Are the K-12 kids alright? Like really?

Case A: I have a friend in HUMSS or Humanities and Social Sciences, who always whines about her projects in creative writing. The requirements from the course make her both inadequate and worn out.

Responding to her complaints, I occasionally pretend to be a heartless clown by saying creative writing at her age – like spelling – is supposed to be fun and to be enjoyed and to be sunk within her pores. Writing’s written rules and “rhythm,” like alliterative cheap tricks are valid, but they’re like fossils – essential things in the past that we must respect but are better looked at from a distance than being imitated over and over.

I would always tell her all she needs to master are metaphor, allusion, wit, and her own voice.

Case B: I happen to talk to students (studying Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math or STEM, but are now freshmen) who have a thick set of photocopied slideshows they are memorizing by heart, or brain, minutes before their Filipino examination.

I ask them, “What’s the point of all of these?” pointing to their handouts, and they can’t give me a single answer.

I talked to them for minutes, stealing their time for enhancing their rote memory. They obliged since I was their former teacher, but I knew that during that vacant period they wanted my jokes out of earshot because they needed to ace their written test.

I wished them luck, and I told them to come to my office if they had found the answer to my question.

Case C: My little cousin (STEM, Grade 12) is too excited to be a doctor and an advocate for disability rights and universal healthcare. She had a terrible aneurysm in 2015 which nearly claimed her life. She tweeted that she realized her class had only run for 3 months, but she and her classmates were already tired as hell. Poor little cousin; she’s too young to philosophize whether time is a physical fact or a social construct.

I replied, “Who is/are your teacher/s? Because ‘iskool’ must be cool, Cassie.” (READ: Classroom shortages greet teachers, students in opening of classes)

Case D: Whenever students (first year college) follow me on Twitter during office hours, I would message them jokingly: “Why are you on Twitter? Do you even study your lessons?” Do they text in front of their teacher? That’s my pet peeve.

The thing about the hell weeks thousands of K-12 students are describing online or offline is that they may be imagined or real.

Assuming it’s imagined, then thousands of K-12 students must be delusional or fans of quixotic hyperboles.

Assuming it’s real, then thousands of K-12 students must really need systemic hell weeks or decades of preparation for them to become neoliberal slaves who value hard work over mental health. Worse future situation: thousands of K-12 students will pass this system on to generations AA and AB.

Students: Hell week
Teachers: Samedt

My heart goes out not only to the students but also to the teachers who do not mean to bring harm to their students’ sanity. They’re paid to observe the prescribed curriculum guides by the Department of Education as if the system has become their religion. Beyond their teaching loads, they’re also bombarded with several clerical jobs (e.g., forms and reports) and a salary not commensurate with their sacrifices and passion. (READ: ‘More than just a job’: Teachers, students voice out important role of educators)

I lament the fact that in this country, there is a low valuation of teachers. I realize why some teachers become terrible persons, and some teachers grow old with loans. I now see why some students hate terror teachers, and some kind teachers hate sassy students. I can now trace the origin of the most horrible quotation known to teachers: “Those who can, do; those who can’t do, teach.” Woody Allen had even added fuel to the fire: “Those who can’t teach, teach gym.”

Consider a literature curriculum in senior high school: term papers, interviews with authors, reporting activities, sophisticated projects using multimedia software, etc etc etc, (not including the required concepts teachers should teach, but the months cannot allow). All these are, in fact, snatching the students’ time from meditating upon one to 3 written works for them to really appreciate reading. They are meant to learn that reading – not forced reading – would take them places, and would promote the value of empathy, since K-12 students are supposed to be professionals the world needs, not neoliberal slaves corporations need. (READ: [OPINION] Why senior high school needs urgent fixing)

As a teacher for more than 5 years and a student for life, I am not a summa cum laude, but I am observant enough to conclude that the system has been failing to reach students’ potentials. I also did not major in educational management, but it’s commonsensical to infer that there is a need for radical change in the system and the curriculum, to allow students to see educational institutions not as hell, but as a safe space for them to discover themselves and society at large.

Case E: Someone (not a senior high school student) tells the proverb: All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

Note that Jack could be any boring, grumpy, dull K-12 student because he has no time away from “acads.”

Case F: Jack Torrance (played by Jack Nicholson in the movie The Shining) types “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” repeatedly on hundreds of papers, because all the work for his writing project may have wrecked his mental stability.

Case G: Wendy Torrance (played by Shelley Duvall) discovers the papers in and beside the typewriter. She is shaking when she reads, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” When Jack asks, “How do you like it?” a few meters behind Wendy, she screams, terrified, and grips her baseball bat.

Still terrified thinking about this scene, especially if I imagine this to be factual

I am not saying that Jack is a senior high school student and Wendy is Mother Earth, and that the scenario is much of an analogy, but you know what I mean.

NOTE: This opinion piece appeared in Rappler on October 27, 2019 (I honestly thought that no news outlet will pick up this opinion piece because I didn’t follow the textbook definition of how opinion pieces should be written. So shoutout to Rappler for giving this essay a home where it belongs!). Sorry not sorry, but establishments need constant institutional critique especially from the persons working inside the system to improve it, and to renovate schools as safe spaces for development, not hell.

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