When the stu­dent is ready

The Philippine Star - - OPINION - ELFREN S. CRUZ Email: el­fren­cruz@gmail.com

Af­ter my re­cent col­umn on teach­ers that have had a great in­flu­ence on my life, my son Roel, a Lit­er­a­ture ma­jor from De La Salle Univer­sity and a writ­ing men­tor for Write Things, shares his own thoughts on teach­ing and learn­ing:

Decades ago, es­pe­cially as a high school stu­dent, the no­tion of be­com­ing an ed­u­ca­tor would have seemed as pre­pos­ter­ous as a noon­time-show clown po­ten­tially be­com­ing pres­i­dent of a coun­try due to con­sti­tu­tional ma­nip­u­la­tion. Any­thing can hap­pen, as many of us can at­test.

Like most card-car­ry­ing youth in re­volt, my re­bel­lion was hastily clad in loud mu­sic, chis­eled in sub­ver­sive lingo, and care­lessly aimed at any­one even slightly rep­re­sent­ing in­sti­tu­tions. Thus, teach­ers only took car­i­cat­u­ral forms: bungling Mr. Weather­bee out to nab me for all the un­scrupu­lous things plot­ted in my naïve brain, or self-im­por­tant Prin­ci­pal Rooney mas­ter­mind­ing the down­fall of any­thing even re­motely re­sem­bling a Bueller.

As I grew older, be­com­ing un­can­nily blessed to be given the op­por­tu­nity to men­tor young minds will­ing to learn the won­ders of lan­guage and lit­er­a­ture the past five years, I re­al­ized I’ve been sur­rounded by lu­mi­nous teach­ers all my life. Teach­ers who taught me ideas and val­ues found way be­yond the pages of a text­book. Al­ways re­sis­tant to the flimsy idea that “You will use this some­day!” es­pe­cially dur­ing Math classes – as to this day I’ve never found my­self con­sciously applying the in­tri­ca­cies of the Pythagorean the­o­rem or fac­tor­ing qua­drat­ics – I iron­i­cally feel in­debted to the many men­tors I’ve had as I glean their in­deli­ble in­flu­ence in all as­pects of my life.

In col­lege, with my blank spread­sheet sti­fling me like the garbage com­pactor on the Death Star dur­ing an Ac­coun­tancy 101 midterm, I brazenly walked out and headed to the Lit­er­a­ture de­part­ment to take a gam­ble and shift cour­ses. “Seize the day!” Mr. Keat­ing ad­vised. Fol­low your pas­sion. He was right. I was swiftly reaf­firmed that true pas­sion ra­di­ates from many realms, not just from con­cepts and words on a page. DLSU’s many lit­er­ary doc­tors proved to be quin­tes­sen­tial em­bod­i­ments of such:

One of my very first lit­er­a­ture pro­fes­sors, Dr. Shirley Lua, once de­scribed by a seat­mate as “a hu­man bomb” while she ever-valiantly made Rizal’s Noli and El Fili rel­e­vant and scin­til­lat­ing with a kind of ma­nia that would eas­ily put the most ra­bid Who­vian to shame. The ageless one, Dr. David Bayot, with as­ton­ish­ing ur­gency showed me how lit­er­ary the­ory/crit­i­cism was as vi­tal as the air I breathe. Dr. Marj Evasco, un­par­al­leled po­etry Jedi, showed by ex­am­ple how craft along­side what you teach and what you love more than life is, and must be, as in­sep­a­ra­ble as a Lan­nis­ter and paid debts. The colos­sal Dr. Isagani Cruz, warmly bril­liant, first made me be­lieve that teach­ers are tasked to change the world, and it can be done if one teaches stur­dily enough, vig­or­ously enough, ve­he­mently enough.

They’d each glo­ri­ously drool and sali­vate given the chance to im­part what they love, with an in­ex­tin­guish­able fire in the eyes, never hav­ing to hard-sell or ar­gue for the un­mis­tak­able power of words, sto­ries and po­etry. Teach­ing the les­son for the day with ev­ery ounce of heart and soul they had was enough. And I’ve never been the same since.

My years as a lit­er­a­ture ma­jor un­der those beloved men­tors not only made me com­pe­tent to teach the same field, but armed me to read the world, never al­low­ing it to over­whelm or ma­nip­u­late me. With a con­sis­tently re­fu­elled arse­nal of cre­ativ­ity and crit­i­cal think­ing, I trans­late signs thrown at me and live ac­cord­ingly. Al­low­ing me to see par­al­lels be­tween vi­tal ca­reer moves made by trusted late night sages and my own wa­ter­shed mo­ments, and in­stead of clutch­ing at mag­i­cal cos­mic work­ings, I cre­ate a nar­ra­tive which re­aligns my vi­sion. It’s the same joy­ous war­fare that makes me eas­ily dis­tin­guish po­lit­i­cal agenda fu­elled by fake news, de­vi­ous his­tor­i­cal re­vi­sion­ism, and psy­cho­pathic pres­i­den­tial prom­ises that are as lethally in­utile as a pseudo-in­tel­lec­tual-themed meme used for a sen­a­to­rial bid. The world is a dan­ger­ous place, if one takes it on un­armed.

It’s a tired cliché, about the mas­ter ap­pear­ing when the stu­dent is ready, and that teach­ing is a craft. What lies at the core is how learn­ing is a sim­i­lar art, and that true learn­ing takes place be­yond the halls of schools, and oc­curs con­tin­u­ally if one is al­ways ready.

It’s safe to say I’ve been a ded­i­cated learner all my adult life, which al­lowed more lus­trous teach­ers to im­part their wis­dom. The same way beloved writ­ers such as Al­bert Ca­mus have taught me that rec­og­niz­ing and em­brac­ing the ab­surd is merely the cat­a­lyst for deeper per­sonal mean­ing to be won, my ma­ter­nal un­cles have shown me that ideals can only be yours if you’ve truly sac­ri­ficed in their name. And while a book­shelf lu­mi­nary such as Jorge Luis Borges taught me that true, in­di­vis­i­ble sight comes from within, my pa­ter­nal un­cles and a per­pet­u­ally im­pas­sioned lit­er­ary aunt have proven to me time and again that one al­ways fights for what one loves.

While their in­fi­nite book­shelves served as a play­ground of­fer­ing lessons in a man­ner of think­ing wider and more for­ti­fied than the Great Wall of the Seven King­doms, my par­ents pa­tiently taught me in­cor­rupt­ible val­ues on how es­pe­cially the most try­ing cir­cum­stances en­tail noth­ing short of grace, char­ac­ter, dig­nity, in­tegrity, and love for fam­ily and coun­try.

Great teach­ers abound as long as one is al­ways will­ing. While pre­par­ing to wed in ex­actly a month, the ra­di­ant woman I choose to marry has also taught me an im­por­tant les­son which will serve me well: free from any vari­ables or ex­po­nents, four Liver­pool lads were right when they cal­cu­lated, “The love you take is equal to the love you make.” Down to the dec­i­mal.

Cre­ative writ­ing classes for kids and teens Young Writ­ers’ Hang­out on Novem­ber 10 (1:30pm-3pm; stand-alone ses­sion) at Fully Booked BGC. For de­tails and reg­is­tra­tion, email writethingsph@gmail.com. * * *

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