‘Classicle’ Teaching: Who is Brooke Lim?

The GP tutor who steered her tuition centre towards drawing “a six-figure sum in six months” and was recently accused of plagiarism is, like so many others of her generation, an influencer too

TikTok. If only it is just full of bad dancing and inane commentary. But TikTok is, for many of its rabid followers, window to real life, a voyeuristic peak at enviable existences not their own. And, for as long as there are those who make social media an easy platform to draw attention to themselves, if not spawn envy, there would be those who enjoy courting controversial behaviours and practices on it for better visibility. Private tutor Brooke Lim Ke Xin (林可心), founder of the tuition centre Classicle Club, recently made news for questionable practices regarding a self-penned essay about eating disorders and self-esteem on her blog page; she might have received less of a blow when exposed if she is not, at the same time, an influencer, with 183, 300 followers on TikTok (@sugaresque) alone. Between her dancing—which corresponds to the typical TikTok standard—and more dancing, she helpfully shares “study hacks” and “productivity tips” with her followers. An example of such tips that she put out early this year, before the scandal broke, expounded the beauty of emulating another person. Ms Lim said: “one that worked [it no longer did?] really, really well for me was scheduling a block of time where (sic) I would be the one person I really want to be.”

While that may fly in the face of the popular call to just Be Yourself, it is, for her, a tip that “just about changed my life [did it or did it not?].” The General Paper (GP) tutor went on to describe “this one girl in council” during her junior college days (which ended not too long ago) “that I really, really wanted to be like.” The subject of her adoration “worked really hard; she had fantastic grades; she was so humble; she was sweet; she was an absolute dream to be around.” (By now you can tell, Ms Lim really, really likes “really” especially when the adverb comes in pairs.). The said girl was so free of flaws that the impressed admirer-turned-tutor “essentially wanted to emulate her”, before adding “work ethic” to her acknowledgement. She then advised viewers to “think of someone you admire or some character that has some qualities that you want to embody. And you pick a day or just a few hours where (sic) you try to act like that person.” Remember what happened to The Talented Mr Ripley? Ms Lim called her adopting the part of someone else “fixed role therapy”. Only problem is, fixed role therapy, devised by American psychologist George Kelly in the 1950s, is when a patient “enacts a make-believe character drafted by the therapist to portray an alternative identity for a fixed period of time”, according to the Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences. In present-day practice, it is largely based on a fictitious identity, not “a girl in council”.

The said girl was so free of flaws that the impressed admirer-turned-tutor “essentially wanted to emulate her”

That Ms Lim was happy to imitate someone else (to match up or surpass the target, it is not clear) does raise the question of how authentic she really is. If she urges her young followers to emulate others, might she, too, do the same, even if momentarily (or “a day”)? If this is her “productivity tip”, as she described it, could it also be a writing tip, to be used creatively and professionally? Ms Lim was called out for plagiarism by anonymous TikToker @sugaresqueessay days earlier. She posted a piece of writing, On Being Afraid Of Eating, on 18 April on her blog Grayscale Copy (was this meant to be telling?), which is now password-protected, that purportedly bore similarities to 13 different authors’ published works that included books and articles. According to a lengthy breakdown of her alleged appropriation, shared as a Google doc and broadcasted on TikTok by @sugaresqueessay, Ms Lim’s writing is an “autobiographical recount” in which “more than half of the original version of her essay was not written by her (the investigators pointed out “over 70%)”. As we are unable to read On Being Afraid Of Eating (the post has been removed), we go with the claim that “the similarities include sentences, whole paragraphs, plot points, and specific details… with no credit whatsoever to the original creators”. Could this be, to her, just another session of emulation, rather than plagiarism?

Following the accusation, Brooke Lim did not immediately remove the blog post. Rather, she edited her writing, hoping to dilute the plagiarism. Before she eventually got rid of the piece, viewers reported seeing a foreword, which apparently stated—rather curiously—that part of the article was penned when she was 14. Whatever she did to salvage the work and the situation, it was too little too late. Soon she password-protected her page and removed all references to the faulted writing in her Telegram channel. Then, she took to TikTok to apologise. With a video that was rotated right, she said—voice clearly less enthusiastic than usual—that in her “long-form essay”, she “made the very serious and regrettable mistake of plagiarising and for that [she is] so sorry.” As an educator, what example did she set? She said she has reached out to her students, “one by one to apologise”. She explained that the words she copied “resonated very deeply” with her, leaving out that it was to the extent that she could claim them as her own. She added that she “should have been more careful throughout the process of crafting the essay”. The skill she employed and the attention to detail—in other words, “crafting”—was, in fact, “just reaching into my past compilation of thoughts and insights that I had lifted from other authors.”

Screen shot of the Google Doc that lists the similarities between Ms Lim’s writing and those published by other authors

It was, for many, a lame pitch. She called her action a “mistake” (like adding salt to your tea instead of sugar?), which suggested that it was unintentional. But as it has been pointed out by Netizens that given the extent of the similarity of her writing to published work, it was deliberate. And we should add, reckless. In one post on Telegram that appeared before the questionable ”long form”, Ms Lim shared that she “desperately want[s] to be taken seriously as an essayist, copywriter, and teacher. I want to be more than just a face on social media.” Was she then desperate enough to adopt desperate measures? In the same post, she added, “I’ve always been drawn to words & essays & for the longest time I’ve wanted to build a career based on my writing ability [the use of the ampersand instead of ‘and’ appears on Classicle Club’s webpage too]. To some extent, I already have (and am so grateful for that!) but I do want to continue exploring the written word + push the boundaries of what I’m already doing.” Nobody knew what she was really already doing. Prior to publishing the piece, she shared it with “a few close friends”. They were impressed. She shared their comments on Telegram: “couldn’t put it down”, one wrote; “it’s a really interesting and well-written work,” said another. The making of a star essayist, even in noviciate, was well on the way.

Brooke Lim was born a Leo in 2004 to an engineer father and a mother whose occupation is unknown. Both parents, according to a now-deleted TikTok video, “are strict”. Social media is burning with curiosity about the way she speaks (as well as the way she writes, which could be mistaken for old Khmer script), that her English has an unusual lilt and her words sometimes come out garbled. She told Rice Media recently that “it has a lot to do with being raised in a family with a parent whose first language isn’t English.” Although she did not say which, it is possible she was referring to her mother. As seen in screen shots of the texting between mother and daughter, shared on Telegram, the tutor-essayist communicates with the older woman in Mandarin. When TikToker Ge Jiabao took to the video-sharing site to also level charges of copying at Ms Lim (that’s another saga altogether), she suddenly spoke in Mandarin after being amazed by how much the former charges for what was alleged as copied material—“你好意思吗 说真的 (you have the nerve, seriously). Ms Ge spoke with an accent that suggests a connection with China, and she sounded like she was talking to someone who would understand her, as if she was addressing a compatriot. Is it possible then that Ms Lim’s mother is from the mainland? In several other TikTok posts, another family member that she has mentioned is an older sister.

Little is known about her younger days or if she had always wanted to be a writer, or a tutor. She made no mention of the primary school she went to. There is scant reference to where she received her secondary education, but in a trio of early Instagram posts, she did tag Raffles Girls School (RGS) and in one IG entry, referred to RGS as “my alma mater”. In one mention of her RGS days, she shared that “very little of secondary school textbook knowledge is transferable”. A video from 2020, which showed her celebrating “the last day of A-levels”, she was seen in the uniform (house shirt with the heraldic symbol of twin eagles and a green pleated skirt) of Raffles Institution (RI), the school that’s mentioned in her social media posts and press interviews. She reportedly achieved “straight As” for her A-levels, which seems to enhance her marketability. In a Life feature, “The Z Factor”, that was published in The Sunday Times on 9 April, just ten days before @sugaresqueessay posted “@sugaresque (brooke) longform essay plagiarism problem” on TikTok, it was revealed that she found her first student in December 2021, after leaving RI. It is not known how she grew the intake, but seven months later, Classicle Club—her tuition centre with a website that many have described as “classy”—was launched. At the end of the year, she reportedly raked in “a six-figure profit”. So popular her classes were that, according to The Sunday Times story, there is “a waiting list of about 150 students for O-level classes that will begin only next year. It is not known if that number has now changed.

In 2022, about a month after she took her first student, she started a podcast (“because some of my followers told me it would be fun”) called All the World’s a Talking Stage that discusses anything troubling teens, from “Social Media Feels Increasingly Irrelevant (‘I have a lot of complaints,’ she said)” to “The Psychology of Overthinking Romantic Relationships” (it was AI, she revealed, that wrote the episode’s synopsis. Question is, did it stop there?)). The podcast is available to listen by subscription. She told the Rebound with Resilience YouTube Channel that she really likes the podcast as a medium because “you know, it’s just my voice; you know, nothing to do with my face, and I know that they are not listening to me just because of my face; they’re actually listening to me because of what I have to say.” While she prefers her followers to pay attention to her voice than her looks, she does share social-media posts of come-hither lures and then proclaim it is hard to live up to what’s expected of her. In one TikTok post, she said, “I am so self-conscious and aware of my looks. I feel I have certain expectations to fulfill, and if I fail to meet them, people wouldn’t like or care about me nearly as much any more. So, in the sense, it’s a constant internal battle.”

While she prefers her followers to pay attention to her voice than her looks, she does share social-media posts with come-hither lures

But, at the same time, she said, (also on TikTok), “when people look at me, they see a 19-year-old Asian girl, and they probably only think, ‘oh, you know, she’s a bimbo, she probably only cares about her looks, whether she actually have (sic) that’s valuable to who I am as a student.” Despite fearing others not taking her seriously, she would post videos of herself putting on lip colour—utterly red and glossy—up close and seductively. Or, adopt a flirtatious pose, and tell you, “the difference hair and makeup can make”. And even more doltish “proof that hair is everything”. Like so many of her fellow TikTokers with a message, Ms Lim often delivers hers while doing something—usually putting on makeup—even when she is in keenly telling you about what she learned from a public-speaking coach, who was paid “$300 per hour” to impart his wisdom. In a follow-up, which was about the “productivity tip” mentioned earlier, she was putting on accessories: a ruched hairband that sat on her head like a crown (her hairbands never needed to hold her locks in place) and a pair of earrings hidden by wavy hair that cascaded down both sides of her made-up face. It is difficult to understand that she wants to be taken seriously when she behaves frivolously or tells you that it’s ”time to put on a cute outfit and go to class.”

Apparently when she is not developing content, as many call what she does online, or teaching, she is “devouring self-help books”, which may explain why her constantly empowering tone, if not provoking annoyance, sounds like Rachel Hollis’s (Girl, Wash Your Face). She has “watched every Ah Boys to Men film [even when she cites Quentin Tarantino in one post without really saying anything] just so I would have a clue about what he’s going through [in the army]”, referring to her boyfriend, whose face she has not reveal on social media, even when he is seen alongside her. When not urging her followers to be unnaturally positive, Ms Lim enjoys dabbling in amigurumi—Japanese knitting (or crocheting) of small, stuffed animals, designed to be cute, which is how her fans describe her too. While it is hard to paint a substantial picture of anyone based on a single or two TikTok videos typically of no more than 40 seconds long and a few IG photos, it is possible to paint a discernible personality from even a modest 254 TikTok videos and 185 IG photos of student-life vignettes to date. Whether intentionally or not, Brooke Lim, aware of her looks, posts to be watched. If no one takes her seriously as an essayist, many will fervently regard her as a social media star.

Illustrations: Just So

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