Don’t Know Who Muhammad Ali Is? Now You Do.

YEARS ago when I was just six or seven, I remembered a teacher storming right into my classroom—Primary 1B it was—ranting to my form teacher about this one student of hers: “How can she not know her ABC? What’s with her parents? Why didn’t they teach her?”

Her eyes burned and her voice smoldered, as the poor girl from the class next door stood outside our classroom, shamed to no end. We were all terrified, as we watched the arms of this crazed woman flailing in exasperation. When we did catch our breath, we were all grateful that this was not our form teacher, but the kindlier Mrs. Oei, who merely listened and commiserated. It was the ultimate show of public castigation I had ever witnessed in my whole life as a student.

Replaying that now distant yet crystal-clear memory of decades ago, I couldn’t help thinking that this particular teacher—let’s call her Mrs. K.—was sorely in need of some lessons in human relations and anger management. Yet another side of me can understand that incredulity, that exasperation.

Could Mrs. Oei have given Mrs. K. any answers as to why her student, at Primary One, couldn’t recite her ABC? No, she couldn’t. In the same way, no one could have supplied any answers to these questions:

・Why does a 16-year-old student have no clue how many seasons there are, and what they are, not least the order in which they occur?

・Could you have excused a Secondary Two student for not knowing who George W. Bush was, particularly if you had quizzed her in 2008, the year he was still the President of the United States?

・Shouldn’t a junior college student know who Princess Diana is? (“She’s Prince Charles’s brother?”)

・Why does a General Paper student draw a blank look when you tell him about George Clooney’s humanitarian efforts in Darfur? (“George Clooney? Who’s George Clooney?”)

And so, yesterday, when media outlets the world over splashed the news of Muhammad Ali’s passing at 74, it’s really pointless to ask, “Why don’t you know him?” Better to frame one’s mind in this way instead: Well, let’s read about him! We all can’t help not knowing what we don’t know, but we can start getting wiser and smarter, knowing that there are many things we don’t know.

Now, we all know who Winnie the Pooh is, I hope?

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