Half-hearted Attempts at Praxis

In three months, I will have been serving for three years in the field though not quite as the Gurong Pahinungod that I imagined I would be when I was in college. In the end, I turned out to be a full-fledged public school marm in my high school alma mater tilting windmills in the exigency of the service. I promised myself when I started to keep my wits about me, to approach my service not as a career professional but as a participant observer. You see, I am ambitious in my own quiet way, overblown with chutzpah, really. I thought then that I was entering public service for "research," to uncover the ills that beset our educational system, to see for myself the state of affairs independent of my professors’ views as outsiders of the public school system, so that I could formulate solutions grounded in thick understanding of the real situation on the ground. An underlying thread in this conviction is a distrust of what I was taught in the classrooms of UP Diliman, those esteemed halls that for all the admiration that my school pride can muster, is still at the bottomline situated in the core of imperial Manila whose faculty and student body are still by and large, citizens of the center who without a second thought call events, contests, and organizations in Manila as Philippine so and so without considering if it were truly representative of the country as a whole, where Tagalog friends with whom I can most be myself failed to consider time and again that their childhood experiences were not mine, too, because I came from the peripheral South where Pong Pagong just doesn’t hold a soft spot in our hearts or that perya/arcade place that used to be in Cubao. So I wanted to learn for myself, without the colored lenses of the privileged Manila-based academic.

True enough, the view looks different from here at the bottom. Only, I feel too much in the thick of the things, treading water desperately to stay afloat in this roiling mass of public school teacher responsibility, which could very well pull anyone under if she did not deal with care. So much has happened so fast, I cannot keep up a habit of reflective inquiry into the why’s and how’s. I am exhausted. Right now, I do not know if I have one more year in me left. I worry about my well-being. I might be acutely depressed.

Where do I find the strength to carry on when I feel burned out? Where shall I find the vigor and bull-headedness to carry on despite all the things that go wrong and are never made right; the system’s culture trains its leaders and members to sweep points for improvement under the rug under the false name of being committed to the general good.

If I draw strength from the potential of what I do now creating ripple effects in our government this seems naive to me. I think Gandhi probably had the right mindset to this, of doing something not for the sake of results, but because it was the right thing to do.


New Year Wishes

While we’re talking about wishes for the new year ahead, one fervent desire in my heart, aside from the dreams I have for myself, is to someday see my students bloom into the great human beings they already now hold within them. I see it now and then, like glimmers winking in and out, unstable threads of possibility that at times shine bright and clear during moments of win or awesome. It is this wish that often keeps me going even when the work environment is sometimes toxic. Maybe, it is my leap of faith in the manner of Soren Kierkegaard, what I choose to believe, my own hand grasping at straws for a meaning that doesn’t exist in this indifferent universe. Kierkegaard couched this in the terms of love, of finding a soulmate. I wonder if it is a love that is enough to sustain me for the rest of my days.

Public Servant

Nakakita ako ng salita-public servant-at biglang nagkamoment. Yung nag-unravel sa utak ko ang meaning no’ng salita. Maganda yung connotation na gusto i-evoke ng salitang to eh. Kumpara sa government employee o official na sa neutral to negative na pagtanggap nakaugnay. Pero, bilang empleyado, may ibang meaning na ito para sa akin mula sa lived experience ko ng pagiging public servant. Talagang literal pala ito if you allow it. Hindi manungkulan ang serve dito kundi magpakaalipin ka. Ganyan minsan ang nangyayari sa mga overzealous na baguhan o sa mga taong may puso. Nagpapakaalipin sila at more than willing naman ang iba nilang kasama na i-exploit sila. Gusto kong matawa nang sumagi to sa isip ko dahil sa morbid hilarity at insanity ng public service. Hindi naman hanggang dito lang ang mukha ng pagtrabaho sa gobyerno pero isa siya sa mga realidad nito. Masalimuot. Pero hindi naman ako pumasok sa sistema na naive. May mga apprehension na. Ang tanong siguro para sa akin ngayon, hanggang saan mo kaya? Ano ba talaga ang impact mo? Worth it pa ba?

An Introduction to Senior High School in RTPM-DSHS

This introduction was delivered on June 17, 2016 at the RTPM-DSHS Gymnasium during our school’s Senior High School Parents’ Orientation.

A good afternoon to all of you, dear DuScian parents! Welcome to those who have been with us for the past four years and to those who are here with us today for the first time.

I’m Miss Sue Quirante. I teach Economics in the Junior High level and I am also part of our school’s K to 12 Speakers Bureau. The Speakers Bureau consisting of Mr. Amorin, Mrs. Arbas, Mrs. Labang and myself were trained in 2014 to spread the word about K to 12 and Senior High School to DepEd’s stakeholders. This is why I am here with you this afternoon.

We have been busy in the last two years making materials, presentations and exhibits. We even organized a day camp and a career panel last year to prepare our 10th graders for Senior High. We have also held orientations for parents and students just like this one. After much anticipation and perhaps even anxiety from some sectors of society, we are finally here. We are in many respects, hitting the ground running, and admittedly not as geared as we would like to be. But having recognized that, I would like us to first of all, appreciate why we are here and why we are doing what we are doing.

One problem that greatly burdened our educational system before K to 12 was how to improve the outcomes of young people in our country. From 1975 to 2004 the typical cohort survival rate in our public schools was pretty dismal. For every 100 pupils who would enroll in the first grade, we could expect only 65 of them to graduate from elementary school. Only 58 would enroll in high school of which 42 would graduate. Where do 58% of them go? Do we merely write them off as failures?

When we look at the quality of education, we didn’t fare all that much better. The TIMSS or Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study revealed that in comparison to other participating countries, our Grade 4 and Grade 8 students performed at the lowest ten percent. Internal testing by DepEd also showed that only 30% of high school freshmen had mastered grade six competencies in English, Science & Math. DuScians are part of that rare 30%. But graduating from high school did not automatically promise employment success. In 2009, data collected by DOLE revealed that the country had 972,458 unemployed high school graduates even as over 650,000 skill-based jobs were available and had no takers. This shows a mismatch between the skills that our graduates bring out of basic education and the skills that the world of work requires from them.

This is the context or the challenge that the K to 12 reform package was devised to address and Senior High School is one of its features aimed at improving the prospects of our high school graduates in both work and life. This is quite apparent when we look at the subjects being offered in Senior High. Their core subjects are mandated by CHED to ensure college readiness. Their applied and specialized subjects will help them determine what it is they really want to do in life through experiences in the classroom, through conducting applied research, and also through experiencing the responsibilities and challenges of a job during their work immersion. What Senior High School and the K to 12 Reform Program really aim to do is to provide our young people with more opportunities and better options, whether that is pursuing a college degree, landing a job or starting one’s own business. By the time they exit basic education at age eighteen they will be equipped and legally able to pursue any of these opportunities.

With such high hopes we are here. Your sons and daughters, 185 of them, are pioneers; 116 girls and 69 boys; 41 are enrolled in the ABM or Accountancy, Business & Management strand and 144 are enrolled in STEM or the Science Technology Engineering & Math strand.

We anticipated this. When we conducted preference surveys last year on our grade 8 and 9 students, we found out that out of 282 participants, a significant majority or 97.6% planned to pursue a college education after senior high school. While 6 students or 2.1% planned to seek employment and only 1 student considered starting a business. The highest course preferences were related to STEM and ABM namely Engineering (28%), Medical Technology (18%), Accountancy (15%), Medicine (14%) and Business Administration and Management (12%). This is the reason why Science High offered the Academic Track because student preference was central in the consideration of our track offerings. We also offered the General Academic Strand and the Humanities and Social Sciences Strand but these did not garner enough student demand which would allow us to open these classes.

In addition to considering our students’ preferences, the Division Office of Deped Dumaguete also conducted consultations with industries and businesses. One of the fastest-growing industries in our city with an increasing demand for employees is the IT or Information Technology industry. This is the reason behind our offering of two ICT courses under the Tech-Voc track which are Medical Transcription and Computer Programming where students earn National Certificates Level II from TESDA at the end of Senior High. We have no enrollees to these courses yet this semester but we do have the facilities and the LGU has also previously pledged its support.

Aside from consulting industry, our Division Office also closely vetted the teachers who applied for Senior High and I think it has been quite apparent during this first week alone from the impressions of your sons and daughters (you should ask them after our orientation today if you haven’t asked them yet) that our Senior High School teachers are of a different caliber. They are more than qualified. They have all either completed or are pursuing graduate studies. Some of them have industry experience or are joining us already with several years of experience teaching in the college level. Mr. Amorin will be introducing our senior high faculty this afternoon so you will get to know them all  very soon.

Senior High School holds so much promise for our young people. But I understand that the new and the unknown can sometimes be a cause of fear. However, let’s consider this piece of wisdom from Einstein, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” So I hope you can in typical DuScian fashion, channel the curiosity of scientists to test new ways of doing things and solving problems. Let’s give Senior High a chance. I hope you will walk with us on the road to rebuilding our educational system so we can prepare a better future for all our children.

Once again, good afternoon to all of you.

Dream Date?

This post was written as part of the National Children’s Book Day 2015 Blog Tour. This week’s writing prompt is naming a creator of children’s books or books for young people that one would want to have a date with.

Uhhh my introvert personality is interfering with my ability to write this second installment of the National Children’s Book Day Blog Tour on Titser, Titser! Now, while being my kind of introvert does mean avoiding noisy crowds and feeling completely drained an hour into a house party, it doesn’t mean I’d run screaming and hide myself in a dark hidey hole the minute a person taps my shoulder. Also, while I do go on dates with myself I have also gone on dates with other people, that is, people whom I call my friends. That’s the thing, really. I can and do go on dates with friends, but imagining myself going on a date with a complete stranger just completely fills me with dread. Even if it were with the greatest author that ever lived whom I consider a personal hero and kindred, Ursula K. Le Guin. But, well…I’ll go out on a limb and think in the hypothetical for the sake of children’s books and books for young people in this country!

A local book creator I would probably want to go on a date with if I were a more extroverted person would be Rob Cham. Early this year, he released a silent comic called Light with Anino Comics. It was utterly marvelous! I loved it instantly! It reminded me so much of Polytron’s Fez, a video game and art piece in one. But then it also had the vibe of Legend of Zelda, Legend of Mana and all the other adventure and puzzle games I treasured in my early teens. It was also like a cartoon from my childhood. There is not a word in Light but it is completely engaging. Rob Cham built the story locomotive and laid down the tracks, but the story itself runs on the reader’s imagination. For a gamer like me, reading Light actually feels like having a go at a video game. You are right there, in the game of the story, playing the character.

But then, I’m no extroverted social butterfly. So when I was at a reading of Light at Uno Morato early this year, despite the prodding of my boyfriend whom I strongly claim is a lesser fan of Rob Cham the man than I am, I failed to scrounge up enough courage to walk up to him and ask/plead him to sign my copy with his silver pen. If I can’t even manage to ask for an autograph, I shouldn’t even dream of going to a date with the guy. I might run out of fingernails to bite and take my frustration out on!

You know what else would be awesome? Meeting Robert Magnuson and telling him in person what an awesome awesome cat Kuting Magiting is and that Porcupirate Plans the Day and The Great Duck and Crocodile Race were really cute and funny and that when I read his books, his characters are quite alive in my head.

While we’re being hypothetical, I might as well add that it would be awesome to have a friendly conversation with Sir Bong Redila, creator of Borderline, Fables from Melag and Kahon (a short story in PIKO, a comics anthology for children that came out early this year, too!) because I would also really like to tell him how intriguing his comics are to me, how they are like Alice’s looking glass allowing me to inhabit an other world. If I could just relax!

But even now thinking that one of these creators might stumble upon this post and read it is making me feel nervous! It feels safer to be a fan standing in the sidelines, awed and inspired by their work. I would totally cheer them on (and buy their books for my nephews and nieces and arrange meet-ups so I can lend my copies to friends) but always as an anonymous person in the crowd because what if they didn’t like me as a person? What if I said something inane or insipid? What if they turned out to be completely different from what I imagined they would be like? What if they thought I completely misread their story? The thought of it is just far too terrifying. So I think I’ll pass up the dream date. But give me one of their books and I would even free up my Friday night schedule for it.

My Favorite Children’s Books at 25

This was the first novel my mom bought for me. She challenged me to finish it in one summer when I was in second or third grade, I think. Thank you, mom! You made me the avid reader I am today.

My love affair with books started as far back as my earliest memories of childhood. I remember reading illustrated fairy tales like The Three Little Pigs and Goldilocks with my twin sister. This happened before we started going to kindergarten. I know this because we stayed home all day just reading whatever could be read at home. This meant an eclectic selection of illustrated Bible stories, superhero comics, fables and fairy tales, magazines, newspapers, and my mom’s Reader’s Digest subscription. I’m sure my sister and I only understood half of what we got our hands on but boy did we read! I have an even earlier memory of begging my dad to read me anything before bedtime. He would pick up an anthology condensed by the Reader’s Digest and read me stories like Tom Clancy’s The Patriot Games (a strange choice now that I think about it after having taken child psychology courses but this completely explains why later on I would fancy espionage novels in elementary school).

My love affair with books started early but it wouldn’t have blossomed into complete bibliophilia if not for my mother who bought books for me when she had the spare cash, borrowed books for me at a local book rental club when I had completely overrun the books at home (including her Harlequin titles…), and later signed me up and paid for my lifetime membership in the very same local book club. By then I was in fourth grade? reading both Nancy Drew and Frederick Forsyth novels. That’s an odd combination, yes. My access to age-appropriate books was really sporadic at best. It depended on what we had at home and what books got donated to the public school I attended. I read children’s books and books for adults all at the same time (perhaps it’s the reason why I was too serious as a child!).

Maybe I’m compensating now for that lost childhood or whatever because let me confess, I have a growing collection of children’s books accumulated in the past three to four years. I’m a teacher and I guess that’s a convenient excuse (an excuse I tell myself when making budget decisions!) for hoarding reading materials. I’m a secondary school teacher though so…it’s a pretty weak argument. But you know, I find that the best children’s books have something important to say to adults, too. In fact, I’m really of the conviction that we would all be better off if we never stopped reading children’s books, ever.

So to help young readers get started on their own love affair with books and to lure my adult friends into reading children’s books, I’ve come up with five of my most favorite children’s books of all time at age 25 (I realize this line up could change and it will give me reason to revisit my top five next year, won’t it? A snicker for my forethought! >:3). Here goes!

Xilef is a story by Augie Rivera illustrated by Beth Parrocha-Doctolero. It won the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature in 1999

Xilef is a story by Augie Rivera illustrated by Beth Parrocha-Doctolero. It won the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature in 1999

#5 Xilef is fifth in my list. This story is lighthearted, playful and zany what with the busy cartoon illustrations of Xilef and the way he perceives the world around him. The book cover depicts Xilef as an intergalactic superhero protecting planets from devastating asteroids. But Xilef has bigger problems than these space rocks and he has to rouse himself out of his daydream in order to face bullies and chase after words flying out of his books. Xilef is a story about a child’s dyslexia and how he gains the help of adults around him to understand why letters dance and tease him so. The teacher in me admires this book for choosing to brave this subject matter and providing teachers like me with a means to broach this topic with children. But more importantly, the reader in me admires this book for deftly creating round characters in thirty pages. Xilef is actually the least quirky character in this story. After all, he has a six-toed teacher who could be an alien, a dad who looks like he could crack up a room of stern principals, and mysterious Miss Maya. Really, it’s a book that shows how an illustrator can work magic on an already excellent story.

I used this book to tutor a cousin who had difficulty reading and made some activity sheets for him. I’ve uploaded them here and if you can put these to good use in your classroom or for your daughter/son/nephew/niece/child-in-need, feel free to do so!

#4 Anluwagi 
is Tagalog for carpenter which would be “panday” in my native Cebuano. It’s written by Genaro R. Gojo Cruz, a name that always turns my head when I’m binge-ing on children’s books at the National Bookstore. Children’s books by Filipino writers abound where the world of the story is decidedly middle to upper class. Genaro’s stories stand out because his stories tend to revolve around the social milieu of the working class Filipino. Certainly, there are other books out there doing the same thing but I admire how he doesn’t make a spectacle out of poverty or disaster. The focus is still on characters, on people, and what they do given the circumstances.

Anluwagi, for instance, is about a carpenter who lives in the slums. Although I grew up in a barrio, the neighborhood carpenter was to us also a significant member of the community as he was a skilled artisan. It’s because of this background that I can understand the son’s admiration and desire to be just like his father. I like how this story ends so much when the father tells his son to be an architect instead. It is soooo Filipino – the parent dreaming bigger dreams for his/her children – but it’s said so subtly, so offhand by the author speaking through the father. Yet it means so much and it’s moments like this in a book written for children that convinces me adults should be reading children’s books. For adults who had parents like the anluwagi in the story, this book will evoke nostalgia and I think, help them understand their parents better, after all these years. This book might even make them cry!

This book is part of the Batang Historyador series sponsored by the UNICEF.

This book is part of the Batang Historyador series sponsored by the UNICEF.

#3 Si Pitong, Noong Panahon ng mga Hapon is the book that first got me really excited about children’s books. I’m a social studies teacher so you can infer easily enough why. Add to this the fact that Augie Rivera actually wrote an entire series of books reimagining the experiences of children throughout Philippine history. There’s Diwayen who came from a time before the Filipino nation was born, followed by Segunda from the years spanning Spanish colonization, Juanito from the American years, Pitong from the Japanese invasion, and Jhun-Jhun who speaks from the years under Martial Law. There is just so much you could do with these stories in your classroom whether in the elementary, secondary or even university level. You can talk about symbolism. You can even talk about the story’s limitations as I once did about how the guerillas are downplayed in Pitong. These books are just begging to be read and put to good use in any classroom.

This story was written by May Tobias-Papa and illustrated by Isabel Roxas.

This story was written by May Tobias-Papa and illustrated by Isabel Roxas.

#2 Araw sa Palengke is a pretty straightforward story about a little girl accompanying her mother to the market but it is rich with illustrations that are abuzz and alive with the bustle of the typical Pinoy palengke (tiangge in Cebuano). The main character is brimming with curiosity and the illustrations are right there with her in its playfulness. It’s a book that children can easily relate to and it’s accessibility allows any creative teacher to build activities around the story. Given the potentially heavy topics in my fourth and third choices, Araw sa Palengke is a fun read to balance things out and liven up the mood.

#1 Bear by Himself is actually not written by a Filipino writer but I just could not not include it in my top five. To this day, it is the children’s book that means the most to me. I am forever grateful to the ambivalent random universe for throwing this beautiful book my way one fateful Booksale hunt.

This book is perfect for introverts! I wish I had come across it earlier as a child so I could have accepted my need for bouts of solitude sooner. It’s another testament to why adults need to read children’s books. My copy is actually no longer with me. I donated it to a book drive for Mangyan kids around two years ago. I know I love a book to death when I feel a great obligation to give it away in the hope that it finds its way into the hands of a child who needed to dwell in its world as much as I did.

So that rounds up my top five books at twenty-five. If you’re an adult reading this, I hope you will find it a duty to spread the love of book reading to the children in your lives. These books are readily available online or in the bookstore nearest you if I’ve somehow managed to convince you books matter! You can also borrow my copies. It would be my pleasure to lend them to a fellow reader!

Feel free to share your own list of favorite books in the comments below or better yet, make a post about it, too.

This post was written as part of the National Children’s Book Day 2015 Blog Tour. Want to come up with a list of good Filipino books for the children in your life and the child in your heart? Check out the Philippine Board on Books for Young People’s FB page for more book recommendations!