Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Mideo Cruz' "Kulo" and James Soriano's "Language, Learning, Identity, Privilege": My Humble Opinions

Let me jump into the firestorm that is James Soriano's Manila Bulletin article entitled Language, Learning, Identity, Privilege (in http://everythinginbudget.blogspot.com/2011/08/mila-d-aguilar-in-reply-to-james.html; scroll down after Ms. Aguilar's response).

I have never read so much pagbubuhat ng bangko (bench, not bank), and so much pangungutya from a Filipino writer of his own race. He has undone what our vanguards of cultural equality have painstakingly done in word and deed in just a few paragraphs:

"These skills were required to survive in the outside world, because we are forced to relate with the tinderas and the manongs and the katulongs of this world. If we wanted to communicate to these people — or otherwise avoid being mugged on the jeepney — we needed to learn Filipino."

"But perhaps this is not so bad in a society of rotten beef and stinking fish. For while Filipino may be the language of identity, it is the language of the streets. It might have the capacity to be the language of learning, but it is not the language of the learned."

And his coup d'grace:

"So I have my education to thank for making English my mother language."

Read more: http://everythinginbudget.blogspot.com/2011/08/mila-d-aguilar-in-reply-to-james.html#ixzz1WUtY1AGZ

I have read two responses to Mr. Soriano's now-much-googled piece. Mila Aguilar's is the kinder

"This is not to disparage James Soriano, a young man who may have learned German, but hasn’t yet seen the world in all its gritty detail. I wouldn’t quarrel with him, especially since I’m a very old woman of 62; but I would love for him to learn a thing or three about his country."

Inez Ponce De Leon in her blog did not mince her words:

"Your opinion piece did not raise Filipino or English to any level whatsoever. It only showed your readers that you brought Filipino down to the level of admonitions, a language of mere orders, a means of communication with those whom you perceive to be beneath you."

"Can you not see what you have done? English is not a language for you, Mr. Soriano. It is your weapon to wield so that you can reassert your perceived superiority over everyone else.


This issue brings back to mind the spectre of the CCP-Mideo Cruz "Kulo" exhibit. In my very limited understanding of visual arts, I will not even attempt to deconstruct the pieces that I saw online. I just didn't feel like looking at it for longer than a second. Kinilabutan ako sa hiya. Isn't art supposed to make you look closer and longer at something? I don't know. As I said, ME=Art-stupid.

But I do know a tad about English. It was and still is my bread and butter. Like the three aforementioned writers, it is my language of choice and comfort. But Filipino is the language of my blood. It was never just a subject to me. It is in my veins, from home to work and everywhere in between. I listen closely to the dialogues in Amaya and play Joey Ayala songs on my laptop. If that puts me in the level of manongs, tinderas and katulongs, based on Mr. Soriano's simplistic social stratification, then it makes me proud to be Filipino.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


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When I was in grade school, I would cry and throw a fit whenever my parents would tell me that classes have been suspended due to storm signals 2 or 3 hoisted over Metro Manila. I would pout and stare out the window at  the sheets of rain and listen to the howling winds (our house was just one of two in our street in the late 70's) battering our rooftop.I think I sat around and moped still wearing my school uniform. It was a source of amusement for my parents, assuring them as well that I loved going to school  more than anything else. It was a little different in high school, of course. I whooped it up like any normal teenager, whenever the AM radio announcer intoned his much-awaited "No classes in Metro Manila!" It was especially sweet when the suspension coincided with CAT training days and Trigo exams!

There weren't too many of those in my school days. But now--the merest cloudy skies or hint of rain can put everyone in a frenzy. "May pasok ba bukas?" For the last few weeks since school started this year, that question has filled our school's official twitter and facebook pages, as if nothing else is more newsworthy than the imminent suspension of classes.

Though I am guilty of secretly rejoicing at the prospect of lazing around at home when classes are suspended, it also makes me pity this generation of students--from preschool to collegiate--as week after week, their momentum to learn is cut short not be debilitating storms, but by the constant paranoia of being stranded somewhere between the school and one's house. This school year alone, I have been stranded FOUR TIMES already--a sorry, disgusting record, given that I live just 10 minutes away from school. Our main building tends to be isolated and inundated by some really disgusting liquids from nearby overflowed canals, to the morbid fascination of our grade schoolers who find all that exciting. Last year, a post-Ondoy typhoon caused our library ceiling to leak, permanently damaging a P4,000-hardbound Rizal memorabilia book. Colleagues and friends have suffered worse fates,wading across waist-deep waters of SM Sucat and scampering for higher, dryer ground as flood waters poured mercilessly into their homes. Clearly, this isn't funny any longer.

For the first time this school year, DepEd is actually considering to move the opening of classes from June to September. But in the same breath, they have nipped that dream in the bud, saying that Luzon is the only part of the country that is affected by the weather disturbances of those months, and that it will even be worse for the students to suffer through the stifling summer heat of regular classes in April and May. Point taken. It's also a known fact that many sectors will be affected by the shift: the tourism sector, in particular, will not agree to it. Boracay in July, anyone?

I don't foresee any DepEd-initiated movements in the near future. Neither do I see any improvement in the ever-changing weather systems that have ravaged even the most pristine of natural cradles (New Zealand), and serious, drastic efforts to change wasteful and inconsiderate human lifestyles. In the meantime, students are missing out on contact time with teachers, valuable time for knowledge procurement and drills and skills development. Saturday classes won't cut it--Ondoy came knocking on a Saturday.  I shan't wait while DepEd wrangles with politics and CHED officials reluctantly learn how to tweet. I have a few suggestions and interventions--bandaids if you will--that I believe will help augment the gaps in education whenever classes are suspended:

1. Advance worksheets: These are given at the start of the school year. The emphasis should be on skills and practice, and not on specific topics and lessons, since chances are, students will have left their books in school on that fateful day. Neither should it be dependent on internet use, since not all students have internet access at home, and power and phone lines may be cut during severe weather conditions. The key is to make students use their time practicing universal skills, like mathematical operations and grammar. Teachers just need to instruct the students on how many and which worksheets to accomplish on a particular day.
Math drills-http://www.math-drills.com/multiplication/multiplication_facts_to_144_all.pdf
Grammar practice: http://www.superteacherworksheets.com/subjectpredicate/subject-predicate-c.pdf

2. Reading booklets: Like the advance worksheets, reading booklets should be given out at the start of the school year. Unlike textbooks, these are left in the house, for use on days of class suspension. Reading materials can range from non-fiction to short stories to an anthology of poems to thematic collections, the length of which is good for one sitting. All subject teachers can prepare such booklets. The selections are followed by a series of writing and reflection activities that should take at least an hour to accomplish.

3. Shortened Class Programs from June-August, and Extended Class Hours from September to March: We all hate it when we come to class in the morning and DepEd sends us home at midday. So why not shorten class hours in the first quarter--say until 1pm only, but extend class hours for the rest of the year--say until 5pm? This will entail major pencil-pushing of course, and the school's parents association should be consulted about it.

4. Distance Education: The University of the Philippines Open University pioneered the Distance Education (DE) instructional delivery system in the country, and to date, it has been the benchmark both here and abroad for the efficient and effective use of cyberspace as a medium of instruction. Can this be brought down to the basic education levels? This is a country that consistently tops the list of the most number of social networking users in the world, with the 15-30-year-old demographic taking up most of the credit. Students don't even need to sit in front of a computer to actually attend an online class. Any mobile device will do. Teachers don't even have to teach live. Lessons can be prerecorded, in keeping with a timetable that already includes those days when classes might be called off, and these can be downloaded, played and replayed any number of times. Lessons conclude with written outputs by the students, or if every member of the class is programmed to go online altogether at the same time, a chatroom-style class discussion can ensue. Anything is possible!

Got any more ideas on how to battle the class suspension blues? Send me a comment or two!