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. 


Saturday, June 19, 2010

Miguel, the Human Doing

I just downed my hundredth glass of water today.
You see, I’m currently host to a terrible cough.
While in Baguio a week ago, the chilly evening air, the endless laughing whist playing Twister™, Scattergories™, and Up Words™ with friends, and the late night parties all caught me unaware.

And I hate it when, of all things, my throat gets sore.
Because it means I won’t be able to talk properly.
And if I can’t talk properly, I won’t be able to sing. If I can’t sing, I won’t be able to make friends. If I can’t make friends, I won’t be able to share. If I can’t share, I won’t be able to laugh. If I can’t laugh, I’m not my usual self.
Ever since I was a child I knew that my asset was my voice.
And I started building my identity around it. A lot of people know me as Miguel, the Singer. My students know me as Sir Migs, the teacher, and even some would address me as Brother Migs, the preacher. I like those addresses.

But now that I’m robbed of my Human Doing, what then is left of me?

Migs without the voice is Eduardo Miguel Florentino Ramirez. If you think it sounds Telenovela, you’re not alone.
You see, I’m one-fifteenth Spanish (if that’s really “divisibly” possible). And to prove that it trickles down to my veins, my parents gave me a Spanish-sounding name. I’m the eldest of three boys, not to mention the shortest too (and that’s not Spanish-like at all!). My all-time favorite and most memorable gift was a portable chalkboard, and two boxes of chalk – one plain, and one colored. And what I considered as playtime was not out in the streets, but inside my room, teaching my “invisible” students what I learned from school that day (weird, huh?).
I got my leadership genes from being the eldest. And since then, when someone puts me in that position, humbly I admit that unless it’s for a math or science project, I can deliver.

I’ve never had a girlfriend.
The closest I got to was a summer fling. But that’s not interesting to write about here.
I studied in an exclusive school for boys from elementary to college. I took up BS Secondary Education, Major in English, and as a way of giving back, I taught in the same school I came from (weird again, huh? Talk about attachment and comfort zones!). They say that teachers most often grow old single. I don’t believe that. It’s just that their love, care and zeal for their work are more than anything else. (Haha)

In between, I have an innate magnet to an empty stage, a blank chalkboard, a piano, a piece of paper, and a blank status box on Facebook. It seems that with them, I can do anything I want. Be it a play or a scenery, a clever visual aid, a song, a journal, or a 10-word tweet – the challenge and the possibilities are endless!

Oh, and before I forget, I recently resigned from my formal teaching job (delete the comment I made earlier on “attachment” and “comfort zones”), and I’m now a fulltime Catholic missionary for the Light of Jesus Community – more commonly known for its magazine Kerygma, and for its founder, Bro. Bo Sanchez. There’s nothing much to gain if you’re a missionary. Your allowance is not enough. Your schedule is “on-call.” Your clientele are as lost in the faith as you are. So I’m only as good as the friends I make, and the credibility I have.

If you ask me, I’m remarkably happy with the life I have.
But that’s only the beginning. All the things I wrote here may change tomorrow. Who knows, when my voice comes back, this Human Being will go back to its usual Human Doing self again? But that’s what makes life exciting.
We are always “In the Making.”
And I quote from one of my spiritual mentors: “The atoms that make us up flow endlessly within and around our bodies. This means we are literally more like a flowing river, than a painted canvas.”
See you around!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Sneezing out Inspiration

Just something interesting to kick off this blog. 
They walked in tandem, each of the ninety-two students filing into the already crowded auditorium. With their rich maroon gowns flowing, and the traditional caps, they looked almost as grown up as they felt. 
Dads swallowed hard behind broad smiles, and Moms freely brushed away tears. 

This class would NOT pray during the commencements – not by choice, but because of a recent court ruling prohibiting it. 
The principal and several students were careful to stay within the guidelines allowed by the ruling. They gave inspirational and challenging speeches, but no one mentioned divine guidance and no one asked for blessings on the graduates or their families.  
The speeches were nice, but they were routine. Until the final speech received a standing ovation.
A solitary student walked proudly to the microphone. He stood still and silent for just a moment, and then, it happened. 
All 92 students, every single one of them, suddenly SNEEZED!
The student on stage simply looked at the audience and said, 'GOD BLESS YOU’ And he walked off the stage.

The audience exploded into applause. This graduating class had found a creative and unique way to invoke God's blessing on their future with or without the court's approval.(Picture and Text from

I learned two things from this: One, it's amazing how even from the most unusual things, people have the capacity to create. Virtually nothing can stop us to make something new out of something already there. 

Two, the impetus to create stems from a deep yearning for something. A longing to fill in a void, or to emphasize an excess. Without which, people will not even bother to create. Out of a search for one's destiny, people tell stories. Out of a longing for a family of one's own, people create visions. Out of a consummation of a "one true love", people make lives. 

And the bottom line of this all is called INSPIRATION.