Monday, September 25, 2006

The genius and peyups

Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez is a genius.

For days, I've been looking for my battered fisherman's hat, one I bleached from sun and saltwater as a field worker in the '90s.

When I find it, I'll don it so I can doff it to the man who has come up with a perception so startling, it has made me want to emulate his example, stand on my head, and see learning in this brave, new light.

The justice secretary, often in the news because it seems to be his job to comment on how everyone else is doing their jobs, has again got into a spitting war with the Peyups, or students of the University of the Philippines.

Gonzalez lamented that the state university, on top of being the origin of numerous protests calling for the resignation of President Gloria Arroyo, has only managed to distinguish itself as a breeding ground of destabilizers and naked runners.

Take off your masks and run naked, the justice secretary challenged the Alpha Phi Omega (APO) fraternity, which annually streaks in the Oblation Run to take a stance.

Aside from women also stripping and running in the once all-male tradition, Gonzalez predicted another direction for the Peyups culture: “I will not be surprised if they will go to school with only their books, nothing more.”

Since the '80s, when I began teaching in the Lahug campus, till now, handling 7 AM classes under a university-wide innovation to cut cost, I'm just grateful when my students turn up--some with impressive eye bags, a few needing a bath, all starving for breakfast. So far, none has been so excited to attend my class as to come covered only in soapsuds.

But if you come to school dressed only in book learning, Peyups is not the campus for you.

It's not only that we are resource-anemic: our library could use more books published in this century; our computers, with less viruses, better connection to the Internet.

But being in Peyups has never been a serious obstacle to learning. For instance, fieldwork, which entails interviews with prominent sources and the unknown, the accommodating and the harassing, is the hands-down favorite of journalism students. If they could, they'd keep the fieldwork and throw out the teacher, along with the deadlines.

That the U.P. MassCom program tosses out its first-year undergraduates to sink or swim in the sea of community journalism compensates for certain unrealities like, for instance, reading the works of First-World journalist-teachers or teacher-journalists who don't work in a milieu where the press is as endangered as the justice secretary's lucidity.

That is not to say that books are not given their due in Peyups. Recently, I bumped into Mike Mende, a psychology teacher and the much-adored Big Brother of the UP dorm.

When Mike's eyes gleam like that, that's because he's talking about his inamorata: books. He recently lugged home two cartons of “dirt-cheap” finds from Strands, a secondhand book warehouse in the US.

Many of these novels will find their way to his students and dormers. Where I had to struggle to get a former student to submit a topic outline, Mike just dropped into her hands a copy of Vonnegut's “Slaughterhouse-Five” to get her to hand in an essay that was both a good read, and an assignment submitted on time, too.

There's not much of a moral there as the justice secretary might consider the monkey-crazy Vonnegut as appropriate for Peyups but not for the World According to Gloria.

When Mike's student recently lost to a thief Mike's rather pricey copy of “The Untold Story of Mao” (three on the waiting list, including Mike, who had to interrupt his reading to check papers), the Big Bro gnashed his teeth for a while.

But after reflecting that Peyups must be one of the last few places where thieves are still literate and read books, Mike did the pacific thing: he borrowed a copy from his friend, a priest.

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