Nothing about learning in school is related to learning about life; that I can tell from the seven schools I have visited since my preschool days. No amount of arithmetic, mathematics, or reading, can prepare you for the troubles your parents have, or the torments your peers might bring you. Children like me, who only wanted to make friends, and who shudder at the thought of standing up to others, found trouble in the way this world works.
Why should people be happy about hurting other people?
Does it bring goodness to label other people?
And how should children speak to adults?
When do they know that they are right and the adults are wrong, and how do they show it?
Thus people like me, who only wished to be a part of them, were forced to become someone else. The ones who thought conformity is the answer saw comfort and security in not being able to. I still wish, looking back on my preschool days, that they could have at least just left me alone. But while the wounds of the heart still stings, I wouldn’t have chosen the same path they did.
There are ways, good and nasty ways, to twist this post. But it being a touchy topic to someone like me, I chose not to. Besides, our schools may not be perfect, but most of them have good intentions. The subjects such as reading, writing, arithmetic, are skills that will empower children to access higher forms of wisdom and more complicated ways of interaction as they grow older. And teachers believe that students need to learn these skills together, even when their learning pace and mode of learning varies with almost every child.
I am not aware of trends in educational policy and curriculum to assess properly what a good school is for me. But I do have something I can add to it, which I learned a long time ago.
I spent my preschool days in a missionary school offered by Seventh Day Adventist. It was small; we were few, but it was the closest school from our unpainted home, and it used to be my world. I couldn’t say much about the classroom; I did not know if I paid much attention to it. I certainly did not study; I hated studying. But the teachers were nice, and they took an effort to teach you when they can. I even remember slightly how the teachers would give me those paper pamphlets of syllables in Filipino to take home and study.
But the world outside worked this way. The boys hurt girls and exclude boys who don’t agree with them. I was part of those who refused. Yes, I was labelled gay, but it was only because I refused to roughen up. It was something they use to exclude you the same way they exclude girls from their games.
But it had a deeper understanding; most of us knew this. I also saw this as I meditate upon one of my old friends, Paolo is his name. He did act feminine; I didn’t took upon it as an offense. But they laughed and scorned on it the same way they scorn on the older guys who chose or felt or knew that they are girls inside.
It was a horrible place for me; so I asked to be transferred to another school. It wasn’t better than the old one; it could have been worse (it was). Boys and girls taunted and judged me here and there. I tried to socialize, I tried to make friends, I tried to join their games. But I never got to understood what made them happy. And I was too frail and messy to be a part of them anyway. I tried until I gave up. I did made friends, but they never stuck after months.
And in order to kill the time I spend alone as an excluded eclectic, I took consolation in the library of our school.
I was its best student librarian until I left it for something humbler. And the things that I learned inside it stuck inside me better than any of the classes I spent inside the rooms of that stupid elitist school. Dr. Seuss told me about Green Eggs and Ham; pocketbooks brought me to “make-my-own-adventure” novels (I do not understand why they refuse to market those today). I even marvelled at the complete collection of Robert Frost’s poems, which I would borrow home and gaze upon its sheer size. My name was the first in its fresh library card.
Years later, I am already gathering awards from division, regional, and national competitions (some of which I refuse to remember anymore). And only those afternoons in the library that I spent reading books, forgetting the grumble of my stomach, seemed to be the most idyllic of all my childhood memories.
And this I wonder. Many of the Filipino textbooks catered to children always talk about ideal families: mother is home, father is at work. You have sisters and brothers and pets and family outings. You also have great friendships too. There are no conflicts in the stories they share; there are sins, there are punishments, there are moral lessons, nothing more.
None of them prepared children for what they are facing in real life. It certainly didn’t prepare me to understand why my parents and sisters scolded me for speaking in high tones when they are the ones commanding me in higher tones. It didn’t prepare me to understand why male culture cultivate a tradition of taking delight in degrading other people, even those who do not recognize the delight in such practices. And it didn’t make me understand why there are people who find happiness in the suffering of others.
If only education helped me to stand up to what I believe is right. If only education helped me face the challenges I had a long time ago, when I faced them alone, without the support of parents, siblings, and peers. But parents and the institution believes that children, fragile and unexperienced they seem to be, must be protected from the harsh reality. They must be sheltered in rooms where they are being shown images that does not happen around them.
But they do not understand how fast children learn as such age. Some of them, faced with difficult decisions, learn to harden up completely. To give children an opportunity to be active in their own lives, in their process of learning, without the same struggle adults face, this is what I wished I could have had when I was still learning, so that when I was faced with the decisions I had to do alone, I have something to lean on to. Not a moral lesson, but a way of understanding.
Make children think. Make them understand this harsh reality, but teach them too about the reasons why the things the community aspires for–peace, prosperity, a good family life, good relationships– are things worth living for, even if they don’t happen all the time, or even if they don’t happen at all.
This is what I want to add: critical thinking. If children can learn critical thinking at a very young age, they could speed up their learning process, they could strengthen their decisions, they could even learn delayed gratification (although that is something that only troubles us adults; children can do many things for the sake of doing them and not for being rewarded at all). They could learn more about life than what the adults have tried and sometimes failed to teach them.
So if ever I get to be successful as a writer, or even as a writer for children, I would like to add a strand of works in children literature in the Philippines that thrive not on shoving moral lessons to children, but on making them think about the ways people act and understand the imperfections that humanity has come to live, endure, and sometimes solve.
Written in advance for this prompt. Was my idea great? Was it boring? Uncreative (I seem to think so, hehe)? Do you agree or beg to disagree? Why not comment below? Don’t worry; I don’t bite (I just might make your nose bleed—with woooorrrds ).