Category Archives: Education

#22: Sports from Household Items

This week’s latest post, like one of my recent posts, is a Creativity assignment for Venture Lab’s A Crash Course in Creativity class. May you enjoy reading and may you get stimulated enough to think of household sports of your own, short of throwing plates to each other.

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#19: Practice Teaching Questions

Next week, I will begin my student teaching at a high school, a time when students take on a multiplicity of roles and may have to choose which ones to adapt and to reject. The numerous variables interacting inside a classroom can make the typical layman – who is often never inside a classroom – wonder: How can learning take place in such a place? Dealing with 30+ people at once and with a teacher who also serves as an adjudicator (not yet a peer) can seem daunting, but not for me.

Moreover, I’ve always been fascinated in how people’s minds tick ever since I graduated, and what better way to explore that than inside a classroom where everything is within plain view of anyone else?

I want to infuse the habit of questioning onto my students; the last thing I want for them is for someone else to take the rudder on their learning, whether for the noble goal of learning what they have to if they are to survive in today’s occupational and social landscape, or whether for manipulating the students’ learning for their own ends or for someone else’s will which the students won’t consent to if they knew what was going on the whole time

The best way that I have in my hands, and an affordable one, is to teach children the lesson along with questioning habits that will enable them to link their lesson with the real world. And if they don’t find any connection, that’s okay too; at least they can have the knowledge stuffed in their mind for further contemplation or if there is really no connection, then they can encourage schools to chuck out the lesson the moment they start raising children

Now, as I do my practice teaching, here are questions that I want running in my mind. You’ll notice that one question may logically precede another, so this can really keep you busy. I will stop each chain to three questions, to save space, although the chains might well as be perpetual:

1. What am I teaching? Should I teach this stuff, if at all? Why am I teaching this stuff?

2. Do the students find value in what I am teaching? Do I myself find value in what I am teaching? What values do we derive?

3. How am I teaching? Is there a better way to teach a certain lesson, after I taught it? How can I adapt my teaching methods to the cultural backgrounds of the students so that all of us are comfortable with the teaching?

4. What are my students doing during their spare time? What is the extent of my influence toward their spare time? And how should I influence the way they spend their spare time, or should I wholly stay out of it?

5. How should I deal with the other teachers and other school personnel? What can I learn from them and what can they learn from me? And how can I help them in every way I can?

Notice that they are very generic. Many more questions can sprout, depending on the circumstances. Some of them may increase or decrease in relevancy. But it’s better to keep your mind working rather than churning out the same run-on-the-mill education that students often receive. It’s better to challenge yourself when teaching – and to challenge the underlying precepts of work – rather than stagnate and regret that you should have done 20 years earlier what you want to do today.

Finally, the questioning habit is contagious, more so for people who want to retain or renew their childlike curiosities.

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#18: Booksale Observations

For my latest post this week I won’t make a conventional post. Rather, I will just post my assignment answers for an online course A Crash Course on Creativity at Venture-Lab. Enjoy, and may the book-buying bug sting you and make you more observant and reflective.

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#17: On English Teachers and Writing, Speed Drafts, Creation, and Perception

Dr. Isagani Cruz, a Palanca Hall of Famer and a renowned educator, remarked once that English teachers very rarely write books (unless they are textbooks). He stated the need for meticulousness as the chief reason. English teachers, according to him, have a boatload of grammar rules in their heads. In the rare instances they do begin to write, questions like “Is it more appropriate to use a semicolon compared to a comma in this instance?” or “Should this paragraph come before or after the next, or should it be knocked off entirely?” take precedence over “What else can I add to what I’m writing?”

Even if they have the requisite ideas and are flexible enough in changing from teaching gear to writing gear, their training prompts them think longer than necessary when writing, so they almost always lag over their projects. That’s only a general impression I have, though. But given the dearth of Filipino writers nowadays, I believe that young Filipinos will finally love writing once they see English teachers love writing and actually do some writing themselves.

***

So here in this blog, to avoid over-thinking technicalities, I am free to pen down ideas without considering whether they hang together or not. No stopping. I will just make them hang together when some major project involving writing arrives (which may or may not come). I will fill this blog with nothing more than first drafts, from now on. Never mind the grammar; the goal is to solidify and develop any given idea into a medium before it dashes away irretrievably from my mind.

What I have to do for every post is to concentrate upon a single idea for a protracted amount of time (which in our attention standard is 10 minutes or more), while stopping only for short breaks as needed to replenish my senses and thoughts. With stimuli thrown all over us while we sit or lie awake, solid concentration is becoming rare, but such is the art needed most when writing. When you have an idea for writing, you can brainstorm with yourself for ideas to write about, but in the end you have to take a single one and take it as far as you want to go.

***

Also, the goal here for my blogging is to stimulate creation and perception. Are they innate or can they be practiced? It’s often insensible to decide which actually the case is. But one can bet on either and live with it. If I think that both creativity and stark perception are inborn, then there is certainly no need for me to develop new ways to recombine ideas in my head or to find them out there in the wilds. That sort of thinking can lead to laziness.

So I am going to bet on the other: that both can be developed. The notion that the more you do something, the better you become at it, is already a truism; its clearest and most popular exposition in literature is the “10,000 hour” rule by Malcolm Gladwell. The two are also complementary in my view. Creation aids perception, because what you create is something new that can refresh your senses from commonplace things, and as the need for you to create strengthens, your senses will suddenly itch for stuff to observe, so even mundane matters turn to opportunities. Perception also aids creation by providing your mind with raw materials from the outside world which your creativity will then process.

Betting that both creation and perception can be strengthened, moreover, removes all cheap rationalizations for shirking off writing or putting off thinking. That also keeps me going in numerous directions so I wouldn’t be as resentful as someone else whose mind gets stuck in one-way traffic and then blames the world for it.

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#16: A Few Scattered Drafts on Learning How to Learn

What should schools be good at? The quick answer: learning – and teaching students to learn. It is almost an educational truism that students in schools should “learn how to learn” and to sharpen the mindsets that would help them to do such. I’ve always assumed, pragmatically, that students just forget whatever they learn after they are tested for that knowledge, so unless they are particularly turned on with such information, then they should at least be able to graduate with something of value: ways to learn how to learn plus the mental acuity for such.

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In the Philippines, what is school’s function? There always goes the familiar chorus: “So that children will grow up and be able to get jobs.” That underscores most of serious schooling talk in the Philippines aside from grades, tests, and schedules. It’s a constant grind: parents remind children to study hard to get high scores in tests to get good grades, and there’s no letting down because the schedules are tight. At the base of all these is the hope that all graduates would somehow be able to get good jobs, mostly abroad, where plenty of money is to be earned. Diplomas, moreover, serve as social signals that someone is educated; just notice how they are conspicuously displayed at every home, along with some medals and certificates.

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I’m not saying that education should stray as far as it can from industrial demand. Of course, schools need to produce a mass of graduates able to take on high-level technical work. But we can’t just manufacture students who can “do” without building up their thinking. Many technical procedures today might become outdated later on, and many new ones will emerge. Graduates are in a better position to learn those new techniques if they know how to learn – thus saving themselves from becoming what Alvin Toffler called the “illiterates of the 21st century”. And, oh, many professionals today insist that most of the stuff they know came from the job itself.

***

A strong proposal: Leave the expertise to the jobs; while at school, teach students to learn how to learn, with the subjects as vehicles to that end. Ideally, I want every last student in the Philippines to learn Math. It’s a highly rewarding discipline; it has the dual benefit of having lots of industry applications and its being hospitable to play. One can do Math with a definite purpose or without one. However, Math teachers know well that with a few exceptions, most of the Math (content) that students learn goes down the drain. So while teachers should still teach Math, they should do so in such a way that students will become curious with every discussion, not feel trapped with the knowledge they have (couldn’t it be possible that sometimes knowledge can be trap – we’d rather be inside it than confront the outside world where wolves sometimes thrive?)

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Curiosity is important in “learning how to learn”, and such a trait manifests in constant questioning. Schools should certainly encourage this attitude; when a teacher declares “Any questions?”, he or she better be sincere. Connected to this is the purpose of questioning; is its main (perhaps for some, only) purpose to assess what students already know? What if teachers began asking questions without needing students to answer, with just the remark that these questions are good questions but they need not be answered right away? After all, the best questions always stick in the minds of interested thinkers for hundreds or even thousands of years.

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Many of us still assume, naively, that doing is what happens when learning is finished. That is the notion behind the “study well so that you’ll get a good job”. Curiosity can eradicate that notion: when you do something, you learn from it; you constantly reflect; you find better ways to do it; you can find creative twists to it. Curiosity surely helps anyone explore all that is contained within an action, from participants to stakeholders to methods of improvement to “whether it deserves to be done at all”, and such exploration is learning, and it mostly involves asking the right questions and chasing down partial or total answers to them. With this, learning is already doing; the two are not any more distinct.

Do teachers think similarly? Is learning to them a part of doing, or something that should happen before doing? The teacher’s way of teaching will show her orientation toward both learning and doing, and students will absorb what they see.

***

One of my friends just remarked that he wanted to be freed from the pressure of books and he doesn’t want to hold any more books forever. I wonder what has happened exactly to him, but it could be this: Books are not something to be read, but “pressed” upon him. Reading, for him, has become a passive activity in which he becomes a receiver, not an active one in which he is deliberate. Reading can’t always be “You have to” from without if it is to be sustainable; it has to be often an “I will” from within.

There could be a Pyrrhic victory behind his situation – he got what he wanted from his education, but I wish he didn’t get an aversion to further learning, especially from books which give not only information but also ways on mobilizing and organizing them with due thoughtfulness.

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#14: Post About a Post About a University

Somewhere on the Netwaves, there is a blog post whose title is “The Perks of Being a/an X Graduate” where X is the name of a university. You may want to read the original post to find out what X is, but I’ll request that you skip that until the end. For now, treat X as a generic school – it may very well be your own school, or a school of someone you know – and you will lay bare your assumptions regarding higher education in this country.

I’m going to swing my bat right off the bat with an analysis of the opening lines:

These are just based on what I heard from people so puh-lease DO NOT CRITICIZE mehhhh! K here we go:

I’m going to criticize these “people” instead along with their faulty notions, and here I go too:

There is often a “Wow Factor” when people find out that you’re a graduate from the said university which makes you feel like you’re superior to any other universities. Well, admit it. You do feel this, don’t you?

Setting aside the faulty grammar involving the comparison of a person to “other universities”, this misses the question: superior at what qualities? And are these qualities obtainable only from university X? Also, I feel that a “Wow” often ends any discussion, and when it doesn’t, only more “Wow’s” and similar-sounding cheering squad jargon (“ooooh”, “aaaaah”, “oolala”) follow.

Like what I heard, you can easily apply for a job even if you’re not experienced. The name of your school affects your employment these days. And again, just like what they told me, you don’t have to go looking for job because the job will find you.

Setting aside the utter impossibility of a person being “not experienced”, the proposition may be true, but only to a point. Beyond a certain amount of time, experience (whatever it means) will matter more than education. Also, this reflects what people may want more than any other from a university: the name. What about the learning? As the great German Goethe said, “a name is but noise and smoke”.

People would be impressed and think you’re a smart ass and all but some people might get intimidated.

Just because someone came from university X doesn’t mean that the person is already a “smart ass”. While the entire population of X can be justly described as intelligent, there are the “smarts”, the “smart asses”, and the “asses”.

They would think you’re an activist (This is actually a wrong connotation for [X] students. This can’t be called a benefit. Why did I even include this in the first place? K sorreehh..)

I don’t think it’s a bad connotation, unless you want a world full of yes-sayers, trained during childhood to say “Yes” to every teacher’s request so in the future a “Yes” will more easily come than a “No”. To paraphrase educator John Holt, the more you obey, the more likely you will spread evil.

Lastly, you would gain confidence.

Does the confidence gained come with carrying the name of X or is it ingrained?

These do not always happen though but in some circumstances, they do.

Why do they happen, anyway? Whose mind has lingering questions about why they happen?

Forgive me for posting this. I’m so sabaw tonight

Me too, though on a cooler day this would be thrice as long. This post is just to meet my quota of two blog posts per week.

The post I referred to is this: The post

P.S. At least I got some good practice in conciseness and post-cutting.

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#13: Loose Analysis of Questioning in Philippine Education with Geert Hofstede’s 5-D Cultural Model

Most schools in the Philippines, I intuit, have the habit of giving us answers while leaving us in the dark about the right questions. At once it is easy to find out some contributing factors to this. When we recall our childhoods, it’s more likely that our elders suppressed our impulse to ask questions – an honorable impulse brought about by curiosity. We also have a derisive term for a constant questioner: the pilosopo.

It is said that education (especially the public sort) can affect all the citizens of any nation. Therefore the culture of any country is a good enough indicator of the education taking place there. To analyze culture we use Geert Hofstede’s 5-D model, with the 5-D standing for five cultural dimensions: (1) power distance, (2) individualism, (3) masculinity and femininity, (4) uncertainty avoidance, and (5) long-term orientation. Here is a summary of how the Philippines fared:

(1) Power distance – 94. A very high score (the highest is 100); Filipinos generally accept the existence of unequal distribution of power in the society.

(2) Individualism – 32. A low score; Filipinos prefer to commit themselves to a group in various settings, especially school and work, instead of fending off for themselves

(3) Masculinity/Femininity – 64. This score is skewed in favor of masculinity; Filipinos, therefore, are highly achievement-oriented, have an assertive stance to daily living and conflict resolution. Femininity, on the other hand, indicates greater emphasis on “quality of life” rather than trophies.

(4) Uncertainty avoidance – 44. This score is somewhat skewed in favor of less uncertainty avoidance. Filipinos are more welcome to deviations from established norms; the manana habit and the breaking off from company protocols are some instances.

(5) Long-term orientation – 19. This score is very low; Filipinos prefer the quick “jackpot” instead of being like the ant that, during the summer, saves for the winter bit by bit.

Now what does all of these have to do with the culture of questioning in Philippine schools? Using these results can make us form a coherent picture:

(1) High power distance places teachers on a virtually unquestionable position. More often than not, students ask questions to clarify what teachers said, not to offer a challenge or to add to the lesson. Offering a challenge threatens the teacher’s sense of position in the school hierarchy. Adding something to the lesson displaces a teacher’s lesson plan and thus shakes her sense of authority. And too often we forget to ask or demand the value of the lessons we’re learning in schools. What did we learn the Binomial Theorem or the different types of algae for? Such innocuous questions, which permit gentle responses, are surprisingly unasked.

(2) Loosely, low individualism can be disabling in asking questions. Suppose you are a naturally inquisitive student surrounded by mostly “contented” classmates. If you’ll be the only one asking questions, then others will perceive you as a nonconformist and sooner you will be contented like them. It is also low individualism that causes students to do in groups what they would be willing to do as individuals, such as collective cheating and frat wars, and there is little questioning going on regarding these phenomena involving the “madness of crowds”.

(3) The masculine orientation allows Filipinos to accept scores, grades, trophies, certificates and the like as untainted marks of education. The fetish for college degrees also falls on this orientation. Unless they get lucky and someone teaches them the fine art of iconoclasm, they won’t ever ask questions like “What do grades really measure?” “What does having a diploma really imply, and what should it imply?” “Is there a correlation between grades and real-life success?” Hardly anyone of us wonders about the “quality of learning” even if we’re left in the dark as to its “quantity”.

(4) Less uncertainty avoidance should be welcome. Asking questions makes us throw off our cloak of “certain” learning invincibility and allows others to know that there are still incomplete aspects to our learning. However, by my experience, less uncertainty avoidance manifests itself by rule-breaking of sorts. In schools in the Philippines, it is a titanic struggle to be certain about one’s values (while refining them daily), especially honesty. “If you see others cheating at exams, then why shouldn’t I”? And we justify similar practices in the name of survival as we grow older.

(5) Our short-term orientation reflects our attitude towards exams and grades. Should you study for the test? Of course you should, because doing so makes you respect “practice effects”, but you should not let your studying get in the way of your learning. Short-term orientation allows students to ask “What will come out in the test?” and thus fixate them to getting good test scores. And then the students forget their learning right after the exams, after the grades, and after school. I also think that many teachers are to blame for this – instead of giving facts for the sake of rattling them again during exams, they should give facts while sharpening the minds of students (using their subject matter) so the pupils can get training on how to make sense of the facts. That training can very well persist throughout life.

Be reminded that Hofstede’s 5-D framework, when applied to education, is in no way limited to analyzing the questioning habits of students. 5-D can lend coherence to many other educational facets in the Philippines.

However, I chose questioning because it’s a valuable skill useful not only in intellectual and artistic work, but increasingly at all sorts of work. We can attribute the dearth of scientists, mathematicians, philosophers, and book writers to the failure of graduates to learn the right questions to ask, but we’ve lived with that for long already. But we can’t live with that any longer once we find out that questioning is a valuable work skill and many employers around the globe are asking for their employees to have it (and I’s daresay too that employers who do otherwise are becoming extinct).

Here is education innovator and consultant Tony Wagner’s take on the issue. In his book The Global Achievement Gap, he recalls the answer to his question on “what qualities he most wants in a potential new employee”:

First and foremost, I look for someone who asks good questions… Our business is changing, and so the skills our engineers need change rapidly, as well. We can teach them the technical stuff. But for employees to solve problems or to learn new things, they have to know what questions to ask. And we can’t teach them how to ask good questions—how to think. The ability to ask the right questions is the single most important skill.

Education in the Philippines has plenty of catching up to do when it comes to improving the questioning skills of the students. To accomplish that, however, requires a massive shift in cultural priorities. We can start asking a few questions, and you can add more of yours (now here is a chance to practice those questioning skills): Would teachers be willing to give up some of their authoritarianism in a possibly risky exchange for more discussion in class? Will students get used to that setup? In a culture used to having parents who reward children getting grades over the roof, how can we explain the real significance of those grades? How can we ensure that students don’t leave our classrooms with stuff they may have forgotten before exiting the door? Does God exist, and how do we treat those who believe otherwise?

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