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Home arrow News arrow Lasallian News arrow La Salle's prescription for precocity - by Stephen Tan Ban Cheng
 
La Salle's prescription for precocity - by Stephen Tan Ban Cheng Print E-mail

ImageWith the benefit of hindsight, I remain all the more convinced that Rev.  Bro. Alphonsus Chee was a God-send in instilling the first dose of discipline I needed as a bright but mischievous lad in St Xavier's Branch School, Pulau Tikus. The fact that I was precocious was underscored by my scoring a double promotion from Std 1 to Std 3.

Apart from that dose of discipline that this mischievous lad needed more of in later years, the kind of English lessons that the 1961 Class of Std 6A so freely obtained could only come from the dedication that the good Christian Brother possessed in abundance. That dedication precipitated my command of the English language and explained my long years as a journalist and later editor not just in Malaysia, but also in New Zealand.

Thanks to Bro Alphonsus, I could prove that a Penang-born, bred and educated Asian could more than hold his own among the Occidentals in an English-language news environment.

Today, thanks again to good Bro. Alphonsus, I am a practising lawyer who still write on social, economic and political issues. And I had him as a Form Teacher for only one year. I sometimes wonder if I have had him for two, my transformation from journalist to lawyer would have been accelerated - given the bigger bout of discipline that Bro. Alphonsus dispenses.

I mentioned about precocity. Without discipline to rein it in, precocity comes at a high price; the attendant imagination making one's mind wander and lose focus. Often, I wandered "lonely as a cloud" - to quote The Daffodils that I learned in later years - without seeing the host of golden daffodils whose scent I never even know!

Yes, there was never an English lesson like his. He will point to any pupil and ask "the unfortunate target" to conjugate the verb to be in either the past, present, future or any of the other tenses.

The moment he comes into class, I would pray that he would not point in my direction. He did. And I passed, yet again - almost miraculously!

For the life of me, the grand purpose of the entire exercise escaped me then. Of course, in later years, as a journalist, whenever I was in doubt  about my tenses and grammar, I promptly "returned" to Std Six and found the answers.

Although Bro Alphonsus was already in Hong Kong, he was spiritually with me. Way back when I was 11, he had ensured that the answers were "internalised" into us by his method of teaching. It was also his inimitable way of disciplining and focusing our young and wandering minds.

Truth be told, like most of my other peers at school, I was a beneficiary of his method of disciplining our young minds during his English lessons. The good Brother gave us the foundation of rock on which we could build our later pursuits. That foundation allowed me to enjoy the Poet of the Clouds to the extent that, thanks to Bro Alphonsus again, I was able to use the English language as a vehicle of knowledge to experience the spiritual:

For oft when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude,
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the Daffodils.

Never mind about the fragrance of the daffodils, Bro Alphonsus, but, like many of your other students, I shall carry this debt of gratitude to my grave. It has been my privilege and my honour to have had you as my dedicated teacher, just as I am sure that it been the privilege and honour for many of my peers. Brother, please take care of your health that I am told is inclement. Hope to see you in Penang in December this year.

Note: For those interested, here is The Daffodils by William Wordsworth.

I wandered lonely as a Cloud
That floats on high o'er Vales and Hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced, but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:-
A poet could not but be gay
In such a jocund company:
I gazed - and gazed - but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude,
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the Daffodils.

Acknowledgement with thanks:

Mr. Stephen Tan Ban Cheng
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