Saturday, July 25, 2015

Second reading

HOW many times should one reread?

When I was a young student, I blamed my teacher when I could not understand an essay after the first reading. Why did she choose something so difficult?

Now that I am older and still a student, I know better than to blame the teacher. I blame the writer: why did this fellow have to make his point only after 600 pages?

Historian Chen Shou of the Jin Dynasty had a retort for that: “When a book is read a hundred times, all its meaning naturally becomes clear.”

I find no fault in his logic except that during his lifetime (233-297 A.D.), he didn’t have to deal with a Gmail inbox left unchecked for a day.

But even to this logic, the Republican Party has a rejoinder. They are going over 55,000 pages of emails that Hillary Clinton sent when she was U.S. secretary of state from 2009 to 2013.

The person most likely to become the next U.S. president is under fire for using a personal email account when she headed the State Department from 2009 to 2013.

The Republicans say they want to study how Clinton handled the September 2012 attacks in Libya. The real intent is to find fault.

Malice does not always guide rereading. Last May 19, Alvin Yapan posted on Facebook a photo of the Grade 10 textbook, “Filipino: Panitikang Pandaigdig,” whose table of contents described the Harry Potter series as a “novel from the United States”.

Again on Facebook, Joseph Salazar posted about the same book, which cited the Epic of Gilgamesh as a “literary work from Egypt”.

Most 16-year-olds know British writer J. K. Rowling, creator of Harry. Few Filipino teenagers and their parents know the Epic of Gilgamesh. I didn’t.

Thanks to the vigilance of Yapan and Salazar, who are assistant professors at the Ateneo de Manila University, I verified online that the Epic of Gilgamesh is a poem of ancient Mesopotamia. In modern times, Mesopotamia covers a region that includes Iraq, as well as parts of Syria and Turkey.

Education Secretary Armin Luistro has admitted the “editorial lapses”. He said the Department of Education remains “open” to “valuable” feedback from stakeholders.

But this latest textbook error casts another shadow on the K to 12 program. How can we overhaul the educational system when slipshod scholarship bedevils the very nuts and bolts holding up the structure?

For better or worse, textbooks shape not just memories but attitudes, which harden into bias.
For years, I blamed “kaingeros” for their practice of burning a forest to clear space for farming. The notoriety stuck after more than a decade of textbooks and teachers repeating kaingin’s list of ecological crimes: deforestation, soil erosion, flooding.

As a community worker covering the virgin forests in Negros Oriental (barely) and southern Cebu (none) during the 1980s, I saw other ghouls devouring our forests: illegal loggers, furniture and fashion accessory exporters, and the small- and big-time leeches that grew fat on bribes when trees were cut and transported without permits.

Recently, researchers from Melbourne and Copenhagen reported at the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture that swidden agriculture or kaingin offers climate-change benefits, aside from giving residents a livelihood that does not disrupt ecology.

Will scholars finally correct the injustice to kaingeros? It’s time to reread.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s May 31, 2015 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”


WILL the K to 12 program produce storytellers?

I am for implementing the controversial system. You, the reader, may judge me as complacent when you know that my younger son’s batch was the last in his school to squeak past the start of the new basic education curriculum, which adds two more years to the previous 10-year program.

I agree with critics that adding two more years of senior high school stretches to breaking point the resources of the poor and the middle class.

Yet, something must be done to correct the eroding quality of Philippine education. Extending the basic education curriculum may arrest this degradation.

As the Philippine Daily Inquirer stated in its May 7 editorial, “The old 10-year curriculum rolled out public school graduates with reading, writing and other basic skills at a fourth-grade level.”

I fervently hope that, by the end of school year 2016-17, the first batch of senior high school students will not merely possess the competence of a sixth-grade student.

Anticipating the worst during the piloting of the K to 12 program, will a senior high school graduate have the competence to work if pursuing college is no longer possible for him or her?

Yes, says the Department of Education. Senior high school will have four tracks: academic, technical-vocational-livelihood, sports, and art and design. The Philippine Information Agency adds that the tracks are matched to fit the needs and capacity of the community, as well as the interests of students.

Can a senior high school graduate apply to work as a journalist? Will newsrooms hire a reporter with a senior high school diploma?

A journalist is essential for any community. On the eve of Communications Sunday, a lay member prayed that the press fulfills their duty to report with accuracy, interpret events so that citizens can understand the meaning to their lives, and represent the views of all the sectors in society. I consider this an excellent definition of a journalist’s duty.

What does one need to work as a journalist? A multi-awarded senior journalist who teaches Mass Communication said she looks for one competence: the ability to see the story.

K to 12 proponents say the reform is needed to keep up with Asian neighbors and the rest of the world. First, our graduates should work with the country’s welfare in mind.

Storytelling is not only needed in newsrooms. The knack of finding the story in a forest of facts or chimera of lies will help citizens monitor how their local government spends the 15 million to 20 million pesos budgeted to it each year.

The ability to tell a story is not a gift or a moment’s inspiration. Knowing what stories have to be told and how to tell these can be learned by writers, cartoonists, actors, film makers, bloggers, and Netizens. Mass media and the Internet need a lot of stuff taken out but also a lot of stuff to be put in.

The ability to “smell a story” will help the Mary Jane Velosos and other vulnerable Filipinos see through the deceptive eloquence of “straight English”-speaking opportunists and manipulators.

Our country needs storytellers. Can the K to 12 produce them?

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s May 24, 2015 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Swamp things

“BANAL” and “horrible”.

With those choice words, French icon Catherine Deneuve recently dismissed the Internet, selfies and social media.

The 71-year-old actress criticized the digital age’s “intrusion (into) everything, everywhere, all the time”. She singled out selfies: “photographing yourself all the time… makes everything banal.” She was as withering about virtual reality: “this idea that we are looking at ourselves doing things, without actually experiencing them, is horrible”.

One can shrug off Deneuve. She was made a star by an older medium, after all.

Yet, she isn’t the only one who has a “very limited relationship with technology”.

In his “The New Media Monopoly,” Ben H. Bagdikian cites a 2003 Pew Foundation study that found 42 percent of adults, who were family members and close friends of Internet users, preferred not to go online. Valuing face-to-face activities” as “normal,” these “deliberate nonusers” send handwritten letters.

They are different from other nonusers, who, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, belong to “minority, rural, and low-income families with members who did not attend college”. When they want to, these nonusers go to public libraries or friends’ homes for Internet access.

Why avoid the Internet? Like Deneuve, Bagdikian blames people’s discomfort with the Internet’s intrusion. He mentions the online jargon, “time swamp,” which captures the Internet’s “notoriously seductive ability” to make users lose track of time.

Notice how even print media is swamped by technology? Recently scanning the “Parenting” supplement of a national daily, I picked an article for its headline, which included a new word: “phablet”.

According to the writer, this “extra large mobile device” is “smaller than the regular tablet” and “larger than the typical smartphone”. It is the “smarter choice” for Filipinos, who are the “most connected people in the world”.

Luckily for the editor and PR firm placing the article, I am drawn to new words. “Phablet” did make me wonder why the editor would include an article about a gadget launching in a section on parenting. I count as my children two teenage boys, nieces, nephews, godchildren, and several generations of students. I have a basic phone with a torchlight function (love the word). I use the computer for work. However, I don’t see technology as the “smarter choice” to connect with and stay connected to my children.

Like a real swamp, the Internet is home to many creatures. This includes Prasertsri Kosin, a Thai national who recently opted for voluntary deportation after he got the ire of Netizens. Using his online moniker Koko Narak, Kosin posted that “Pignoys (combining Pinoy and pig)” were the “scums of the Earth” and a “useless race in this world”. In his apology, Kosin said he was just being “playful”.

The Internet was also home to Ananta Bijoy Das until he was hacked to death by machete-armed attackers in Bangladesh. Das was a banker whose blog, “Mukto Mona (free mind),” promoted rationalism and opposed fundamentalism. He was the third blogger killed in less than three months in Bangladesh for speaking out against religious extremism.

Banal? More times than should be tolerated. Horrible? More infernal things have crawled out of swamps, real or virtual.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s May 17, 2015 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”