Saturday, April 13, 2013

Covering the basics

WHY aren’t there workshops for writing?, asks J., a reader.

In a series of emails, J. said he had difficulty looking for a summer workshop that would refresh his teachers’ skills in English: grammar, vocabulary, composition.

He wrote that he wanted them “honed in… very rudimentary stuff.”

Although I often get inquiries regarding writing, J.’s concerns gave me pause. Most emails presume the sender knows a bit about writing and wants technical advice, encouragement, or tips for publication, readership and income opportunities.

Only J.’s inquiry wanted to tackle the basic stuff.

As a writer, I admit I rarely spare a thought about learning the “basics”. We often take it for granted a writer is doing what he or she is doing because he or she is equipped with what J. calls the “very rudimentary stuff.”

But J.’s question reminded me of an editor’s view that many writers, even those who are published, should remember to go back to the “basics”.

Why don’t we? Despite deadlines, multiple tasks, bills to pay and the itch to slacken off, the basics require attention, as well as the humility to aspire to be 100-percent error-free.

As a college teacher, I shirk from teaching the basics of writing because, well, only on good days will I declare this task as “challenging”.

It is darned hard.

Spelling, subject-verb agreement, proper tense—just enumerating these brings me back to the classrooms where I spent hours being grilled on English grammar. I learned a lot from my preparatory, elementary and high school teachers.

If I only studied grammar and composition from textbooks, I would be probably semi-literate now. It is a struggle to read and study grammar from a book. If I learned, it is because my teachers required us to write, corrected what we wrote, and made us rewrite to come up with a better composition.

And I enjoy reading, which teaches me more about the basics of writing minus the grilling.

I follow the same routine in my professional life. An editor or editors reviews and corrects my write-ups, returns my drafts to me, and reviews my revisions until an article is acceptable for publication. Over time, the routine disciplined me into being my first editor: I write, correct, and revise my own work before I submit this to an editor.

The task of covering the basics must start with the writer for many reasons. Not every editor has the patience, dedication and lack of deadlines that permit teachers to read, correct, reread and correct drafts ad infinitum. Not every editor will read beyond the first mangled line in an article. Not every editor is a frustrated teacher, aspires to encourage raw talent, and wants to guide a newbie writer along the tortuous path to the indescribable glory of the first byline.

J.’s concerns, though, are not focused on honing writers but teachers. “They very well can't teach effectively nor edit student papers if they are basically at the same level as the children they teach,” emailed J.

One of the first to address the concern to train the trainors is the information technology (IT) industry. According to Katlene O. Cacho’s June 26, 2011 report in Sun.Star Cebu, Wipro BPO Philippines Ltd. partnered with the Department of Education to launch the Communication Excellence for Public Education to help public school students improve their English oral and written skills by giving their teachers trainings and refresher courses.

The strategy dovetails with what J. observed as a pattern in the learning curve of his teachers: “They cannot seem to learn and educate themselves but they are very happy if someone teaches them, as if it adds credibility to the topics. I've done this for science and math and they've improved. Self-learning is sadly not in the options.”

Encouraging student excellence through teachers’ trainings is established as a successful strategy in the IT industry. It would boost the general quality of education if the scheme of training trainors was rolled out, replicated, or stimulated other private-public partnerships.

J.’s closing comment, though, still gives me pause. Why can’t self-learning be an option?

Addressing the basics leads to more questions than answers.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Apr. 14, 2013 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday main op-ed column

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