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A Tale of Two Cities (with apologies to Charles Dickens)



A few days ago, I had a conversation with one of my administrators (who happens to be the Commission Chair of my county's Commission). It centered upon international workers' plight to the US, trainings required, attitudes needed in going abroad, and as usual, the highly used and abused terms in US K-12 education: engaging lessons and classroom management. Whew!

The irony of the matter is that, while the Americans taught us (English language) literacy, an increasing number of international teachers from the Philippines are on board the earliest flight to the US in order to respond to the "shortage" of teachers (does it really exist?!).

In the early 1900s, an enormous number of American teachers docked on the shores of the Philippine archipelago on board the steamship Thomas (they were known later on as the Thomasites) in order to teach the Philippine natives how to speak, write, and do math in English (aka 3 R's). After more than a decade of struggle, the natives began showing symptoms of Americanization: regional accents with a 'twang', apples as favorite fruit, chocolates, television sets, hollywood movies, canned goods, and basketball in every corner of the street.

The rest is history. Now, even attitudes are shaped by the thought that somewhere in the mainland North America, there is a place almost synonymous to 'nirvana': no pain, no diseases, no poverty, everything comes in plenty.

The Philippine native has literally transformed into a hybrid: a brown American in both body and spirit.

A hundred years have passed and here is an exodus of Filipino teachers acquiring trainings to prepare for US teaching. Don't we think it's an irony? We were taught by Americans; now we are teaching American kids! If anyone disagrees, then it must be an oxymoron. Period.

A few hours ago, a new Filipino co-teacher told us about a "not-so-ordinary" situation. One of her students called her using the index finger and said, "hey man, what's your name?" For a well-respected educator in the Philippines, that act is a heinous crime and is, therefore, punishable by lethal injection! (Sabi ng isang dalubhasa sa wikang pambansa, ito ay tinatawag na "tayutay na pagmamalabis" o eksaherasyon) LOL!

My administrator appealed that we learn to understand American kids in the context of their culture. Over the years, the [American] kids have lost respect for authority. This may be attributed to the overprotective laws of the United States. Because of this, they should be treated with firmness and consistency. Additionally, for a student who comes from a home that is not supportive of education, going to school is meaningless and irrelevant.

American kids are really lucky. They are well-protected by their laws. No Child Left Behind act orders every district to bring every child (even those who have offended the laws seriously and repeatedly) to school and provide the much-needed education in order to prepare him/her in becoming a productive citizen in the future. Bus rides are free, meals are free, books are scattered and updated and run on a 1:1 ratio. Technology is accessible in every classroom. All the kids' need to do is to compensate them with serious learning.

I insisted upon my administrator that the situation in the Philippines is different. We operate within the 'theory of adversity.' Poverty is a challenge rather than a hindrance. If a child is not interested to go to school, he is sent to the farm. That is the only option. This is probably the reason why we have come to love education. In the Philippines, acquiring a college degree is as important as eating three meals in a day.

The effect of education is different, as well. While American kids from homes where education is highly unsupported follow the cycle of poverty, a lot of Filipinos go through what sociologists call 'intergenerational mobility', where unschooled parents strive to send kids to school in order to alleviate the entire family from poverty. We are just unfortunate that the national economy could not provide adequate jobs for the qualified graduates.

Have you heard of Rated K's (Korina Sanchez-Roxas) "Libreng Tsinelas"? That is a very humble program that uplifts the morale of Filipino school kids who complete six kilometers everyday just to acquire the much-needed literacy. Hayyys, panis na lang ang lemonadang baon, hindi pa nakakarating sa klasrum...

Here lies the difference. America has it all. We don't have it. Many American kids don't appreciate what they have, while Filipino kids enjoy every inch of what is left for them by the last generation of learners: old books with a 1:4 ratio, classrooms that have fallen into a state of disrepair and deterioration, absence of transportation in going to school, and a few pesos for a day's allowance (others have nothing at all, ano ba 'to!!!) --- but the passion to learn is burning.

Today, 9/11, while Americans salute the patriots who died in Manhattan's twin towers several years ago, I am in celebration of the continuing courage and struggle of Filipinos towards cultural emancipation. To me, without prejudice to creed, political stand, and color, the Filipino spirit is beyond compare.



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