30 October 2006

Who I Am

In answer to a post asking me who I am, here is my "official" cv. Unofficially, I am just a man that loves to watch movies, to talk to people, to write, and to eat out, not necessarily in that order. Also in answer to the post, I rarely review movies nowadays (because someone else reviews movies for the newspaper I write for), but I use movies a lot in my lectures and classes.

Former Philippine Undersecretary of Education ISAGANI R. CRUZ is the Director of the Teachers Academy of Far Eastern University in Manila, a Visiting Lecturer at the Ateneo de Manila University, and a Professor Emeritus, a University Fellow, and the Executive Publisher of Academic Publications of De La Salle University Manila. He writes plays, essays, and short stories in Filipino and English, for which he has won numerous awards, including a SEAWRITE award, a Centennial Literary Contest award, and a Gawad Balagtas award. He has been named to the Hall of Fame of the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards in Literature. He has written or edited more than 30 books. He holds a B.S. in Physics from the University of the Philippines, an M.A. in English from Ateneo de Manila University, and a Ph.D. in English from the University of Maryland. He has been a professor or a visiting fellow at Ateneo de Davao University, University of the Philippines Diliman, University of Maryland, Ohio University, Jundi Shapur University (Iran), Soochow University (Taiwan), Waseda University (Japan), and the University of Oxford (UK). He heads the Philippine Fulbright Scholars Association, the Graduate Commission of the Philippine Accrediting Association of Schools, Colleges, and Universities (PAASCU), Books for Philippine Schools Foundation, and the Active E-Learning Technologies Foundation. He was the founding Chair of the Manila Critics Circle and a Senior Bibliographer of the Modern Language Association of America. He has been decorated by the Government of France as a Chevalier dans l’Ordre National du Mérite [Knight of the National Order of Merit] and by the Ramain family as Honorary Sultan of Iligan City. He writes weekly columns on books, culture, and education for The Philippine Star and BizNews Asia.

Here is a section of my 26 October 2006 column in The Philippine Star:

Some readers have asked me what I teach nowadays. I have just finished teaching two courses at the Ateneo de Manila University. One was a joint graduate and undergraduate seminar on selected Filipino literary critics, namely, Gemino Abad, Virgilio Almario, Bienvenido Lumbera, Soledad Reyes, and Roland Tolentino. The other was an undergraduate lecture course on selected Filipino films adapted from literary texts, namely, Bata Bata Paano Ka Ginawa, Bulaklak ng Maynila, Dekada 70, Jose Rizal, Maynila sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag, Laro sa Baga, Sa North Diversion Road, and Tatarin. Next semester, I will teach another two courses: a lecture course on Philippine literature in English and a workshop on writing for stage, television, and film.

At De La Salle University, where I manage academic publications, I teach a graduate seminar on media criticism, where students get a chance to write papers on series such as Atlantika, Bakekang, Bituing Walang Ningning, Calla Lily, Jass Got Lucky, Majika, Mars Ravelo’s Captain Barbell, Pangako sa Iyo, Sa Piling Mo, and Super Inggo.

I do not teach regular courses at Far Eastern University, where I coordinate training seminars for teachers. On occasions when I do not have a resource person, I handle the seminars myself. I have done sessions on 21st Century Business Communication, Powerful English for Academic Managers, Helping Students to Read, Using Film to Teach Business, Using Excel to Compute Grades, Score Points with Microsoft Powerpoint, First Aid for Teaching Nursing (for Nursing teachers), Body in English (for Physical Education teachers), Reliving the Past (for History teachers), Quantifying Qualitative Assessment (for Fine Arts and Architecture teachers), and Writing Modules.

Shuttling among the three big universities during the week and doing a Foundation for Upgrading the Standard of Education (FUSE) video project for high school teachers of literature on weekends, not to mention speaking to various groups about education, keep me busy after “retirement.” Clearly, the thought of so many of my friends already in heaven makes me realize that I have to do as much as I can on earth before I join them.

22 October 2006

Questions Teachers Ask

Questions Teachers Ask

Every time I give a lecture to a large group, I give my cellphone number and ask the audience to text me their questions as I talk. That way, I incorporate the open forum into the lecture itself, as I periodically read out the questions from my cellphone and answer them.

Here are some interesting questions asked by the teachers, with my comments. Of course, I have translated the text language into non-cellphone English.

Q: Sir, comment on this: The best English teachers should be placed in the primary years rather than in the intermediate years, so as to establish a strong sense of language.

A: Absolutely, and not only because of language but because of teaching skills. The better the teacher, the younger the students should be. Similarly, in universities, the top professors should teach first-year students or repeaters. The moment I became the highest-ranked professor at De La Salle University, I volunteered to teach the basketball players.

Q: What is more important, fluency or comprehension?

A: I would rather have someone who understands what is going on, rather than one who talks without understanding.

Q: How about if you are handling six sections with 100 students? You don’t sleep anymore or you don’t check their writing ability.

A: Clearly, there is something wrong with having 100 students in one class, but since the government is in denial mode about this common occurrence, we can only hope that the problem will be recognized in order that it can be solved. As far as checking the written work of students is concerned, however, read educational theory about the teaching of writing: all students should write every day, but teachers need not read everything students write.

Q: Can we give our students in high school the very controversial DA VINCI CODE for their book report? What is the DepEd stand about this?

A: I don’t know what DepEd thinks about the book, but I certainly would not require it for high school students. It is, first of all, badly written (and therefore should not be taught as literature), and secondly, misleading to those who cannot distinguish between fact and fiction (and high school students, being very young, are not expected to be mature).

Q: In reading a literary piece, which usually takes place first – understanding before appreciation or appreciation before understanding?

A: Unlike other arts, literature needs to be understood before it can be appreciated. For other arts, such as music or painting, you may be able to appreciate or enjoy a piece without necessarily understanding it.

Q: Can we use the Bible?

A: Since the Constitution separates the Church (any church) from the State, we cannot teach the Bible in order to convert students to the Jewish or Christian faiths, but we can certainly teach it as a literary masterpiece, which is what it is. Similarly, we should teach the Q’uran or Koran as a literary masterpiece, which it also is. But since there may be strong religious sentiments on your part or on the part of the students, you must be extra careful in teaching such religious texts. (I was speaking to public, not private school teachers.)

Q: How about mobilizing parents to train them to teach basic reading?

A: Correct me it I am wrong, but I am sorry to say that most parents are less literate than their children. It would be a case of the blind leading the blind (apologies to the visually challenged).

Q: What shall we do with a principal who, after observing a teacher, insists on what she wants a teacher to do, unmindful of the good things the teacher has done, as if she knows everything and the teacher knows nothing?

A: Fire the principal.

Q: What really is indicated in the law? 6 hours teaching load exclusive of lesson planning and checking of papers, or 6 hours inclusive of both?

A: I am not a lawyer and do not know what RA 4670 (The Magna Carta for Public School Teachers) says. You have to ask my namesake (the one who wrote the famous “Don We Now Our Gay Apparel” column), who knows the law inside out. All I can say is that no one is expected to work more than 40 hours a week. If you are working more than that, your human rights are being violated, unless you are paid for overtime.

Q: Do you agree with the grading system as ordered by DepEd?

A: Whether I agree or not is irrelevant. Every grading system is arbitrary and conventional.

Q: A lesson plan is a guide and gives direction to teachers. Many teachers will be at a loss if there were no lesson plans at all. We can have unified or prototype lesson plans or a weekly syllabus for a guide.

A: The acknowledged best teachers of all time – Socrates, Confucius, Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad – had no lesson plans. If we are benchmarking, surely we should benchmark with the best. The first thing I would do if I were, by some miracle, appointed DepEd Secretary would be to abolish lesson plans for those teaching five years or more. (This always gets loud cheers from my audience.)

Q: Sir, may we know your second plan if you become DepEd secretary?

A: I would tender my resignation, before I get fired for liberating teachers from senseless work.

Q: Is it okay for a teacher to talk in Taglish [code-switching between Tagalog and English] in order to be understood by students?

A: No. Students can always understand straight Filipino (or Cebuano or Ilocano or Tagalog or whatever) or straight English even if they can speak only in Taglish. There is no excuse whatsoever for teachers speaking Taglish in the classroom, because teachers are role models of language use. The key to being understood as an English speaker is to use the proper register (or type) of English. If you use only the most common 1,000 words of English, you can be understood even by grade school students. (Self-advertisement: my Word of the Day section below uses mostly the 1,000 basic English words, as defined by international linguists.)

Q: What can you say about teachers assigned to handle a certain position or department who are not specialized in the said area? They are there only because the principal likes them. What can they give to or share with their subordinates if they themselves do not know anything about the area they are handling? This has something to do with management, right?

A: Fire the principal, along with the principal’s favorites.

Q: Every time our division achievement test is low, we are blamed by our supervisor and superintendent. Do we deserve to be blamed and not the students? I think there is also a student factor, most especially in public schools.

A: Fire the supervisor and the superintendent for not asking the obvious question, namely, is the test valid? But while you are at it, fire yourself, too. Any teacher who blames students for anything should not be in the classroom. Anything that happens in a classroom is the teacher’s fault.

Q: Why is it that almost all elementary school graduates have not mastered the four fundamental operations of mathematics, but they were able to graduate?

A: I would not say “almost all,” but we definitely have a problem. The idea of flunking students that cannot read, write, or add appears to be repulsive to many elementary school teachers. Maybe they just want to pass on the problem to high school teachers. Here is a radical idea: fire all teachers who do not flunk 10% of their students.

Q: Is the news I’ve heard true that the salaries of teachers would be raised this coming year by 50 percent?

A: Dream on.

Q: Is it right for an observer to butt in while the teaching process is ongoing?

A: Absolutely not! An observer observes. The teacher teaches.

Q: Why is it always the teacher factor that is blamed and not DepEd in terms of the number of students and lack of books?

A: Because Jesus taught thousands at a time and he did not use any textbook except the Old Testament, which he had memorized. It is about time that we get rid of the idea that teachers need textbooks to teach.

Q: What if we do our very best and still my students absorb nothing?

A: You, not the students, have a problem. You think that teaching means giving something to students that they can absorb. You should start thinking of teaching as learning from students. Then you and your students can start communicating. You might want to read up on the wrong method of teaching known as “the banking theory of education.” Bad teachers think that they should deposit something in students’ heads that can later be withdrawn during exams. Good teachers merely point the way to the bank.

Q: What can you say about teachers who pretend to be very good speakers of English? This, I guess, is one major reason why students become poor English speakers.

A: I agree completely. There are not too many Filipinos that can be considered “very good speakers of English,” and most of them are not teachers. Those that advocate changing the medium of instruction to English have obviously not recently been to any of our classrooms. If businesspersons think students can learn proper English in the classroom, they have another think coming.

Q: What if a student can read but he cannot comprehend? Can I consider him as a non-reader?

A: I can read a hundred languages, as long as they are in the Roman alphabet, but I cannot understand them. I mean that I can pronounce the words, because I can read the letters, but I obviously cannot understand whatever it is that I am pronouncing. Here is an example, which anyone can read – chabdemfloking – but no one can comprehend (because I just made up the word out of the letters of the alphabet from A to O, except for J). Reading without comprehension is like wearing a suit or a gown and going to bed: what’s the point of dressing up?

Q: I heard one teacher calling the English used in public schools as Carabao English. And one principal said we can use Carabao English if that’s the only way the pupils can understand the lesson. What is meant by Carabao English?

A: Carabao English is the English used by American President George Bush, who makes all kinds of pronunciation, grammar, and logic errors when he speaks. His English may be ridiculed by his fellow Americans, but when he speaks, everybody listens. As one of the country’s top educators says, there are Filipinos that speak in correct English but have nothing to say, and a lot more Filipinos that speak in broken English but have profound and exciting ideas.

Q: Do you think the quality of education will be uplifted if ChaCha [Charter Change] will push through?

A: The Department of Education has kept improving no matter what the government has been like. Look at what we were able to accomplish during martial law, after the two EDSAs, and even now that the economy is doing so badly. ChaCha will neither help nor hinder the work of educators. We teachers are more important than politicians.

Q: How can we detach politics from education if Secretary Jesli Lapus himself is a politician?

A: Secretaries Raul Roco and Butch Abad were also politicians. Both enjoyed the full trust of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who appointed them, and both eventually went against her. Watch what Lapus does as he starts to fully understand the problems of DepEd and realizes who is really to blame for the problems of education in our country.

Q: Do you think “The Cask of Amontillado” (by Edgar Allan Poe) will feed our students the sinister thought of getting away with murder?

A: That is why this story should not be taught before second or third year high school. It cannot be taught in college, because it is too simple, but it has to be taught. After all, it is one of the best short stories ever written by an American. As for getting away with murder, you can always point out that, fifty years after the crime, the murderer in the story is still troubled by his conscience. That kind of living hell nobody will want.

Q: What is your stand on sex education?

A: The term “sex education” is unfortunate, because DepEd does not educate students about how to have sex, but about health, hygiene, medicine, anatomy, society, morality, marriage, responsibility, and all kinds of other things important to the survival of the human race.

Q: Poor comprehension in English is one of the factors why students fail to solve math problems.

A: That happens only when the math problems are in English, but give students the problems in their own language and see their math scores improve dramatically.

Q: Is it okay to blame primary teachers if incoming secondary students can’t read and comprehend?

A: Unfortunately for primary teachers, there is no one else to blame. That is why non-readers should not be allowed to graduate from grade school. Keep them in Grade 2 until they learn how to read.

Q: What shall we do if we have non-readers as students in first year high school?

A: Since you cannot send them back to Grade 2, give them special remedial classes after class hours and during summer. And don’t send them on to second year high school. Let them stay in first year until they learn how to read.

[Published in The Philippine Star.]