Friday, March 22, 2013

The Literature paradox

The reason why Literature as a school subject is in trouble is because we don't know what we want from it. By 'trouble', I mean that it is declining in take-up by students who are favouring the more 'practical' subjects like the sciences and math. All the hand-wringing that been going on in recent weeks is nothing new -- lit has been in decline for a long time now.

The issue isn't really about whether to keep it on as a subject or phase it out. No one is actively campaigning to eradicate it from the syllabus; a number of vocal supporters are rallying support for it; some are lamenting how pragmatic our society's become; but most are silently indifferent and will neither be sorry nor surprised if it dies a natural death.

I belong to the vocally indifferent camp. We love good books, but the link between the enjoyment of reading and having to take an exam about it is problematic. Both are diametrically opposite activities. Old man story follows:

Way back when I was a green trainee with a class of my own, I had to give a lit test. My objective was to see what creative things the kids could do with the poems they were reading. I designed a test to assess their interpretation of the text through a choreographed or dramatized group movement, i.e., a dramatic reading of the poem of their choice. I even designed a rubric so I could grade the performance with a clear conscience.

As much as the kids were astonished by my test design and rubric which I briefed them on beforehand, they astounded me with their interpretative performances. Working together, not only did they show they understood their poems, they showed that they were able to translate text into visuals, and visuals to aesthetic movement -- and they did it all on their own. I didn't teach them to do anything that they did, I just said, 'GO!', sat back and marvelled.

A couple of days later, I returned to the classroom with a heavy heart and a text-based re-test. Since the kids were sitting for a written exam at the end of the year, my mentors insisted that I give them a written test now. I guess they wanted to see how effectively the kids had memorized their Coles' Notes or whatever else they were studying. I never knew how the kids did on the re-test but I'd like to think that the rescinded test helped them some.

The lit exam is a very different animal from the simple activity of text reading. Despite the fluidity of subject matter, there's nothing whimsical about how questions are to be answered, or subjective in the way the answers are graded. The exam is purely mechanical in its emphasis on critical analysis, and that it rewards logic and structure -- just like the other kind of argumentative academic study. The questions require a scientific hypothesis and a mathematically logical approach to developing a reasoned conclusion.

Lit is a subject that bundles more content than its packaging can possibly hold. It's the elephant all of us blind men are feeling a different aspect of. Yes, it is creative, humanistic, historical, expressive, and everything else a lit buff identifies as good for the growing child; but it is also as practical as it gets, training the same child to think and appreciate current realities while developing a critical mind and an personal voice to match.

The problem is, people don't see how two contradictory objectives can co-exist in the same subject. Me, I enjoyed the books I read and most of the lit classes I attended. And I aced every test and exam I took beyond Sec 2. AND I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one to be able to say that.

I don't believe anyone wants lit to die (apart from those poor sods who only know lit through memorizing notes), but if it is to have a renewed viability, the people setting the syllabus and the people setting the exams will have to start talking to each other once again to figure out how to market the best of both worlds and ditch the public opinion of lit stemming from the worst; while making it relevant to a generation of twits*.

*by which I mean people who tweet. On Twitter. Rather than like some old pedagogue ponderously pontificating on Blogger. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Taoist send-off

It's been a rough few days. It's been like another month, another wake. There was no getting out of this one. The wife's closest aunt passed away over the weekend and for the first time I've been attending the full works of a Taoist send-off... in the capacity of favourite grand-niece's husband and designated driver.

From the ecclesiastical perspective, we do not share the same beliefs but as family I'm not about to be all stand-offish and disrespectful of the obligatory rituals. As I'm not immediate family, I don't have to play a part in the main proceedings. That gave me lots of time to grade papers at an unoccupied corner table of the tentage; but where I am expected to show the minimum of family support, I take the wife's lead.

I helped fold origami 'ingots' (the more, the merrier) to be burnt on behalf of the deceased; wore colours appropriate to the occasion; and for the short procession behind the hearse, I had a mourning sash tied around my waist -- though I waited in the car, ready to join the convoy headed up to Bright Hill.

Between these familial duties and caring for the new maltipup, there isn't much left to Spring Break. So I'm really glad my grading quota has been met... and now I can party the rest of what's left of my brains out the rest of the week. As if.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Baptism by poo

Let's start today's post with a cute pix. That's 'cos yesterday, Tasha really had her baptism by diarrhoea. This phenomenon appears to be our welcome-to-the-family tradition and most of our pets have gone through it, though to greater or lesser degrees.

It's hard enough toilet training a puppy, but when she gets the runs all the 'no' and 'good girl' messages get all mixed up in the frequent -- and messy -- 'accidents' that occur wherever in the house she is in.

Fortunately, the biggest damage was in the main bathroom where we confined her for a while. But we had to deal with smaller issues in the bedroom, living-room and study as well. And she thoroughly messed up her bedding, probably during a surprise attack.

The reason why we were so concerned was at about past midnight, there was blood in her stool. We bundled her into a large plastic bag lined with a pee mat and drove her straight to the 24-hour emergency clinic. For an after-hours consultation and prescription costing over $200 we got the very helpful diagnosis that our puppy was having a diarrhoea problem. Wow, thanks. They also showed us a magnified peek into a stool sample they'd taken to show us a microbial parasite that could be the cause of all this anxiety.

So, no unauthorised snacks for her and definitely no human food. Instead, a regimented feeding schedule, antibiotics and pepto bismol doses twice a day -- at least until her systems can process at a more mature level.