our Children’s rights to be themselves

Written by: Darren | Editted by: Shimin

Public perception is something that affects all of us, rich or poor, strong or weak, normal or crazy. Deep in our hearts, we all want to be able to live our lives authentically, truthfully and with real-ness that touches the heart. We all seek a kind of love for ourselves. We all quietly wish we can live without bothering ourselves about what other people think. But the truth is, we are all bounded by elements of public perception at some point in our social living. 

Running forest school in Singapore, we face a huge amount of public scrutiny as we move around the parks and forest in the presence of other public communities. Sometimes, aunties and uncles passing by us would be amused at how young our little ones are. They would share with us words of encouragement about how they think children should be out more often and play as such. They would say that this is healthier. But sometimes, we have public members who would describe our children as unruly and ill-disciplined. They will come to the Coach at hand to make their point heard, and sometimes yell at our children as well. This scrutiny is the context we vulnerably put ourselves in while doing forest school. In a way, this is the reality of our world, isn’t it? 

I feel a lot for the parents and teachers who have special needs children or very young children, as I understand how they feel bringing their young ones out in public. We want to have our young ones be themselves, which our little ones always would be when they are special or untainted, because they are probably the kind of human beings who are real all the time, they don’t hide their emotions and pain. But in a public setting, we are afraid of the public perceptions and the “trouble” we would cause. The fear is prevalent. We hope the public can be more understanding and give us support, but we also do not want pity. It is an extremely mixed feeling. Tough to comprehend until we are guardians to pure and real human beings. 

In the reality of our world now, we have social surveillance, judgement from keyboard warriors and plenty of nasty opinions mixed with the other spectrum of community support, encouragement, and plenty of kind thoughts. This range of engagement spread between the duality of public perception is the struggle that a forest school community will have to endure on a day to day basis. We have to earn our right to be authentic in our modern society where façades are public, and given more value than vulnerable authenticity. 

In the eyes of public perception, everything requires someone to be accountable. Well, that is reasonable, but placed in conjunction with the standards of accountability that our modern urban organisations use, the accountability seen by public perception are simply dehumanising the individual further away from the community. 

In a modern organisation or establishment, human faces and truths are not the position of accountability. Instead, we use KPI, protocols, certificates, and rules to measure accountability. The human emotions, personal boundaries and consciousness are discounted from this reality. Considering that the establishment is the environment we interact  most in, I don’t see how any human beings going through these structured positions of accountability can reconcile with a humanised public perception of accountability when they step out of the establishment. The modern public perception of accountability is many times contorted, it is as if, we have to live by a batch of KPI that have been manipulated in our consciousness. 

I know this sounds really doom and gloom for our future existence, but that is where I feel that Forest School pedagogy and lifestyle can break this complex structure of manipulation designed to dehumanise us. In Forest School, due to the child-led, nature-led and context-led style of learning and growing, young human beings are put in a position to stand face to face with another human being when there is discourse to hear and tell their own version of truth or boundaries. This simple and authentic interaction builds not only the understanding of differences, but the strength to face another human being’s opinion and still hold strong to their own values. These little steps of organic engagement plant seeds of confidence and courage which equip all of our young ones for the modern reality of the future. 

Many people like to ask me about future-readying our young ones, through technical skills or knowledge. But deep inside I know if our children are unable to reconcile with the public perception that are going to come their way, they may be “future-ready” on the façade in their Instagram or whatever new social media profiles, but they will be eating themselves on the inside every day. They will smile to everyone but be dying within their consciousness. So, I say to all educators and parents out there, let our children be openly vulnerable and authentic to us. They will be future ready when they are aware of their own emotions and vulnerabilities. 

In a Forest School setting, parents and coaches do our very best (best as we can, because we also have bad days, we aren’t perfect all the time), to hold the space for each other and our young ones in an unstructured and organic fashion. Children are given the courage to face each event with their own consciousness and boundaries. Each individual choice and opinion is respected, though not necessarily agreed on. This is community education. This is our kind of forest school in Forest School Singapore. 

The forest school community (parent, children, coaches & partners) choose to chart this path of struggle because we know that this is meaningful, and will some days be satisfying. I think my Forest School Sensei, Atsuko says it best…

“Now some people may call me crazy to put my children through such a program and lifestyle, but when they are 18 years old, that will be the day we see the fruits of this labour. My children will be more aware, and able to face the events of earth bravely in their own ways.” 

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