Monday, September 27, 2010

My Creative Mission

I am a missionary.
There may be a lot of biases from that, but I don’t really mind now.
My job is to lead groups of college students into a deeper relationship with God.
And to do that, I would have to grab their attention.
Get them out of addictions.
Be an elder brother.
Even if it calls for some somersaults, spins, spur of the moment gatherings, jamming, partying, and even out-of-this-world pieces of advice, I’d do it.

Because otherwise, I would be another boring preacher, struggling to tell the world how awesome our God is.

Fortunately, it’s starting to pay off.
For the past weeks, we have been struggling to hold a Catholic prayer gathering called “The Feast” (established by Bo Sanchez), in the Manila Central University (MCU), in Caloocan. Just to give a background, we have succeeded doing this in other schools such as UP Diliman, University of the East and the Polytechnic University of the Philippines. The attendance would not go lower than 300!

We already have at least thirty student-volunteers for the MCU Feast.
That’s a lot.
And for more than three months, we waited.
And in between we created so many bonding moments, that there was nothing else I could ask for.
The surprise finally came.

We were at last given verbal approval to hold the MCU Feast.
But we had to do it in 9 days! (This normally takes three weeks to a month)
The rest of the story was phenomenal.
All the students were mobilized, each given a specific task to perform, and with strict deadlines. They had to rush t-shirts, posters, music rehearsals, and venue approvals. Taglines had to be thought of, décor had to be bought, money had to be budgeted, etc.
It was chaos in its most creative form.
And before my very eyes, I saw the Feast coming to life in a matter of days!

It was all a success, until the school dropped a bombshell on us.
A day before the event, the written approval had not yet been secured.
Apparently, it had decayed on the desk of one of the higher-ups, thus postponing the “dream.”
And the greatest thing? Not one of the thirty students buckled.
We went through the pain together. We comforted each other.
Now, they’re on the verge of planning a better, bigger, more blessed Feast in the future.

How did we manage to survive such a creative challenge?
Strong, understanding, and meaningful relationships.
Relationships that don’t judge, undermine, nor intimidate each other.
These relationships are what makes missionary work worth more than the price we’re paid.
And I believe that just like us, these relationships are what propelled Pixar to be who they are now.

I have enumerated three non-negotiable conditions by which creativity would thrive in my work as a missionary, based on the Pixar experience.

1.      Missionary work should be surrounded by loving relationships. This encompasses all that Pixar does. From its idea gestation stage all the way to its postmortem practices, I believe that no creative process could come out if their working atmosphere were all of criticism, evasion, and mistrust. They had a culture going. It was an environment passed on from its first directors, to each person in the company. And this culture could never be taught, if it were not for its founders.
In missionary work too, one can never attract people to God if he is a “walking problem”! Once a missionary settles with his mission territory, he should be a living example of positivity, love and joy.

2.      Missionary work relies on creative people, not on creative ideas. “The Feast” is a breakthrough in Catholic evangelization. But however great the idea is, it would never have thrived under mediocre people.

Just like how Pixar would get a dinosaur, or a robot, or a toy, and give life to it, missionary work does not stop after gestation. It needs the best team for it to thrive. Fortunately, my team had people who can do all kinds of stuff: photography, accounting, music, computer graphics, dance, engaging people, etc. And they were the best in their fields!

Some religious groups, organizations, even parishes would fall into the trap of “reviving the dead.” They would come up with new ideas, and try to sell them to members who have already been burned out from the community. The result? The new ideas flop, and the old, “revived” members once again have a reason to leave.

3.      Missionary work should be transparent. I love how the physical spaces of Pixar were literally interaction spaces. This translated to open lines of communication and a sense of equality between boss, and subordinate. I love the idea that Pixar would outwardly give the impression that “not because they were successful, they were doing everything right.”
Missionary work should also be a level playing field. There should be neither boss nor subordinate. There should be no exclusive holder of knowledge. There should be no hidden grudges, bondages, and agendas. If the missionary and the mission area are not open to each other, the mission does not succeed, because spirituality is inevitably translated to physicality.

            Creativity will thrive given the right situations and the right timing. I believe that all workplaces need these environments; however they are not templates for all kinds of work. In essence it is still up to us to create, grow and thrive in whatever work we choose, lest we miss the point of working itself.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Calling Clutter Creative! (A Snoop Observation)

Once each week, our choir holds rehearsals in a member’s house.
This week, I didn’t only sing.
I snooped.

This house was the best specimen for the snoop assignment. It was a very small townhouse unit with two floors, and it’s just a stone’s throw away from our house in Mandaluyong. For the longest time, I’ve wished to put a handle to the “personality” if these owners, and I figured, this is the best way to do it. There were eight occupants in all: two choir members (the owners), an adopted ten-year-old boy with a learning disability, a yaya for the child, a labandera, a cook, a “personal helper” of one of the owners, and one in charge of the small “sari-sari” store inside their sala. They have businesses of their own too. One runs a tarpaulin printing shop, the other is busy with running a computer parts retail store in Makati.
Talk about clutter – they all barely have enough space to move in!
But that’s just the beginning.
Here’s the blow-by-blow “Sherlock Holmes” investigation that I did. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to bring my camera, and sneakily take pictures of the “crime scene”! I made my descriptions extra-juicy, though.  

First, you enter the house, and all you see is EVERYTHING.
When you take your first few steps inside, you have to maneuver yourself into the maze of the small sari-sari store which they put up to cater to the other townhouses. Racks and racks of chips, drinks, cooking oil, onions, carrots, eggs, even slippers, toiletries and bags are hung and sold to the neighbors. This is clearly an identity claim that shows independence, ingenuity and knowing how to answer to obvious and immediate needs.
As you step inside some more (which isn’t that far inside), you have this bulky canvas-upholstered couch against a wall littered with picture frames and memorabilia. They have a lot of pictures of themselves during their “thinner” days. Since the owners are choir members, a lot of the mementos are to remember their heyday in choir-life – tours, competitions, everything.
Inside the small living room (as in fit for five people, shoulder to shoulder), tons of magazines of countless subscriptions abound. If they’re not in the five-foot stack in the corner, they are on top of the big wooden chest at the center of the sala, just collecting dust. Another identity claim is the computer inside the living room. The wallpaper is the logo of their family business. Therefore, a clear “others-directed” identity of what they do. Then on the shelves by the staircase is a host of CDs of all artists you can think of. Most of them are minus-ones – if not bought, it’s personally arranged.
It’s basically the same clutter when you step into the dining room and the kitchen (notice the word “step,” because it’s really small and crowded). Surprisingly, the shoe cabinet is in the dining area; the refrigerator door is literally invisible because of the splash of magnets, notes, post-its, etc.; there is a tall floor lamp on the kitchen counter; Christmas décor are still on the walls, and containers and containers of food, nutritional supplements and weird-sounding herbal teas are stacked up in a dark corner. This may be some behavioral residue that indicates some lack of organization, wanting everything to be within reach, insecurity, and “peaceful chaos” (since they’ve lived with it for quite some time now).
Outside, are the maids’ quarters, and the washing area, which is, obviously filled with clothes and the “currently unneeded” objects.

If that was chaotic enough, you haven’t gone to the second floor yet!
There are three small rooms upstairs: a bedroom, a stockroom and a TV room. Let me just highlight some images which struck me.
Obviously the stockroom is their hiding place. Everything they bought from the hardware store, appliance center and the TV shopping channel are all there. They buy for a one-time use, and stock it up for the “future.” Boxes and boxes of music sheets are also the main feature of this room. We really haven’t had the time and the “courage” to compile all these pieces, because they’re simply daunting.
The TV room is a nice room. It’s comfortable, cool, and fits three to five people – exactly for the whole family. There are a lot of feeling regulators around, such as a stack of instrumental CDs, stuffed toys and pillows and a nice heavy curtain, which gives a feeling of coziness. There is also an oil burner which can spice up the air, and to top it all off, dimmers are also installed for the lights. Of course, just like any other adult, there are also a number of adult movies on the rack, but discreetly hidden in between random CDs to avoid detection – a behavioral residue which can speak volumes.
Finally, the bedroom also has its share of physical clues. There are two beds, a queen and a sofa bed, and they aren’t that neatly fixed. The comforter is ruffled along the edges, and the slippers are scattered by the bathroom door and under the bed. The clothes chute is filled to the brim, with some more clothes scattered around it. The bathroom itself has a host of bottles, deo sprays, toiletries and linens. It’s nice to notice that even though the bathroom is filled with unused bottles and whatnots, the choice of linens, toilet seat covers and products are rather top-of-the-line. You have a number of Watsons, Bench, and Body Shop products, also some imported ones. Their linens are also noticeably white – an indicator of “cleanness” somehow.

Being inside the house simply overwhelms me. I couldn’t really tell whether these owners have a knack for collecting things, or simply being at home with clutter. Judging from that, it is easy to agree that these people exude the Leonardo factor of OPENNESS. There have been a number of times when I find something interesting and end up asking it from them, but they would always have a reason to excuse themselves because they need it for “something else.”  It’s not that they’re selfish or anything, but I guess their resourcefulness for objects is so diverse. Any product developer can sell them anything, and profit from them! There are also hints of NEUROTICISM, because when I was doing my snoop tour, I could see the owner following me with his eyes and asking me why I was “extra observant!” He would lead me out of the rooms ever so quickly, and talk to me a lot!

It’s interesting to see such personalities emerge from these physical spaces. At first, I just thought of them as “hoarders” as we now know them, but eventually, I was able to appreciate how in observing one’s physical space, product developers, artists, and those in the design industry can learn a lot.
And finally, if I were to give them a gift, I would NOT give them another “useful something.” From now on, I’d give them FOOD! Anything as long as it’s edible! And I’d make sure that it’s either just a tiny dollop of something, or something SOO good. In both ways, it’ll be gone fast and painlessly. 

Monday, July 26, 2010

Miguel's Mind Map

I wont have any excuses for this, dear sir, and classmates. I will admit, it's late.
But I'd never want to shortchange myself of the learnings I can gain. Therefore, here's my mind map on the uses of mind mapping. :)

Since I give talks and lectures alot, i've used the mind map for other various purposes.
This one is from a talk on Tithing in the church.

Sorry, I just couldnt get it stand upright!
And this is on God's Love.

I'd love to do this for my talks from now on. It really helps!
Praise God for Mind Maps!:)

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Design Observation:My yUcKy Cellphone!

It would be best that this yUcK design observation stays here in this blog.
Because I would consider the next sentences as infidelity to a friend who has served me for quite some time now.
I’m even starting to think of letting him rest from his service.
But not before delivering this eulogy. A cellphone eulogy.

I bought my Samsung M620 cellphone as a birthday gift for myself last January 2009. What made me buy it? The best reasons.
First, I was sick and tired of the plain bar-phone which I’ve had since my Nokia 3210 ages ago. This one was a slide-phone, which was cooler and more sophisticated! Second, it had a dark-silver color, which added sleek-iness and elegance to it. Third, I was ready to face a new texting and calling experience, which by then was getting too boring. I don’t know if it’s just me, but isn’t everyone up to some “harmless” adventure sometimes? And finally, I was earning. And I believe it was the first “four-digit-big-purchase” that I made since I received my first paycheck.

 It was the best buy of the month, but not exactly of the next month, let alone the next year.
But I had to learn it the hard way.
And recalling what my formators told me before I left the seminary, “When we enter (the seminary), we tend to enter for the greatest reasons. The irony is that when we leave, we leave most often because of those same great reasons.”
That proved right for me then. And I see history being repeated, only now with a phone.

And if I may, here’s what makes my phone yUcKy.

Moving Parts. I should have listened to my brother. Moving parts require a ribbon cable. Ribbon cable equals weakness. Weakness equals more trips to the warranty department, and eventually to another cellphone retailer if it doesn’t last you.
What are the symptoms? Once you raise the phone, off goes the screen. Once you fold it back down, on goes the screen. So how do you expect me to text with that? What’s worst, it would tease you into thousands of broken screen images when you try and flip it up and down in irritation! This has happened to me in three separate incidents. Each time the same ribbon cable, and each time, the same hope that it will get better.
It seems that the only solution available to me was to literally tape the phone open.
The tape’s already quite dirty and stained, but at least it stops the moving parts, which I thought were cool in the first place.
Resolution? Buy a solid piece of technology. The lesser the moving parts, always the better.

Color. I haven’t given up on the fact that matte silver does make a gadget look cool. At least it’s not bright red, nor yellow, nor printed with some Winnie the Pooh, or Pokémon characters! But having my iPod and cellphone lying side by side, gosh! I couldn’t but wish all gadgets were metallic silver!
A lot of my friends who look at the phone are surprised because I’ve had it for more than a year, and it still doesn’t have major scratches and doggie-bite marks. That works for me, because I keep it safe. But next time, I’m sure to leave the matte colors first, in place of more metallic-looking ones!

 New texting and calling experience. As I already mentioned, who isn’t game for some safe, harmless adventure? A lot of my friends tell me that they’re loyalists to Nokia. Apparently, they’ve memorized all the shortcut keys, the navigational keys, the applications, the services and whatnot that they’re simply not going to change to any other phone brand.
I should’ve listened again.
Texting is supposed to be a non-threatening, fun and easy task for an ordinary joe like me. And just when I thought I had the “new” adventure going on, I realized some things: Samsung phones don’t have “sent messages” folders; their “vibrate” mode is more like “buzzer” mode; I’d have to do more “small talk” with a new friend, before I figure out a way to organize and save his name into my contacts; and the worst part of all, you’d have to make a lot of “choices” and “confirmations” before you could send a message. You’d have to click “ok” FIVE TIMES before it actually says: “Sending Message…” Then a couple more times if you’re unlucky, and the sending doesn’t succeed.
I used to be a stickler for conformity. But now that I thought I would break the rules and make my own, I was discouraged, and am now looking for the old road home.
My final resolution: Look for the familiar in the gadgets you buy. The more you can relate to it, the better it will relate and make your life easier.

The final factor isn’t really part of the yUcKiNeSs of the product, but I’d like to point it out nonetheless.
Price. If you’re going to buy a gadget, don’t be fooled by its low price (I’d like to emphasize that I’m quite stingy when it comes to buys like those).
This product was a steal because it was on the decline by the time I bought it. I thought I could still run after fads and take advantage of its cheap price. But I learned a lesson.  Most often, if it’s a shirt, or a pair of shoes, go ahead and buy in the ukay-ukay. But if it’s a piece of equipment, go for the higher-priced one, especially if you’re assured of its brand and quality.

The Samsung M620 was a true friend.
It was unique (none in a room would share the same kind of phone).
It was useful.
It was good while it lasted.

But it was more of a liability than an asset. With the considerations of moving parts, color, texting experience and price, I’d have to resort to something safer, and something that will justify the use of what a cellphone really is.
And having said all these, I’ve just mustered enough guts to buy a new phone. I just hope I have the time!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Design Observation: WOW Alarm Clock!

Nothing beats a great alarm clock.
For centuries, this tiny little gadget that starts our day has undergone thousands of changes, big and small. And not for foolish reasons.

Alarm clocks dictate the tenor of our day, and if you’re serious about waking up, you’ve got to get a great alarm clock.

Fortunately, I love my alarm clock.
It’s simple.
It’s multi-functional.
It gets the work done.

Let me describe to you my normal night to day transition: First, I set the alarm. Second, I sleep. Third, the loud (and annoying) beep wakes me up just like I want to. But then I’d feel “sleep inertia” (that feeling when you’ve been jolted out from your bed). So Fourth, I would flick the switch from the beeping sound into my favorite Magical radio station, or into the built-in CD player, which plays automatically for one hour after the alarm. By the time it turns off, I would be out of the house, ready for my day.

So what makes this alarm clock special?
Five points: Efficiency, positivity, user-friendliness, portability and handicap-friendly.

Efficiency. If you have an alarm clock, the least you want it to do is to NOT wake you up. It’s better that you let someone knock on your door, or if you’re on the posh side, call you up ala “room service.” This alarm clock rates efficient in a number of ways. First, the alarm is LOUD. And since we live in a very small neighborhood, I wake up not because I need to, but because I fear that I’m waking the whole neighborhood up too!
Second, I appreciate the way that it can accommodate two alarm times with two kinds of beeps. Okay, I know that a lot of digital alarms can accommodate ten alarm times and set them off automatically. But two is enough for me.
I would usually set the first alarm on my exact waking time – but then who knows, I might just doze off for the second time. So, I the second alarm goes off after five minutes, making sure that I REALLY get up.
Any product should perform its task wit utmost dedication and efficiency. And if I were to rate any product I would say that this criteria would be on top of the list.
I think what gives me a hard time looking for a new phone is that a lot of products are too much embellished and I lose sight of what’s essential (especially that I’m not a techie). As long as something can call, text, take pictures and play music efficiently, I’m good to go.

Positivity. This really comes secondary. Since the alarm clock sets the mood of the day, you have to make it as positive as possible. I grew up in a very musical environment. I get jolted, touched, amused and moved by music. Thus the fact that my alarm clock can play music, is a total intersection of technologies. I love the fact that I only need Neyo, The Black Eyed Peas, or even Lady Gaga to perk me up, and that’s what the radio does. Additionally, when DJ Mo, Mojo and Grace Lee start talking, harassing their callers, I get particularly amused.
Products should make you feel good. Not just make you laugh, but strike a chord in you which you could smile about. It’s like chocolate. You can never NOT want chocolate because it specifically makes you feel good.  

User-Friendliness. I love the fact that I rescued this alarm clock from being thrown away in the trash. We got this from my aunt in Canada, and it was a 110-volt gadget. Without warning, my brother plugged it in at home, and poof! It broke even before we unveiled its glory. A year after, I had it repaired. To my surprise, it was easier to use than a cell phone alarm! Since it was a dedicated alarm clock, I only had to press a couple of buttons to set it, slide the switch to my desired beep sound, and voila! I would fall asleep in total confidence.
How many times did we tinker with our cell phone alarm just to make sure it would make the right sound at the right time? I’m sure it took me at least five times to set it, test it, and listen to it before I had to set it again and repeat the process.
Any product should be user friendly. I love the fact that the iPod touch only has one home key. All the other functions are one the screen.
I remember how I disliked my old MP3 player, because it tried to copy the interface of the iPod Mini, but couldn’t. It had the wrong keys doing the wrong functions. Therefore, I couldn’t rely on it especially when I was in a hurry or when I needed it most. Simplicity is the name of the game.

Portability. Okay, so my alarm clock is not really portable because it has to be plugged. But what I want to emphasize is that it’s small. I love the fact that it’s just small enough to accommodate the diameter of a CD! The speakers are on the sides, the interface is in front, and the CD dock is on top. Nothing more, nothing less.
My lifestyle needs gadgets just like that. I travel a lot, so my iPod touch works wonders for me. I’ve been stranded in busses, malls, waiting areas without a paper and pen, and the NOTE function really serves me a lot. It has saved me countless times when I need to organize my thoughts for talks, and when I need to jot down ideas for future use. Not to mention, it fits right in my pocket.
I won’t mind if I was gifted with a small laptop, a pocket mouse, a small table or a small bed. As long as I could drag it along, bring it on!

Handicap-friendly. I saved the best feature for last. You may be wondering: “What’s so special about an alarm clock that does such basic things?” And you may be asking: “What’s Migs’ handicap?”
As if you haven’t noticed by now, I can’t live without my eyeglasses.
I’m as blind as a bat when I would take them off, lie down and fall asleep.
The alarm clock is special for me because it has a big, bright time display in front. It’s not red, as others would imagine it. It’s a digital bright yellow. And it’s perfect for those middle-of-the-night sudden awakenings because I could tell the time effortlessly. Being the only source of light in the room, my eyes don’t even need to adjust.
A lot of people have their own “handicaps.” My mom once had to undergo therapy because she discovered that the joints of her right thumb were not functioning properly due to chronic texting. Thus, she had to buy a phone which had bigger and softer keys.
My final criterion for choosing something is if it can accommodate my “handicaps.” It may sound simplistic, but it’s the only way to be able to survive and enjoy the material things you possess.  

The alarm clock is an innovation brought about by a need. Because the old and conventional clocks only show the time, our ancestors thought: “Why not let these clocks ‘shout’ the time as well?” Today, a host of other alarm clocks abound: the simple “wind-up,” the challenging “digital,” and now, even the ingenious “progressive alarm clocks” which simulate even the sunrise, to help you wake up without the notorious sleep inertia.
This intersection of utilizing sight and sound is a simple one, but indeed, it has proven creative and useful for many reasons.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Cognitive Fitness: more than just two words

My Role Models are Right in Front of Me

I am blessed to have my four grandparents still alive and kicking.

In their heydays, my dad’s father was a Supreme Court Judge in the office of the Solicitor General, and his mother was an Elementary School teacher. Both of them were promising in their own fields, not to mention excellent, dedicated and multi-awarded employees.

My mom’s father was the director of the Food and Nutrition Research Institute of the Department of Health, and until now is a nutritional consultant for International Companies like Coca-Cola, Quaker, Nestle, to mention a few. Her mother was an administrator of then governor Danding Cojuanco, Jr., and now works fulltime alongside her beloved spouse as executive secretary, co-consultant and travel companion.

Looking at the marvelous lineage set before me, I dare not wonder why despite their age (my paternal grandfather is 91) none of them has succumbed to sickness nor mental deterioration.
All of them are cognitively fit.

Summarized in two words, the article was a blow by blow description and prescription on how to “age gracefully.” Apart from the numerous dermatological practices and products, people don’t see that true fitness starts from the inside-out, thus paving the way for an abundance of spa therapies, gyms and fitness centers. But does the inside-out really mean this alone?

It’s wonderful to think that of all the places one should start to be “beautiful,” the brain takes center stage.

Missionaries ought to be Cognitively Fit

Right now, I’m in what some people might call “No Man’s Land.”
I’m a Catholic lay missionary.
I still don’t look like one, sound like one and smell like one, but I’m trying to learn how to.
And it’s not an easy task.

Our designation is to establish small Catholic Communities in the campuses around the Metro, much like how the “Youth for Christ” spurred thousands of schooled youth into action. The Kerygma Family would like to do the same – now focusing on enlivening the youth to liturgy, Catholic spirituality, and worship. Just imagine the magnitude of it all.
But we have to start somewhere.
And that somewhere is the “search for patterns.”

How many of the school’s population still attend mass?
How many still believe in God?
How many have been attracted to another denomination or sect because they just “lost it” with the Catholic Church?
These are all patterns that will drive a mere mortal crazy.

But knowing that there is a need to re-evangelize the Filipinos, especially the youth, we can ask ourselves: What do the youth want? What do the youth deeply desire? Affection. Self-expression. Mature Freedom. This is a pattern long ago shelved by the Fathers of the Church for fear of upheaval. It worked. But these patterns are once again surfacing. Therefore, we have to expand our horizons to accommodate these patterns.
Is there a way of creatively presenting the Holy Mass so that people will want to attend?
Is there a more youthful way of worshipping God?
Is there an alternative to the debilitating sermon given by the priests?


And the only solution is to be innovative and creative.
Let me introduce you to The FEAST. It is a Catholic Prayer Meeting with a twist. It is open to all, and it has changed lives even of the most cold hearted, anti-cheesy, and humor-less individual. What happens there? Something you’ve always dreamed of as a Catholic.

For the longest time, songs in the mass were slow, unutterably profound, and sad. In the Feast, we sing live, upbeat songs which mean the same thing and speak the same language. For the longest time, sermons preached the justice and wrath of God in punishment for your sins. In the Feast, we focus on God as lover, not as mere judge and punisher. And for the longest time, people viewed church as a mere Sunday Obligation. In the Feast, we make it a Sunday Opportunity instead!

If we are not able to challenge the existing patterns which we observe and that which we are used to, the Church, whom we are working with, will slowly become extinct.
Innovation is crossing to the Courage Zone

For the pessimist, innovation is “leaving the Comfort Zone.”
For the optimist, it is crossing over to your “Courage Zone.”

In any organization, the church included, we should not search merely for best practices. We ought to continually search for “better practices” in order to innovate and recreate our lives. And this is not easy. It requires small acts of “brain exercise.”
Learn from experiences. Play. Search for patterns. Innovate.
And if in small opportunities, we see how we can improve what is existing, then our life itself will not stagnate and grow old.

My lolos and lolas aged only out of necessity. But I’m sure each new day is a manifestation of leaving their comfort zones and crossing over to their courage zones.
All this, thanks to their cognitive fitness.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Religious Education: A ‘No Cigar’ in the Ethical Mind

I taught in two schools.
A technical school, and an international school.
I used to think that none fared better than the other, until I read the “Five Minds for the Future.” On hindsight, I know why the international school, regardless of the money involved, produced students more fit to face the challenges of the real world, as opposed to the students of the technical school. What could the first school have done wrong? Let me describe them one by one.

The first school fosters technical discipline. This is shown in the dual curriculum of Academics and technical subjects. Incoming Juniors are required to take a placement test for their “major” subject in the next two years. These “major” subjects comprise Electronics, Computer, Drafting/Architecture, Industrial Electricity and Mechanics. As they graduate, they are consequently given two diplomas – one for having finished the academic subjects, and the other, for having specialized in his chosen discipline. Most of the graduates end up taking technical courses, and not a few prove to be successful.

The second school fosters ethics. I could say this because apart from its clear academic discipline, the international school rises above the rest. It teaches its students synthesis of the different disciplines, creativity from what they have learned, respect of the different cultures surrounding them, and above all, the proper way of dealing with people, events, the society, and the environment: ethics.

We could leave this with an obvious conclusion: the first school lacks training on synthesis, creativity, respect and ethics; while the second is great in all five. But I would like to posit another factor to the equation.

You see, the technical school is also a school run by a religious congregation. Therefore, as part of its core curriculum, the religion subject is taught. The international school on the other hand, cannot even dwell on religion – an absurdity if you ask me. But to buy peace, the curriculum simply does not have it.

So why isn’t the first school a leading example of ethical minds?
Can religious education be an example of a no cigar in ethical education?

The curriculum of the Religion department in the first school contains various subject matters essential to the said area. It has basic theology, basic philosophy, basic sacramentology, to mention a few. It also boasts of immersion programs, retreats and outreach programs to assimilate the events in the real world.
However, taking off from the idea of Gardner, this ethical education does not have any strong foundation. As a whole, the school jumps from aspiring to become disciplined to aspiring to become ethical! In turn, the students do NOT absorb religious education as an ethical teacher, but they view it as a wholly different discipline which they have to specialize on, apart from their “technical discipline.” It gets the students into an unending cycle of discipline after discipline, without synthesizing, creating, respecting and being ethical. The teachers, too, lose heart because they think that they are instilling values to the students. Much to their disappointment, they create a negative environment for ethics to truly stand out.

So how should we achieve ethics?
Yes, we have Gardner to thank. But I wish to stress that beyond religious education, we should have a spiritual awareness. This is totally different from the former. When one has knowledge of a greater Being, other than himself, he can produce endless amounts of positivity – thus: the five minds.
If he realizes that everything has a purpose, he learns that he exists to fulfill that purpose. If he is educated such that everything is interrelated, then he cultivates the power to synthesize. If he realizes that everything has order and meaning, and that everything has been provided for him on this earth, then he becomes creative. If he learns that he owns nothing, not even his body, he gains respect. Finally, if he knows that what he does affects everything, regardless of space and time, he gains an ethical mindset, regardless of religion, gender, class, age or race.

Spiritual awareness is my take on how to achieve the Five Minds.
Apart from the religious education one receives in school, there should be a stress on the metaphysical. Also, imagine if we all took things into this perspective: there would be greater possibility for understanding, generativity, and peace.

                But this kind of education is classically disturbing. It can never happen.
                But we can always be creative enough to think “out of the box” for it to take flight!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Teaching with a Criminal Record

I am a robber of creativity.
This is what I call myself after reading Ken Robinson and Daniel Pink.
As part of a well-renowned high school faculty, I should have a better title for myself. But now, it all boils down to this: a guilty man. A convict. A criminal.

Imagine, there you have me, an English teacher, on a routine lecture on sentence construction, parts of speech, how to use idioms, and how to identify character traits in a story. But what can I do? Those Digital Monsters in front of me (all boys at that) wont understand a thing if I ask them to interpret a poem by Shakespeare, or use imagery and metaphors to describe their One True Love. They will cast me into hell if I let them do a thesis on the Effects of Texting to the Spelling Proficiency of Fourth Year Students like them.
So what’s left of me? The blackboard, the Overhead Projector (which, I regret to admit, is not yet extinct in our classrooms), and first year lessons which they should have mastered but just didn’t stick because of a lack of a clear direction.

What’s causing all this repetition and staleness?
We don’t cultivate creativity.
 “The real value of the arts is not in making marginal improvements on the peripheries of the existing system of education, but in transforming the heart of it.”

Today, students don’t go to school anymore.
They’re dragged there.
And once their parents succeed, they wreak havoc – sanctions here, tardiness cases there, disrespect, bullying, and whatnot.

Then I see the bigger picture.
We are a victim of an L-directed mindset.
About ten years ago, the school finally decided to standardize its curriculum. That means that all the branches of the school aim to have one and the same teaching material for all year levels.
Cute thought. But what did they do?
First, they held inter-school competitions. Then, they ranked students aptitude against each other. Finally, they subjected all school quarterly exams to hundred-point multiple choice type tests.
You think that’s deadly? Wait ‘till you hear what’s buzzing inside the faculty room. You see teachers on a routine about the same lessons year after year; creative teachers being limited to teach only what’s going to come out in the exam; and new teachers frantic because they can’t seem to get their student’s attention through lectures of Dante’s Inferno and The Kinds of effective sentences.
During the two years I spent as a teacher there, one thing was for sure. It was very difficult to pinpoint someone to sing, to declaim, to write, to emcee, to act, and to just be creative.
Where has the enthusiasm gone?
“Everything’s fine with saturating oneself with English or Math or Science. Those are the courses we want our students to take, anyway. But saturating your students with arts, dance, music or even poetry might prove catastrophic.” They say this because of the misconception that the Philippine education has culturally put a high premium on the Academics over the Arts.

Truly, this is what powers the nation, but it does not capture its spirit. Creativity should be the cornerstone of education. Without it, teachers will not have the ability to inspire, and students will not have the strength to apply what they have learned. In the process, students will continually ask these PAMATAY questions like: “Why do I need to know this?” and “E ano ngayon?” What’s worst, be it the Greek gods and godesses or kinds of Adverbs that they have to memorize, they interrupt you and say: “Can I use this when I grow up?” Boom. Unless you can find a way out of the mess, and make up a convincing and life-threatening answer, mamamatay ka talaga.

Thankfully, there is still hope.
My school, which I relentlessly shamed earlier, is attempting to save face. The DepEd too is not to be outdone.
They have noticed the same problems and are now looking for a creative way out. And they called it Understanding by Design.

Now, don’t get me wrong. THIS IS NOT NEW.
However, it is quite remarkable, and timely, that the Philippine Educational system would adopt this “backwards design” model into the curriculum this school year.
What’s it all about?
It seems that they learned that students DO ask those pamatay questions, and are now trying to stop them from doing so. They also learned that traditional teachers often employ the Coverage-focused and Activity-focused style, which forces them to teach the contents of the books, but fails to connect them together, and to real life. Well, this design attempts the impossible: one, putting a high premium on the teacher’s creativity, and two, relying on the teacher’s ability to make his students have fun while learning. Let me explain further.

This design starts by identifying the desired results. This means that every quarter, teachers are to create a General Objective which everyone will try to assimilate at the end. For example, the general objective for the first quarter of the first year is that “the students are able to Narrate.” All activities for the quarter will then be geared to attain that.
The second step of the design is to define acceptable evidence. This is where the creative part comes in. Measurement and evaluation relies heavily on projects based on real-life experiences. This may be in a form of a field trip, play, production, business enterprise, etc.
Finally, teachers are to construct meaningful learning experiences to support the general objective, and thus create flexibility and creativity inside the learning area.

Sounds fun? We have to stick around for the results.
Foreign and Filipino educators have long wanted to remove “robber” from their credentials. If they continue doing this “18th and 19th century” education and arts policy, children’s minds will totally be void of sparkle and enthusiasm.
I, for one, am proud of Philippine education. Not that I like it, but I can say that it continually tries to resurrect itself even though it has been dying again and again after these decades.
And if I am still strong to reap the harvest of this kind of creative education, who knows, maybe we will be dominating the world of knowledge in the future.