Friday, December 05, 2008

Oh very young, Part 1

Oh very young, what will you leave us this time?
You're only dancing on this earth for a short while...
--Cat Stevens

Less than a month since I returned to teaching and already I've collected several stories and points for reflection. No, it's not so much that I've slammed into the harsh hard wall of reality; rather, I've stepped on the flaccid whoopee cushion of disappointment. That's how it goes.

A quick update for those who don't know the story: I applied for a part-time teaching position at the Ateneo de Davao University. The Computer Studies Division hired me to teach a course on Information Security; a week after I started, they also gave me Open Source Technologies. Last week, the Humanities Division asked me to cover Feature Stories for a teacher on leave. An unusual arrangement, I know, but I relish the left brain / right brain balancing act.

Above all other reasons I took on this job because it gives me a chance to observe and interact with young people. I believe that I'm at a point where I can positively influence others, and a university is the ideal place to effect this goal. But as I said, it hasn't been without its surprises and disappointments.

Story #1. In the middle of a spirited exposition of Gene Weingarten's "Pearls Before Breakfast", I paused at the line, "Placing the open case at his feet, he shrewdly threw in a few dollars and pocket change as seed money..." Then I asked my 3rd Year and 4th Year AB English students: "What does this tell us about the character of the person?"

After a long silence, someone piped: "That he has money...?"

"No! What does it say about his character?"

"Ummm...that he can play the violin?"

"No, no, no! There's already a clue in the sentence itself. He gives it away in his adverb."

Another long silence. Finally I break in: "Where's the adverb in the sentence?"

Heads bent low over the handouts, they pored over the lines, only breaking occasionally to mutter to each other.

"Class! What's an adverb? What does it modify?"

Yet more silence. Then finally a brave soul meekly said: "A verb, sir?"

"Very good! What else?"


At that moment I deeply wanted to channel Ian Casocot. What would Ian do? Alas, I was far too amused to be upset.

"Don't you know the parts of a sentence? Didn't you take up the structure of the English language?"

"That was last year, sir..."

Story #2. The week before, I gave my Open Source Technologies class a ten-point quiz. Very simple, actually: straightforward identification with all items having been covered in the lecture and assigned reading materials. Result: only six people passed.

The week after, I gave the exact same quiz. Same questions, same order. Good news: 14 people passed; bad news: that was still less than half the class; worse news: two people managed to score lower than they did before.

What exactly was the matter? Why couldn't these young men and women, already pushing out of their teens, be bothered to check where they went wrong the week before? Then again, why not? This is the same class that, when I chided them for not knowing their computer history, excused themselves in this way:

"That was in first year, sir..."

Last week or last year or three years ago: does it make any difference? From these anecdotes you can form any number of conclusions about these students. My own view tends towards the utter lack of intellectual curiosity. This is not to say that they are lazy or stupid, because that is not what I see when I look into their eyes. Instead, what I do see is the absence of any joy of discovery.

A far more insiduous defect in outlook, this; more than any inherent defects in character or in cognition: without any pleasure, they cannot really own what they've learned. Lessons become mere rote exercise, to be remembered only insofar as they are useful. Discard at earliest opportunity.


  1. Sad but true, kids nowadays aren't as curious as before, they just want to get over with things and move on to the next.

  2. Funny anecdotes, I remember a student of mine who is always late in class and is very vocal that he will just pay somebody to do some of his requirements in school (not in my class though). When I reprimanded him and said that, he won't learn anything if he kept on doing that and will end up not successful as a person. Sumagot ba naman skin na "Eh Ma'am, usually yung mga successful sa careers nila ngayon at nasa abroad na ay ang mga bugoy at cheaters nung nasa school pa sila". Hay naku.. napanganga ako sa answer nya.. it's useless to go on with a debate with this kid.. baka mauwi pa sa Define Success! hehehe

  3. Hiya Dom, how can we expect the young(er) generation to evolve if it has been fed and weaned on (and trained?) pop(ular)and trends and fads? Been there, done that, next please? Even now, I still have to meet a young person who has bothered to read the operating manual first for a cellphone, mp3 player, or even the ubiquitous calculator before using it. Alas, nowadays, curiosity and common sense are a rarity among the young.

  4. hahahahah! this made me laugh, dom... "um... that he has money?" LMAO!!! blonde moment!

  5. i'm speechless after reading...
    i have the same realization until now...i'm sad that my co-teens do not have the will of fire to learn...i want to tell them but i'm afraid it will end up with loud voices, and stares so sharp as knife, and name attachments like "OA" and "KJ"...actually, that is similar to the question that is running on my mind for 2 years already (why 2 years?well, its a long story)...why is it many of us teens doesn't have the will of fire to learn?I've observed that every lecture time some of my classmates are either talking, sleeping, doing other things, thinking of something else, etc. and the poor teacher only has one or two real students listening...i remember one of my classmates said that s/he/it didn't learn anything from our teacher...well in fact i've learn so many things from that professor...then my mind answered him/her/it "oh!yeah! because you are always talking to ___ "...
    the joy of learning is really diminishing and one would only see it on some, or perhaps few...most youngsters today pass just for the sake of passing...after that, bye bye learning...throw like a garbage...they didn't realize the money their parents are spending for their education...or maybe they are thinking that money alone would save them from the harsh world outside school and going to school is a means of getting allowance only...seems like they have never met the phrase "true success in life". is really happening, and it is very sad...

  6. Was it any different in our time?

  7. Hooverson Haw has a point. There's a reason why a TV show like "Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader" can exist. My theory is that as people grow, they begin discarding past lessons (academic or otherwise) that have not yet been inculcated in them as little kids, if they no longer find them interesting. I myself have started discarding a lot since graduating, yet the things that were hammered into my brain are still there, and that includes my love for obtaining information just for fun (even if I forget shortly afterwards :P), which has been very useful in my work.

    If a kid still cannot effortlessly detect all the parts of an English sentence (and analyze the sentence based on those parts) by the time he reaches puberty, well, you saw how that turned out.

    We are lucky that we grew up with a sense of wonder and a thirst for knowledge. We can only hope to share these gifts with our less fortunate brothers; or at least (for teachers like you) forcibly shove the gifts down their throats with curses and threats of failing grades to scare the living daylights out of the little buggers and make them learn! :P

    I think I'd be a _terrible_ teacher...

  8. Michael Jordan would be a TERRIBLE basketball coach.

    He would probably these to his players:

    "hey, its very easy, if a defender comes at you while you are in mid-air, just switch it to your other hand, if another one comes in, hang in the air for a few seconds and if needed be, just switch it again, its VERY EASY!".

    "Free throws are easy, I can even shoot free throws with my eyes close - why can't you not to it with both your eyes wide open?"

    "Basketball is very easy kids - why can't you do as I did? Is something wrong with this generation? I mean, me and Scottie Pippen were tearing up the NBA in our prime, why can't you not do it? We won six championships in the 90's - why can't you not do it?"

    "Ahh ... these generation has no talent .."

  9. @Anonymous: and what if they can't even dribble?

  10. Can i be the devil's advocate? :)

    in your story 1, i myself was confused...

    you say that you can learn something from the character from the one sentence you quoted. [i haven't read the story]

    you ask them, and you seem to imply that the adverb tells us about the character. so are you asking them about 'shrewd(ly)'?; i.e. the character was shrewd?

    But adverbs modify the verb; isn't it possible that the action is shrewd, but not the character? Isn't it possible that the character isn't shrewd, but he can at times perform actions that can be considered shrewd?

    on story 2: was this a surprise quiz? Another interpretation is that studying/memorization is hard, and there are others things to do. So this is more of a timing to study issue.

    Lastly, since you are a teacher, which implies you know this stuff by heart, and that you need to know all of these terms to teach it...

    But they don't need to memorize the different parts of a sentence, especially if they are memorizing other things for other classes, especially if they want to reserve effort for exams, and if they don't actively use/explain these parts in everyday life, and if they have other interests.

    For example, i'm sure there are things you used to knew in school, but no longer know by heart, say history, or science. The reason is you have other interests, and you have moved on.

    For my part, i too have forgotten some of the terminology/labels in the english (especially filipino!) language.

    But its possible to be able to use something, but not be able to name it. I can use a car, without naming each and every part of it...

  11. Crossing my fingers that my batch didn't leave the same impression on you, Kuya Dom - Paolo Bataller

  12. Not at all, Pao. I was hoping to find more guys like you. True, there were the understandable uncertainties, but in the main, you embraced your craft.

  13. @Gabby: It reflects badly on you if you're a mechanic that doesn't know the parts of your car.