Monday, September 1, 2014

Essential Question

How do stories reflect and shape culture?
Anthropologist Mabel Cook Cole begins her anthology of Philippine Folk Tales describing a singsong tone in the still of the night where “a single voice…could be heard reciting tales of heroes who knew the magic of the betel-nut, or with stories of spirits and their power over the lives of men.”  I read her collection of stories and walked the streets of Manila and Bacolod City listening for that storyteller’s voice, but I never heard a single voice.  I heard a symphony.

The Philippines is a nation of over 7,000 islands and between 120 and 175 different languages depending on how they are classified.  Colonized by the Spanish in the 16th century who handed their rule over to the Americans in the late 1800’s, it is a land of many stories and voices.  I wondered about the multitudes of languages and culture as I walked the streets of Manila encountering those I could only identify as Filipino.  I wondered what bond held this nation of diversity together.  How could so many voices make up the story of this one nation?

My story gathering began with the Philippine national hero, Jose Rizal.  A storyteller himself, Rizal led a reform movement advocating for freedom and individual rights through his novels and poems.  Although not an advocate of violence, his execution launched a bloody revolution against Spain that ended when the United States took over.  He highlights the importance of literacy to freedom.  The Spanish would not allow the Filipinos to learn the Spanish language or be educated.  That is how they maintained control over the land and kept the people subservient to them.  It was through reading, writing, and spreading the ideas of freedom through literature that the people became free.  Rizal was of an elite class and never advocated for the Filipino to be educated in Spanish but rather to learn to read and write in their native tongues.  He wrote, “While a people preserves its language; it preserves the marks of liberty.”  More than one hundred years later, after a century of compulsory education in English, his nation would finally respond to his directive and begin to educate its children in native dialects and the Filipino national language of Tagalog.  How does this story reflect and shape culture?  Rizal reflects the Filipino indirect, nonviolent culture with his indirect literary approach to revolution.  His remembrance also shapes culture as many sources attribute his national hero status to the Americans who would have benefited from lifting a non-violent writer sympathetic to their value system up for the masses to follow. 

            A story from Bacolod that drew my attention was of the Masskara Festival held the third week of October each year.  I assumed the festival was similar to other masked festivals celebrated in Catholic nations like Carnival or Mardi Gras or even the Day of the Dead, but I was wrong.  This festival of brilliant masks, street dancing, parades and pageantry was introduced to lift the islander’s spirits after a particularly trying year.  Negros Occidental is one of the few islands in the Philippines whose main export is sugar.  When the sugar prices plummeted in the 1970’s the island suffered a significant financial crisis and people’s lives became harsh.  Then tragedy struck as a ferry collided with a tanker killing hundreds of residents.  The festival was incorporated to encourage citizens to put on a good face and steadfastly carry on through difficult times.  What a beautiful reflection of the steadfast, enduring people.  Small in stature but tall in spirit, these people fought the Japanese in World War II three times longer than the Japanese expected, protecting both Australia and Hawaii from invasion. 

            My journey through the mountains and the beaches and the city streets of the Philippines did not bring me to the voice of a single storyteller like Mabel Cook encountered.  I encountered literally hundreds of stories in my three weeks in the Philippines, individual stories and national stories that endeared me to these beautiful people.  I saw hints of both the reflection and shaping of culture in the stories they tell and remember.  Colonizers introduced stories to subdue the people.  Teachers shared stories like Beowulf while challenging students to avoid corrupt leadership.  Artists depicted stories from native tribes struggling to survive.  In my final walk through Manila, I still saw Filipinos but also noticed hints of Iloccano and Visayan and Tagalog.  Unique foods, dress, rituals, language and stories come from all of the ethnic groups that we call Filipino.  Their stories (just like our stories) are invaluable to the global story we are composing today.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Lessons from OZ - 9/11, Corregidor, Bataan, the Spanish American War

Perspectives of Oz

A masterful twist in storytelling the musical Wicked demonstrates the power of perspective as they tell the story of Dorothy's journey to Oz from the perspective of Glenda the Good Witch who revealed the goodness of the Wicked Witch of the West.  The twist sent me reeling through historic images representing multiple stories told, lectured, memorized, assessed - from the perspective I was taught which was the perspective in the textbook or at least the perspectives I can find on the Internet.


I knew MacArthur and his famous promise to return, but I didn't get the battle.  I didn't get the pounding it out in muggy heat on a small island infested with enemies.  I didn't get the danger of manning ginormous outdated guns designed for warships and the bravery of privates, sergeants, corporals and colonels who died beneath those guns fighting, protecting each other until their very last breath.  I didn't get the ominous fear of looking at Bataan every single day where 78,000 comrades were captured and marching to their death.  I didn't get the heroic in being overtaken by tortuous cruel enemies in 157 days instead of in the 50 days the enemy had planned.    I didn't get the pride in surrendering to hell ships knowing that the 157 day fight on your little island kept Australia and Hawaii from invasion, and knowing your upcoming boat ride would lead to starvation, disease, and most likely death. I didn't get it until I read the plaques honoring heroes of every rank as if they were of equal rank and stood beneath batteries named after the simple and elite heroes who last fired them.  I didn't get it until I walked through the monuments representing the dog tags that littered the island when the Japanese were finally defeated.  I didn't understand the Pacific side of this war.

The Twist

So what's the lesson from Oz from Corregidor?  There's the Western Hemisphere twist where I learned about Hitler and the Holocaust (which are very valuable) in school.  I am not certain if the Pacific stories weren't covered or I just wasn't interested.  Whichever it was, I had a sense of shame reading of American heroes who were known and honored by foreigners but not by me.  My grandfather had fought in the Pacific.  He wouldn't speak of it.  Others tell me that their grandfathers wouldn't speak of it either.  Did their inability to speak of those atrocities keep them from my history class?  The loudest story gets remembered.

Then of course, there is the Japanese twist.  The "Wicked Witch of the East" in our war story.  They don't see themselves as wicked.  Just like Alexander the Great saw himself as the great liberator setting nation after nation free from the control of the Persians, General Tojo saw Japan as a freeing force liberating the Asian world from Western Imperialism.  His little island lacked resources to survive in the 20th century market place.  By conquering Allied colonies in Asia while those Western powers were busy with Hitler, he would save Asian from the West and obtain valuable resources for his fledgling nation.  They weren't destroyers.  They were saviors.  Conquering Western colonies in Asia would also protect the world from the rising Chinese.

The Japanese visit Corregidor.  Interestingly they take a different bus tour than Filipinos and Americans.  It is presented in Japanese by Japanese tour guides.  The Filipino tour guide, once asked a Japanese tourist what they spoke about on their  tour.  The tourist replied, "Hiroshima and Nagasaki."  The colonizing Americans are the evil force in the Japanese version of the story.  Perspective. We will have come a long way when both tours contain both stories.

Evil Colonizers

"The Spanish gave us religion and the Americans gave us education."   Filipinos are the most flexible thinking people I have every met.  Their positive outlook and ability to see stories from multiple perspectives is a testament to their respect for the diversity that defines the Philippines.  They appear to be very grateful for their past, even the "evil colonizers."  That is one aspect of the Corregidor story that the Japanese got wrong.  The Filipinos were quite happy to fight alongside the Americans who were defending Filipino and American independence.  They appreciated the American presence.  

When the Spanish came to the Philippines, it was not a nation.  It contained multitudes of islands and disconnected tribes.  The Spanish developed plantations that Filipinos worked.  They brought priests who united Filipinos under one religion, but the Filipinos were not allowed to learn Spanish.  They were somewhat enslaved by the Spanish who ruled them through Mexico for three centuries.  The island of Bacolod stands as a testament to that colonization with remnants of grand mansion homes smattered about the island and remnants of plantations owned by wealthy landlords with poor tenant farmers scraping out a living from the soil.  The Spanish burned the mansions to keep them from the encroaching Japanese, so only shells remain.

So the twist in the imperialism story is in the GI Joe.  That's what Filipinos call white people, those they believe to be American.  In 1987 I didn't investigate the nickname much.  I just hung my head each time in the shame of knowing that we had occupied and controlled another nation that we had bought from a powerful abusive empire.  This time I asked.  Turns out it is a term of endearment.  It's not a slam.  There are those among the Filipino who are anti-western in the fact that they want their people to shake the colonized part of their culture.  They want Filipinos to be strong and independent.  They protest US military activity in their area and want the Filipino military to stand on its own, but they don't hate Americans or call us derogatory names.  "Joe" is a kind-hearted knick name for a gentle overseer that Filipinos fought and died with for the sake of obtaining freedom.


In 1987 I heard about a rebellion that ousted a miserable dictator.  I heard about a first lady with multitudes of shoes and a mansion overlooking horrific Philippine slums.  I "knew" that Filipinos hated these leaders and celebrated the new era of freedom, but I was wrong.  One of our host teacher spoke lovingly of Imelda Marcos who came from his island.  He told me everything that Marcos had done to push the Philippines forward economically.  I held my opinions to myself and listened to Filipinos speak of Marcos.  Most did not seem to hate him as we did.  Corruption is integral to Filipino culture, Maybe from having to bribe occupiers and live as colonists for so long.  He was not the Wicked Witch of East to all Filipinos.

So the Wizard of Oz told from the Wicked perspective highlights the twists in story lines throughout history as the history is seen from a variety of perspectives.  A unifying theme in each story though is the call for freedom from every direction.  We can even hear echos of cries to be themselves, to be free, to be human, to control their own resources, to be respected in their differences, to be able to pursue a higher quality of life from the hijackers of 9/11 who left such civilian destruction in their wake.  We all want to be free and fight the oppression we perceive even as those who fight us perceive us to be oppressive.  The rallying call of so many stories throughout history is freedom.  Maybe we will find it if we refrain from labeling those who oppose us as witches and begin to care for their freedom as well as our own.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Lessons from a Drag Queen...

A prodigal son saves his family's conservative shoe business by manufacturing bright, heeled boots for transvestites.  Yep, that's the storyline of the most inspiring Broadway musical I have seen so far in New York.  It brought me to tears and left me contemplating my search to understand the significance of individual stories in the global scheme of things as we all get mushed together in this "global village" and as we are pushed to adopt common values.  

Manila, New York, cities everywhere are hodgepodges of culture.  Consider the basic impact of cultural diffusion and it is clear that the people flocking the city streets are an assimilation of so many different stories and cultures.  Do they create new culture or are they still essentially of the same place where they grew up?  The farther you drive from Manila, the more distinct culture is found.  Foods, dress, dances, rituals and such change and reflect the culture of specific regions.  After experiencing that culture, it is evident in Manila, but before knowing it, all citizens of Manila looked, well, city-like and basically the same.  I didn't hear the dialects and see the uniquely cultured people in Manila.  It's easier to find in New York where neighborhoods are defined as "Little Italy" and "China Town" but it seems that the cultures melt together.  However, after visiting the provinces in the Philippines, I could find them in Manila.  

I believe that the individual stories and value systems represented in groups and individuals across the world are significant to the survival of all of us.  I worry when the values clashes threaten to eliminate one system or put one system above another.  Call it yin and yang or whatever you would like, but I think we do need balance.   When our ancestors came from Europe and replaced the native concept of land with the European concept of land we began a desecration of resources that we may not recover from.  The same clash of the concept of land ownership turned the Philippine shared tribal land into plantations.  There is value in the ownership, conservation, and communal concept of land.  I believe a world with only one system of land management would fail.  My home culture is threatened by global cultural messages.  As the dominant voices in world culture speak against land use and diesel trucks and guns, "scientists," "environmentalists," and "humanitarians" threaten a subculture that I think matters.  I'm not for pollution and land waste and randomly shooting people on the streets; neither are the Western people I represent. As I move through the crowded streets of Manila or New York, I want my left wing counterparts to know that I value your stories.  I value your perspectives.  They are essential to a peaceful, beautiful, fully operational world.  Can you value mine?  Can you consider what the world would lose if my people gave up their guns, diesels and access to public land?  We are a small population, with our own way of life, but just like snuffing out a tiny species from the ecosystem throws the system off, snuffing out our little stories will throw off the world cultural system.  Our story matters too and is worth protecting.  We are a people, a subgroup, a significant part of the world cultural economy. 

So my new drag queen friend, Lola, from the musical Kinky Boots challenged a manly man to display his manliness by accepting someone for who they are.  My mountain men cowboys have a heck of a time being accepted by those whose rallying cry is tolerance.  It seems they have no tolerance for stories like ours.  Lola accepted the manly man, and I believe would accept my cowboy clan.  The literary world can be idealistic and Lola surely was that!  The Philippines appears pretty idealistic as well as they engage in preserving cultures and stories of what might be the most diverse nation on earth.  Can we learn from Lola and Filipinos to truly value our diversity as well.

I will end with the Kinky Boots Six Step Program for living:

One: Pursue the truth

Two: Learn something new
Three: Accept yourself and you'll accept others too!
Four: Let love shine
Five: Let pride be your guide
Six: Change the world when you change your mind!

Thanks to the man in the sexy, high heeled red boots for a lesson worth living!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Learner-Centered, Individualized Education?

What does learner-centered look like in a land of conformity?  There’s the benefit of the school uniforms worn by public and private school students.  Conformity and diversity are masked beneath this similarity.  One glance in a school reveals uniformity.  The rich and poor, achieving and struggling don’t stand out by outer adornment.  Curriculum is prescribed by national government in incremental modules doled out with outlines and activities.  Every teacher in every district is paid the same according to a national pay scale and promotion code.  Teachers, like teachers everywhere, stand at the front of the room, and pass out knowledge to the hungry learners shifting in wooden desks as dragon’s breath wind cuts through the open slated windows to move the humid air.  And children learn…uniformly?  But how is this sea of up to 60 students per classroom covering the days’ prescribed curriculum learner centered as the nation’s department of ed envisions?

The hero of individualization in the Philippine private and public school system doesn’t rely on uniforms or the department of ed to dole out individualized instruction.  The hero of individualized instruction is the same in the Philippines as in every other land.  That hero is the teacher and saw many champions of individualized instruction here.

First, there were the enthusiastic nuns and teachers of St. Paul College in Manila.  They were the wind beneath their students who were soaring confidently – building their own extra-curricular activities, mapping out their own educational journey by experimenting with electives and discovering a curricular track that led towards the goals they set for their own lives.  Their choices include art, music, performance, cooking, science, math, language… so many choices, but more than that the joy in the eyes of the teachers as they sat back and let the students fly demonstrates their student centered nature.

Individualized heroes walked with tired eyes through public vocational schools.  They spoke up for children as state regulations change.  They worked to make the additional two years of high school meaningful for all students – not just for those going on to college.  They create evening programs and open programs that allow students to provide for their families while continuing their education.  They gazed from classrooms of 50+ students divided into interest and age tracks.  Like us in the US they don’t have the tools to individualize like they would like, but they have a vision.  Interestingly they claim to have received that vision from us.  Being colonized by Spain gave them religion and the US gave them education.  We continue to partner with each other in building solid, meaningful, individualized learning opportunities!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Engagement – Authentic Learning – Ah the Challenge

I learned the most about engaging students and gauging my effectiveness as a teacher by evaluating what my students were doing from a charismatic Korean administrator who oversaw video classes with native teachers.  I was one of those native teachers attempting to engage students as a talking head projected on a screen in the front of a classroom.  I couldn’t walk around the room or tap a child on the shoulder to get his or her attention.  I had to direct them from afar.  The dear administrator would look over my lesson plans and sigh, “I see that you change what you are doing every 15 minutes or so, but the students are always doing the same thing.”

What?  The students were doing the same thing even though I was mixing up the lesson and shifting from activity to activity?  How could that be?  Then I looked at the lesson from the child’s perspective and found that the administrator was right.  To successfully engage students from a screen in the front of the room, I needed to make sure they changed what they were doing throughout the class.

Schools here in Bacolod and Manila struggle with the same issues I struggle with in class.  We are all pressed by content demands to deliver information to students and weighted with the responsibility of ensuring that they can regurgitate that information on tests and refer back to it in next year’s courses.  Some Filipino classes are massive – up to 60 students - but most that I have observed are manageable – around 30.  Teachers here incorporate the same methods we attempt at home:  group work, callbacks, pair shares, projects, experiments, videos, and Power Points.  Like my classes, at times the teacher is the center – talking – pulling answers out of a few exemplar students while hastily moving forward subconsciously aware that many in the room were not following along.  Only a few students analyze the carefully prepared handouts while the rest file them in their folders and rely on what was discussed in class to pull them through the test.

I wonder as I glance over rows of students who have better auditory skills than mine but seem to lack an ability to glean information from written texts.  I wonder if they question the authenticity of their education the way my students question theirs.  Our host shares stories of nursing students graduating at the top of their class but finding higher paying jobs in call centers than in medical centers.  They dust off their English and answer questions about American credit cards instead of caring for patients.  We impose this rigid academic curriculum on our students and then share that academia with the world with the hope that somehow the world will become a better place because of the content and quality of life will improve and jobs will open up before well-prepared workers.  Yet, I find the American education system to be lacking.  Our businesses train their own employees and graduates leave college and go back home to live with their parents because of student loan debt and a glut in the job market.

I visited with a communications instructor at a local university in Bacolod.  She trains her students for the call center – teaching interviewing and phone answering skills.  She worked in a call center until she had children and couldn’t manage the hours.  She saved money while working there and then pursued her profession, teaching, when she could afford the lower salary.  Education brings prestige; they are “diploma conscience” as they say, but it does not always bring a higher quality life.  I find myself questioning the purpose of education.  It is an expensive way to build character if the degrees don’t pay off in employable skills.  Both of our systems seem to wrestle with these issues.  Both wrestle to care for the children and the community with a sincere hope for a better future.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Rural Journey

It’s Sunday in Sipalay.  The ocean teases us with calm waves while the clouded sky heavy with rain taunt from above.  The day’s boating will again be canceled – no viewing of the ocean through a glass bottom boat, no jumping into the sea to snorkel and find exotic fish, no island hopping today.  Today it is going to rain and by rain I mean pour buckets of drenching water.  Even after the rain, the air remains heavy with moisture and the saturated soil gives up puddle after puddle of gooey mud.  As the rain lessens, people emerge draped in plastic, under colorful umbrellas.  Workers emerge in the rice field.  Children dribble balls and chase each other across the beach.  Cows lazily lift their chained heads on the side of the road slowly munching away at the layers of grass. 

Rural landscapes invited a slowing down in every culture.  The same is true here.   Sheltered in the only locally owned resort in the little beach town, we are surrounded by bamboo huts and small concrete houses.  Fishermen wait at their boats for the rain to relent and give up the sea so they can make their meager living.  Barefoot children skirt the resort, riding bikes, doing flips, playing on boogie boards and searching the beach for treasures.

It’s a four-hour drive through small villages, rice fields, and orchards of coconut trees from Bacolod City to Sipalay.  Although we have seen Europeans and Americans in Bacolod, we don’t see other Caucasians on this leg of our journey and significantly draw attention to ourselves when we stop at the small Jollibees (their version of MacDonalds) to snack on a mango peach pie and pineapple juice.  I can’t resist the child selling round, flat candies covered in peanuts outside the door.  I use both hands to break a piece of the 4inch circle of sugar and smile at the familiar taste of peanut brittle.  The island is the sugar island of the Philippines where row after row of sugar cane wave at the tropical sky and the people here demonstrate well that they know exactly what to do with sugar!  Amazing pastry and cake shops line the cities and my waistline.  A little farther down the road, we stop for a coconut cake that we cut into hot and watch the gooey cream seep from its pastry confinement.  Somehow we find a way to eat this with only one fork, a spoon and box lid between us.  I chase the sweet gooey pie with a half cup of strong black coffee and relax back into my Sunday afternoon drive.

The drive soothes me like a nursery rhyme as we speed past slightly terraced rice fields guarded by bamboo huts built on gentle hills.  The winding road crests at times revealing an unexpected view of the beach on the left and rounded mountains draped with heavy clouds to the right.  Then we dip onto a straightaway and a small community emerges, lining the street with small storefront Sari-Sari stores and a caravan of tricycles pedaling relentlessly through the rain down narrow roads.  Teens dribble basketballs and make jump shots as we weave in and out of small tribes of people, tricycles, and stray dogs.

As quickly as it arose, the small town disappears into the foliage and drops of rain continue to pound the already soaked land.  Short strips of construction interrupt our fearless pace through the countryside.  Our host remarks, "It is an election year.  The politicians are widening the roads."

Farmers emerge knee deep in rice fields, draped in plastic armor against the dampening rain.  A thin man in long shorts and a red t-shirt lifts feet heavy with mud as he sloshes across a muddy rice field carrying obviously heavy pails in each hand.

It’s Sunday and this was my Sunday drive.