History class with the accent on story
MY SIXTY-ZEN’S WORTH
ISTILL remember very vividly the person who made me fall in love with history as a subject in high school. His name: Mr. Jose Tomacruz. Before that, I hated history class because I had to memorize so many names of events, persons and dates. I was never good at memorization so I dreaded the periodical tests.
Then Mr. Tomacruz came along donning dark glasses. He was around 50 years old but he was spritely the way he moved and talked.
But what made him stood out among the teachers was he was a spellbinding storyteller. His subject was Philippine history but the way he taught it made the characters come alive! He painted scenes in our minds, with occasional side trips into interesting and juicy trivia. He connected dots. He piqued our imagination. Maybe he exaggerated, but we vividly saw the scenes played in our minds as he narrated the stories of personalities and past events with gusto.
Mr. Tomacruz, wherever he may be now, deserves my undying thanks for making me fall in love with history and sparking an earnest interest in creating stories that I have transformed into a career.
For quite a while now, I and my wife have been bingeing on historical documentaries available on YouTube. I am eclectic in my selections. One day it’s about the Caesars of Rome. Next day the private lives of monarch, such as Louis IV of France, Henry VIII of England. Or documentaries on WWII, the samurais and shoguns of Japan, or the everyday life of people during the Middle Ages, the development of painting, and so on. As far as the menu is concerned, the sky is the limit literally because there are even documentaries about evolution of the space race. Oh, I have never had so much pleasure.
Tome, these should be mandatory materials in the classroom. Not only classes in history but also in science, humanities, and other classroom subjects. Even math, my krypton ite, for crying out loud. They are full of exciting and interesting stories that captivate the mind and spark the imagination, thus making the lessons easier to take and absorb.
Of course, the teacher should be there to do the selecting, to elaborate and elucidate and, at times, embellish with flourish just to keep the eyes and mind open throughout the time allotted for the subject.
This means he or she becomes a performing on a stage, making use of facial expressions, employing vocal power, hand gestures, changing the volume of his or her voice when needed. He or she in effect transforms into an actor who can inhabit characters in history. Never forgetting the arc of the story in his telling of incidents in history.
To me the secret is good old fashioned storytelling. Remember the old radio program of our childhood, “Kwento ni Lola Basyang?” That was nothing but inculcating moral lessons wrapped in good stories. It was a powerful way to get the lesson home.
Remember the film Heneral Luna? That film, I’m glad to note, provoked discussion and reflection on the quality of our country’s education. I was then hoping it would snowball into a sustained debate and make us take a long hard look at the way our students are taught in the classroom and, conversely, the way our teachers perform in the classroom.
As a film lover and occasional scriptwriter, I have always held that film or cinema is the most powerful medium of communication, and because it is so, it must be an essential tool in our youth’s education, especially in such subjects as history, literature, arts, and any lessons related to social/cultural matters.
Film or video, for that matter, is by its nature an effective teacher because it engages the heart and mind at the same time. It informs, shows, and demonstrates through the combination of image, sound and motion. This inherent power of film or video is able to give any topic or subject matter far greater communicability than any other medium of communication. As most educators would readily confirm, something that is brought in front of as many senses as possible would have greater chances of being understood or learned. In a word, presence, which is from the Latin words prae (before or in front) and sensa (senses). It echoes the old Chinese adage: I see it, I remember; I see it and I hear it, then I understand.
So a film that is employed in mentoring helps the teacher become more effective. It does not only capture the attention and interest of the student, more importantly, it emotionally involves the student. In addition, if it is well crafted as Mike de Leon’s Bayaning 3rd World, it sparks a debate in the mind of the individual student and leads him to look for answers to questions he would be wrestling with after seeing the film. Questions like: Is this really true? Did it really happen this way? Why did it happen? And so on. The film, therefore, whets his appetite for more information and sharpens his critical thinking skills. With the film doing the heavy lifting of teaching, the physical classroom teacher becomes more of an annotator, facilitator or even a thought provocateur.
But even if there is no film to show in the classroom, the teacher, as I said, must strive to duplicate or echo the film’s power by way of compelling storytelling, dramatization with the use of role playing, improvised props no matter how crude, or by way of her acting skills. In other words, she must become a performer on the stage of the classroom.
So let’s harness the power of storytelling to make lessons in history, literature, and other subjects more lively and engaging to learn for our students. Let’s show such films as Heneral Luna or Bayaning 3rd World in Philippine schools. In fact, I would even go as far as giving the teacher the leeway to bring the class to the movie house from time to time and take the boredom out of learning.