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Education and the Pressure to Excel in School

The things people will say when they get their moments in the limelight. Take this basic education teacher who was interviewed by a news crew as part of an item on the soon-to-be-introduced K-12 program of the Department of Education. Doing her darnedest to sound like the right proper expert, the teacher went on: “It is up to the peyrents to support their children. Ip da peyrents will not support their children, kahit may K-12 ka pa walang mangyayari!”

Oh really???!!!

Inside my head, I was thinking, “Eh bakit ang nanay at tatay ko???!!!”

I think, after all these years, that I am entitled to think that I did not do too badly after all. While I do not totally debunk the teacher’s theory about parental support being vital to a child’s development in school – what can we all do, after all, without baon? – her statement is not an all-encompassing truism that applies to everyone.

To get back to my Mom and Dad, though, among the things that I used to love about them was that we were never really under any sort of pressure to excel in school. The quirky thing about this was that my Mom used to be a public school elementary teacher in her hometown of Nasugbu before she married my Dad; and Dad himself taught in elementary school before becoming a pilot in the Air Force.

When I come to think about it, perhaps that was why they left it by and large to us to figure out for ourselves what we wanted to make of our lives. Although Mom used to be an elementary teacher, she was always the first to admit that she was too lazy to help us out with the school work. Dad, on the other hand, had his job with the Air Force to keep him busy.

That Mom went to my elementary school graduation was a minor miracle in itself; and only because I managed to earn a medal or two for her to pin onto my barong. In high school, I underwent a philosophical mind shift. Yah know… Nakakasirâ ang pag-aaral sa football.

So Mom did not even bother to come to my high school graduation. Dad would suffice, she said. I did not mind.

I realized at a young age that grades were only subjective products of what teachers thought I knew. They were not without value; but I was damned if I was going to let these influence how I looked at myself. My line of thinking was that I was the only one who really knew what I really knew inside my head.

This is not to say that I was not interested in learning. However, I was more interested in learning what I wanted to learn, not what the curriculum said I had to learn.

I had little interest in Math and the physical Sciences. Hence, I did not really care that I did not really get good grades in these subjects. In fact, I would be the first to admit that my grades only reflected my abject lack of interest in these.

The only cardinal rule in the household was that there ought to be no failures. This was, however, only marginally enforced.

I did, in fact, fail Biology in the third quarter of my junior year. This had nothing to do with academics; but more because I refused to submit a project that was given to our class as pseudo-punishment for the fight that we had with the teacher. Even at that age, I could be really gung-ho about holding onto my principles.

In those days, I used to think that I successfully managed to hide the failing grade from my Mom and Dad. They asked once or twice about the report card; but did not insist to see it. Nowadays, I realize that they probably suspected that I was hiding something; but probably also knew that, whatever it was, I could get myself out of it. They were not stupid, after all.

Although pressure in the household to do well in academics was next to non-existent, the environment was also such that it was conducive to alternative learning. Dad always made sure that the newspaper came in each day. Mom, on the other hand, often traded books and magazines with her network of friends.

Thus, we were all voracious readers in the family.

When I became a high school teacher, I became obligated by my profession to evaluate and grade students. I could be pretty strict; and I was not always generous.

However, even as a neophyte teacher, I always thought that the grades that I was giving were what I thought that the students’ performances in a grading period deserved. I always knew that the grades that I gave were not necessarily the same grades that another teacher would give.

In other words, I was always aware that the grades that I was giving were my own personal and subjective takes on each and every one of my students. What each student carried inside his or her head was something that exams and quizzes could only determine to a certain extent.

Just as I never for one moment imagined that I would get into a career in Math and the Sciences, I did not delude myself that my students would all envision for themselves careers in the Social Sciences. It was that simple.

Studies in the West have determined that family values and expectations have been the spur for Asians to outperform students of other races inside the classroom. That said, in three decades in education, I probably saw an equal number of those who thrived under the burden of family expectations and those who chose the path of adolescent rebellion.

I have even seen scenarios that made me wonder if the parents’ obsession with their children’s academic achievements had less to do with the children’s interests and more to earn bragging rights. Bato-bato sa langit…

Although this may seem strange because I worked in the education industry, the truth is that I will be the first to say that success in school is no guarantee for success in the rest of a person’s life. It is a good head start, granted; but there are many other factors, some one can control and others one just cannot.

Sometimes, life after school is just like a leaf being blown in the wind.

In retrospect, perhaps if I think of things a certain way, maybe what that public school teacher interviewed on television said applied to me as well, after all. Indeed, the greatest support that I probably received from my Mom and Dad was in that we were never pressured with expectations and that there always materials for alternative learning inside the household.

Suffice it to say that I probably retained more from these materials than the countless textbooks that I carried to school each day but hardly ever opened unless I had to, anyway. Then, of course, there is no greater classroom than that of life itself.

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