Scared in New York

16 July 2007 at 8:05 AM | Posted in News | 4 Comments

It should have been a perfect night. The last two performances last June 24, Sunday, of Philippine National Artist Alejandro Roces’s Something to Crow About at the famous La Mama Experimental Theater Club in New York City went very well, and I enjoyed taking my curtain calls for having written the lyrics of fifteen of the nineteen songs.

My relatives in New York had warned me not to take the train to my hotel after dark. I had checked in at the Holiday Inn near LaGuardia Airport, partly because it offered a free airport hotel shuttle and partly because I was a member of the frequent guest club of the hotel chain. The hotel itself was in a peaceful block, but the walk to or from the train station more than a mile away would take me through a street not exactly known for being hospitable to strangers.

My head was also full of the news that day that New York City had 3,612 “unidentified human remains” as of 2004, with the number growing every year by the hundreds. Since I loved my name, I was in no mood to be named a John Doe after having been murdered in New York City and robbed of all my identification cards.

Since the celebration after the last show lasted until almost midnight, I had no choice but to take a taxi from Manhattan to Queens, a ride of about thirty minutes, usually costing about $25 ($40 if it’s a hotel car), not too much to pay for remaining alive.

I gave the taxi driver the address of the hotel, told him it was two blocks from Shea Stadium (where the Mets had won a game the night before), and unfortunately did what I usually do when I get on a moving car – I fell asleep from exhaustion.

I woke up in time to see the taxi come close to Shea Stadium and my hotel. I told the driver, “That’s where it is.” Suddenly, he stepped on the gas and drove away from the hotel! I started to shout to him that we had passed the hotel and he should turn back. He completely ignored me and just kept on driving.

We must have been more than twenty miles past the hotel when he finally stopped on a dark street. I said to myself that this was it. I was indeed fated to become a John Doe. I did not want to get out of the car, because the whole neighborhood was deserted and I preferred to battle a single taxi driver than a gang on the street.

The driver claimed to have gotten lost. He hailed the only other car on the road. The driver of the other car got down. My driver asked the other driver where Holiday Inn was. (Of course, there are several Holiday Inns in New York!) The other driver said there was a hotel down the road and I could stay there if I wanted to. This was getting to be really ridiculous, if only I were not so scared.

I asked the other driver where Shea Stadium was. He claimed that he had never heard of it. I asked him where the Mets played baseball. He claimed that he had never heard of the Mets either. He had heard of baseball, but did not know what it had to do with our being on a deserted road in the middle of the night. Since I happen to have been born and bred in Manila, I knew that this was all for show. Imagine a New Yorker never having heard of the Mets?

Since I may have looked less like a tourist because I knew the Mets and perhaps because they probably had a stereotype of Asians as kungfu masters, the other driver got back into his car and my driver sped away. This time I told him exactly where to go, even if I had no idea where we were going. I just kept telling him to turn this way and that, more or less in the general direction of the hotel. I knew that, if we somehow got on a main road, we would sooner or later see Shea Stadium.

Finally, in desperation, I told him to go to LaGuardia Airport. Actually, I should have thought of that sooner, because the hotel was just five minutes from the airport. We got to the airport and I showed him the way to the hotel. We got to the street where the hotel was located. Incredibly, we passed the hotel again at top speed! Fortunately for me, a car cut into our lane and my driver was forced to slow down. That gave me the opportunity to really bawl him out, since I had my hand on the door handle and now could really literally just jump out.

The meter showed $45. He said I could take five dollars off because he got lost. Since the hotel car rate was $40 anyway, I paid him $40, even if it was only a yellow cab. I was not going to spend another minute in the car looking for smaller bills.

I went at once to the hotel receptionists and asked them how to call the police. The clerks said that the driver, if he had indeed gotten lost, was supposed to have called his dispatcher. They told me to go to the New York Taxi and Limousine Commission website and to file a complaint. I did that immediately when I got to my room. (Holiday Inn offers free internet access in rooms.) I had, after all, been technically kidnapped, since I was held in the taxi against my will.

Unfortunately, the website said that “in order for disciplinary charges to be brought against a licensee, you must attend a hearing.” Since I was only visiting New York, I could not stay for the hearing. I guess the taxi driver got off scot-free. On the other hand, I got off injury-free, with my name not changed to John Doe. I suppose I should be grateful.

(First published in The Philippine Star, 28 June 2007.)

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How to Bring Up Scholars

4 July 2007 at 10:19 PM | Posted in News | 2 Comments

Much has already been written about Magaling ang Pinoy!: How and Why Filipino Public School Students Achieve, Ateneo’s Filipino Family Best Practices Study in Marikina and Bulacan Public Schools, written by Queena N. Lee-Chua, Ma. Isabel Sison-Dionisio, and Nerisa C. Fernandez, published in 2007 by the Office of Research and Publications of the Loyola Schools of Ateneo de Manila University.

There is no need to summarize the results of the study conducted by the writers. In any case, the book is available from bookstores, as well as from the Ateneo itself.

What I want to do now is to take the results a step further. What can the Department of Education (DepEd) and the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) do to ensure that the pioneering research project does not merely gain applause but actually will affect the lives of the millions of children going to school this year and the next?

The book talks about things that parents can do to help their children achieve their full potential. It does not really talk about what schools can do to do the same thing, though the transition from home to school is implied by many of the chapters in the book.

Let us take some random insights gained by the writers and translate them into doable school projects.

The first chapter talks about the value of discipline in the home. One example says it all: “No one (among one family’s children) has ever violated the 6 pm rule because the children know that Mama means what she says. If they are ever late, they will have to sleep outside the house.”

I suggest that teachers at whatever level – elementary, high school, college, or even graduate school – simply lock the doors of their classrooms when the bell rings and not allow latecomers in. That should instil punctuality in no time flat.

The second chapter talks about setting goals. Many of the parents involved in the study proactively discourage their children from getting married early, obviously because most of them married early and therefore remained poor the rest of their lives.

I suggest that schools make it a policy, clearly spelled out in brochures and manuals, to expel any student that gets married or pregnant. It is not a matter of morality, but a matter of motivation. If students know that they will never be able to finish their education if they have sex early, they will refrain from sex. The sex drive may be strong, but the drive for self-preservation is stronger.

The third chapter, focusing on relying on oneself, identifies favoritism on the part of teachers as a key disincentive for students.

I suggest that schools remove the possibility of favoritism by adopting the British model of external examiners. If the final grade of a student will be given by someone else, a teacher has no reason to play favorites or engage in harassment (sexual, verbal, racist, or otherwise).

The fourth chapter talks about strengthening family bonds. Most schools already have parent associations in place, but we could involve parents not only in raising extra funds, but in designing the curriculum.

I suggest that parents (even of college students) should be asked to sit in curriculum committees, hiring boards, boards of trustees, and the like. On a micro level, parents should be regularly called in to discuss the progress of their children.

The fifth chapter on making the home fit for learning also has implications for teachers. Teachers should formulate homework that involves parents. A simple example on the elementary level is the construction of a genealogy of the family of a student. On the higher levels, an oral history project could start with interviewing one’s parents and grandparents.

The book is clearly meant for parents that want their children to excel in school. The lessons learned by the writers, however, can teach teachers a thing or two.

The researchers (all highly educated) obviously know educational theory. They wisely refrain from using academic jargon in this book meant for a non-specialist reader. Anyone that has studied pedagogy, however, will recognize the principles laid down by the book.

Discipline in the home or in the classroom is nothing else but the routine necessary for any learning to take place. Setting goals refers to the objectives of any course of study or even of action. Self-reliance is an attack on the Filipino value of bahala na (“God will provide”). Family involvement in learning makes positive use of the family, which to Filipinos is often above country or even God (not “God, Country, and Family” but the other way around). Creating a home environment conducive to learning is part of the so-called Whole School Approach, which DepEd has been pushing in the past few years.
Like every other book of any value, Magaling ang Pinoy does not tell us anything new, but merely reminds us of what we know deep down inside us to be true.

(First published in The Philippine Star, 14 June 2007)

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