LAST May 9, I spent more than an hour waiting in a public classroom. This served as a “holding room” for two voting precincts.
Ordinarily, I would have begrudged the time spent in a room crammed with about 59 strangers. There were two wall fans; one wasn’t working and the other stirred up air that was halfway to fulfilling a threat that the morning was going to be warmer than its predecessors.
But if I’ve learned something from nearly three decades of teaching, it’s that I am the perpetual student. I’m at home in classrooms and libraries.
I prefer nothing more than to be seated behind a desk, first to arrive. If I had a tail, it would be wagging, in anticipation of the teacher striding through the door. Lacking a tail, I would have instead my assignment on the desktop, ready to be handed in.
The procedure last Monday did not encourage such fantasies. Inside the wilting heat of the holding room, we moved slowly down narrow rows, one chair at a time, until we stepped out to the corridor leading to the voting precinct.
Many of my companions looked stoic, perhaps thinking of the 30 contenders we each had to elect. The slip of paper where I had jotted down my candidates was in my pocket; it released me to look around the room.
Public classrooms have not changed much, based on my experiences during elections. Difficulties to fit my backside in the small seats or slip behind low desks reinforce the observation that the public school system lags while the world marches on. There is the eternal ceiling fan that refuses to stir; the reading corner bereft of anything that would tempt a young person.
Past the bleakness, is there something?
Last Monday, I had an hour to read and reread the faded handmade signs a teacher had made after class, most certainly after dipping into her own pocket. There were quotations from the bible, thinkers and scientists. There were excerpts to explain what one can aspire for through education. And my favorite: detailed sets of instructions on how to properly read a book silently or aloud in class.
Although we were all impatient to leave that sweltering holding room, not one of us, without any exception, could have done so without passing through classrooms in our time.
Schools are the “holding rooms” of our adult life: casting our ballot is a link in the process that began with classes shaping us and continues throughout our lifetime as citizens.
Though diminished by lack of funds and attention, classrooms, specially the public ones that are open to all, are powerful for incubation because these are the proxy laps where we listened to stories spun by our teachers.
A favorite strategy in lesson plans, stories make the student imagine and visualize a world beyond the present and the finite. Imagination demands a means of communicating, connecting, and relating with others. Knowing the past means benefitting not just from the wisdom of predecessors but being conscious of one’s legacy to succeeding generations.
At its best, a classroom stands for class or excellence. We would do well to remember our stake in this until we enter another holding room six years from now.
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*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s May 15, 2016 issue of “Matamata,” the Sunday editorial-page column