Thursday, December 30, 2010

Unloading Your Backpack for 2011

We look forward and hope for the best in the coming year. Hope is a kindling light that can guide us through the next year. Looking forward is setting our vision towards greater things that we want to happen. With vision and hope our actions can be at pace for everything that is desirable to happen in our life.

To move on, we need to set our mind and eyes to greater things. Likewise, we need to be still for a little while and look back to what we have done. This is because in our journey in life, we can not carry too many baggages, or else we will lag that we will not get to where we want to go.

We are backpackers in this life's journey. Our backpacks can carry only as much as we could. If there are too many unnecessary things in there, we will soon find travelling tiresome. Unloading that backpack is essential so you may have space for the truly important.

But what should really be in there? Nothing too heavy or unnecessary should be in your back pack. All these loads pertain to those feelings of guilt, regrets, worries, bitterness, relational coflicts, vices, unimportant preoccupations, financial debts and other unresolved issues you have with your personality. When you carry them through the next year, you'll surely find the journey too difficult to complete it successfully.

Surely there have been regretful events that you experienced, but don't fret about it, just charge that to experience for your own learning. You may be guilty of doing something wrong as per you moral or ethical standards, maybe you need time to disclose that, ask forgiveness if you wronged someone and express commitment in not doing it again. You must have been wronged too, that you feel bitter, but let not that bitterness eat you away to be more anxious.

People are important, just like how you think yourself is important. We journey with other people, and if there are just things that you don't agree about remember that there are reasons for some disagreements. You don't need to please everybody, just try to be civil, professional or the least cordial. Your family and dear friends are those most important, the rest you can have them as frenemies.

Vices are bad habits, and surely they are hard to break. They are just like the other preoccupations you have that you spend more time with, than those that are important. Habits are learned, and they can be unlearned as well. The first step is to really stay away from them and replace it with something else. The next steps are all up to you, whether to keep that habit or quit it.

Healthy financial state is essential for you to prosper this coming year, or at least for you to have something that you can spend for the necessary and for your own pleasure. But with financial debts above your neck, things will really be difficult. You might need to avail some refinancing for your loans and credits, but you sure need to have them paid in the first months of the year if you can. If not make sure to commit yourself in paying your debts this year.

Nobody can change your personality, and it can not be done in an instant. Because who you are is a product of so many years, people, events and your lifetime experiences. But you and only you can take the initiative to do the fixing for your personality. If you think you have to change something in you, let that be first pleasing to you and not simply to please someone else or to be like someone else. Remember you are you, that thing that makes you different is what makes you unique.

For the next year, make sure you check what's in your life-backpack. Take only what is really important for you. That I think are good memories of the past year, positive outlook for the next year, and just plain you with that hope and vision for the best of this coming year. Enjoy your life journey.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Say the Magic Word

We have family traditions, I mean my family's traditions. We are not well-off, but through time as we learned the value of good education, the virtue of hard-work and the nobleness of having a kind heart for others, we see change in our economic state. So in return, as a sign of thanksgiving we come together to make the children in our family and the those from our neighborhood happy on Christmas eve.

One of our family traditions that we started back in 1998 is holding a Christmas Party for children in our family and within the neigborhood. We initiated it because we got tired of going out on Christmas eve to attend a party in Pasay where we used to live because it was really a hussle to be rushing to go home for the noche buena. Besides, were a big family to be in that party.

We start this party at around 7 or 8 pm. The moment we play the music, children will draw in. We are not sure where they are from or who they are, but we welcome all of them. With my cousins who are working we contribute for the food, the prizes and the gifts that we will share to those kids. Then we have fun, lots of fun through several party games.

Sometimes, we have a cake. Children will blow this cake after they sing happy birthday to Jesus. "Happy birthday Jesus" is the magic word. We understood the even as not merely to have fun and party at Christmas. But, we celebrate it because that day is the day we know or we believe Jesus came to this world.

We have the traditional paper dance, stop dance, best dance, blow the flour, planting rice, break the pot and the pabitin on queue for the activities for that night. The last part of the program for the children in the neighborhood is to have fall in line to get their loot bags. In this, each has to greet Jesus on his birthday, simply by saying "Happy Birthday Jesus".

I take that magic word seriously, because that is the essence and the meaning of our celebration for that night. I take it seriously so that the Children will be reminded of what Christmas is all about. That beyond the fun,food and presents that they have, Jesus is the center of the celebration.

On this Christmas eve, those children one by one greeted Jesus, except for one my nephew who has grown up and now 13 jokingly greeted me. While all the rest greeted Jesus, he greeted me. I asked him was it my birthday, he said no. I told him to say what the other kids said, he said no. No that he will not take the loot bag anymore. I had to force him to say the magic words, then he said so, but did not take the loot bag anymore.

I felt he was embarassed with my prompts and his actions. But that's the way it is. That can be criticized to be too conservative, but I stand firm on my point that such expression of faith as way of giving thanks is something of great importance that can not be made into a joke. The virtue of being grateful and showing that gratitude through this party that we organize for the children is our share to give Christmas some meaning for our family and others.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Taking Ownership of Learning Performance

Today was the last day for my six laboratory classes, so as a responsible teacher I have to return all their graded paper works and show their grade. I did not show their grades, I allowed them to compute their grades and gave them an opportunity to add value to their class performance. The grading period is that component of teaching that tests a teacher's virtue, beliefs and values for education.

What I am actually doing contradicts the traditional scheme of other colleges and universities as to how teachers evaluate the student's performance. Where I am teaching places high premium on learner-centered grading, that is based on the merits of students' works and not just on how the student look or behave in the class, or in cases as to how the teacher could recall the student's name and faces.

I don't have a knack for looking up the ceiling, casting the die or spinning darts for my students' grades. I do adjust the grades, but when I do, that would be for all. That I think is fair enough without lowering the bar of students' performance measures. Where I graduated from and where I am studying now, the professors have all the rights and priviliges in the responsibility of giving the students their 'due' grade, even to the point that students do not really know how they were evaluated.

To eliminate the bias of grading, I don't put higher weight on my measure of their class performance or standing. The weight of their grades comes from how they completed the tasks done as classroom exercises. This time though, I tried to include one component in the grade, which I asked them to give their selves.

That is a personal evaluation of their class standing based on their attendance, task completion, deportment,skills development, knowledge acquisition and recitation. Here, they can give themselves as high as 30 points which will be computed as an addition to the exercises we did in the class.

I found this exercise reflective for the students to consider a criticism of their self and their learning performance. Then I gave them their papers and compute for their grade. There are some students who changed their self-evaluation scores on class standing to pull up their grade, but of course that one component could only do so little if their grades in other components are really low.

With a small sheet of paper for this evaluation, I also asked them to describe how the course helped them. In their responses I could see how they think they have improved and their ideas on how to improve the course. These questions were rather intended for the teacher's use.

Then there are those students who happened to have incomplete exercises, looking for their papers as if they have submitted them to me. Those students who were reckless not to turn in their papers or to be absent from the class, came forward asking what they are to do.

My response was simple: You should have asked that beforehand not at this time. Here is one conversation that I think teachers would learn from as to how to deal with students who lack the virtue of self-regulation:

Student: Sir, I don't have two activities?
Me: Why don't you have two activities?
Student: I was absent...
Me: Why were you absent in those days?
Student: Pause...
Me: If you had been absent definitely you would missed those activities.
Student: Can I take them now?
Me: When should you have taken those activities?
Student: Before, when I was absent.
Me: Will it be fair others, if I give you consideration because of your unnecessary absences?
Student: No, sir.
Me: Who should be responsible for you learning?
Student: Me, sir.
Me: Have you done it so?
Student: No sir.
Me: That's the fair due, compute your grade then as to what you have done. The least thing that I could do for everyone, I will do.

This student and others have failed in the class. Simply because they did not take ownership of their learning performance with self-regulation. None of them could put the blame on me. I am simply an instructor, a guide, facilitator in their learning experience. It is they who have the responsibility to learn, mine is merely to help them in the process.

While many others succeeded, some did not. Those who did not need to go over the process again until they would have really learned the life lessons that they can not just read between the lines of the lesson content -- responsibility and determination to learn. That I think is the D within an every F student, or is it the discernment of that responsibility in learning?

On My New Year's Resolution

After Christmas comes our hopes, desires and plans for the next year. Although not every one is into writing down their life-story, there is a part in all of us to resolve issues that we have had in the passing year. This I understand to be drawn from our construct of constancy of change and motivation to be a better person.

I have always thought of quitting smoking as a new year's resolution.Yet, I have never resolved that issue. Maybe because I don't take the sense of having a new year's resolution seriously. Another concern that I would like to be resolved is over-expenditures.

We usually keep our wishes for the coming year with a prayer of hope and faith, that in God's will things will fall into place. However, just thinking about what we wanted to be improved in our lives would not really work well without our commitment and action.

The commitment to change begins in introspection. That is taking time to evaluate your self, your thoughts and your actions in the time that has passed. This is like self-management. The first step is to evaluate your self in all its aspects if possible.

Next is to level up that reflection a bit by examining what caused those failures you may have had. Those causes must be resolved to find a resolution to your concerns. Let's say you are not so punctual. You can make your resolution and tell yourself you will be punctual. But the thing is, have you ever considered what makes you late? You could think that the problem is you wake up late, but have you thought of the reason why do you wake up late? Perhaps, you sleep late and spend a lot of time doing things that are not necessary.So, the resolution must address what really causes the problem and not the problem in the surface. That is the third step to making workable resolutions.

The last step would be the action. The resolution to your personal problems will demand actions. These should be workable, to be done. Don't just say to yourself what you want, but mean it upon determining what you can do. Believe that you can do it and do it. When all these have been clear to you, reexamine them as to how they may affect others or what will be the repercussions of those actions. Remember that you are not all alone in your life, and so you should make sure that your commitment into actions should also benefit those people around you who are most valuable to you.

No one is perfect, we all have personal issues to resolve and it is necessary that we take the step to coming up with what will resolve our issues. So what is my new year's resolutions? Let me go over to my life-vision mission I wrote 5 years ago,and reflect on the passing year, for me to write those resolutions down just yet.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Christmas Wish to Grow More in Faith

What present do you want for Christmas? When I asked my nephews this question, the older one had a sure answer, while another leaves it up to me. So I somehow I found myself in trouble of whether to give that sure child what he wanted.

My nephew wanted a magic kit, that box with several tools that can make him do some tricks. The price of which ranges from 300 to 2700. As an adult I am now in the position to make a little child happy, contrary to when I was young.

Christmas in my childhood just passes like one happy day because I could attend party that adults from our neighborhood organized for all the children there. I did visit my ninongs and ninangs, and they would have presents for me.

As far as I can remember, I never really had any Christmas wish, back when I was still a kid. No one would really ask me what Christmas present do I want. Except for my aunt and my eldest sister who would take me to the department store and buy gifts, hardly would I receive a Christmas present.

That was the past, now I am at least financially able to support my family, pay for my schooling and spend some nights out. I am now in the position of giving presents and making the kids in my family happy. I may not be able to make all their wishes for Christmas come true, but at least in my little way I can share that joy of Christmas.

My wish for Christmas goes for everyone. Good health, financial strength, understanding, peace, compassion and above all love. As for myself, all I wish is the security that comes from faith in the Lord, with that everything else will suffice.

I have no need for any material thing, because all those that I would need physically can be dealt with the wage of my labor. I am happy and blessed with a family that is full of love and concern, so I have no desire to look for that love somewhere else. I am blessed with a wonderful community I work with, although there are some hardships I can surely overcome.

More than that what people can sees of me, I share with them a deep sense of spirituality. That I can not brag about, or shout to the world, but that is just something between me and my God - a personal relation of sort. Hence, the manifestations and demonstration of faith is so essential to complete me. So I wish that in the Lord's compassion he draws me more to be faithful.

My wish for security in faith is not because I am insecure. But it is anxiety that troubles me. With security that comes from within me in Christ, I am safe and at peace. When I have peace, I can have joy, when I have joy I can love. When I love I can do all things in the most excellent way. When I am excellent in everything, I can humbly say that I did not do it alone for God is with me through out.

Friday, December 17, 2010

"When You Group Up You Should Be Just Like You"

Everyone of us has childhood dreams, wishes and ambitions. As we look at others as to what they have, who they are, how they look or what have they become, we find ourselves dreaming or in wishful thinking.

A little girl tells Lucy: "When I grow up, I want to be like you." Lucy replies coming from in front of the dresser's mirror: "When you grow up you should just be like you." That was a scene in the latest movie of Narnia, adapted from C.S. Lewis' literary masterpiece.

I remember that after watching the first Narnia movie, I was so fascinated with C.S. Lewis in his skillful use of symbols that signify his religious belief. Like Lucy, who got tear a page from the book of incantations, I took out a book from the stack books left unread in a store room in a parish. Huh, I am guilty, because I took a book C.S. Lewis wrote and I haven't returned it yet.

The book was not about Narnia, but some short writings of Lewis, his life-story, his beliefs and some words about his works. Now I realized what Aslan told Lucy. That there are thoughts and things in this world that can take us away from how we value ourselves.

When I was kid, I wanted to be a doctor, an architect, an engineer, and artist. But I found myself teaching and enjoying it. Maybe that is me... simply fulfilling my desitiny. Just like how those Kids, Peter, Susan, Lucy and Edmond will find their selves in Narnia out of their will, from since the earlier movies. While in this movie, they have to fulfill their choices without losing connection from the past experiences of Narnia.

Narnia is a different world from that of those children. Its environment may be surreal and so are the creatures there, but it is so human. What captivates me the most to this piece of literature in a movie, is that of the creativity in fictionalizing religious and moral constructs without losing their sense.

Narnia, its world, its life, its creatures, its virtues and values exist as figment to a child's imagination of dream-world. A world that have struggles but with aspirations for peace, justice, liberty and integrity for all creations. Such world is what is missing, although possible to happen in our world.

Although I was watching the movie with a voracious appetite for images, I could not hold myself from thinking while I find myself a witness and a participant to the world of Narnia. I was thinking of its representations of our world and the Christian faith. While I was wathcing as mature adult and a critique I could not help myself wanting to be a child again and hoping that that child's dream world would never end or at least realize in my life.

In life and in our Christian growth, when we grow up, we should really be just like us. Just like a child. Wanting and believing. Dreaming and wishing. Creating and enjoying. Imagining and not worrying of anything. Never envious of other's, never anxious of ourselves, and never bound to time. Always believing that there is something to hope for and to look forward to.

I have grown up, and I am just like me. Nobody made me as who I am now, although others and many things must have contributed to who I have become. Yet, I still know that most of who I am happened to be my personal choice. I am still growing to maturity...but I don't want to lose my connection to that wonderful child I was. And, that is for now and for the time thereafter that I will have in my life. That I will have no regret in living the life and everything that goes with it as gift from above.

In the latest Narnia movie, I got a surprise that there were alot of viewers in the movie house on a weekday. Probably it was due to the holiday season, or maybe Narnia is really a good movie to watch. For me, it is a wonderful fantasy movie to see and to learn from, a classical literature of the 20th century.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

So You Want to be Doctor

Some naive questions from my smoking buddy: What's the difference if you're a PhD degree holder as compared to a Master's degree holder? Is it difficult to take a PhD?
Those two questions had me think, why in heavens did I take PhD anyway?

Practically, for an academic like me, a PhD is a guarantee for higher pay and promotion. Its the only way to be granted the rank of a full professor, the highest rank that an academic would get. But that was not in my mind when I enrolled for a PhD.

Back in 2008, I took the liberty to finish my M.A. in Communication Management. I was required to take 3 units as penalty course, but I enrolled 9 units, as I saw that I needed to learn more. While I attended the courses, I was teaching part time training part time, and doing my thesis. I thought, I just had to learn, and to do what I have to be in school and in the field.

I had to learn so I can share more to my students and be a better teacher. On the other side of it, earning an M.A. degree guarantees me security in teaching in a college or university, since that is a basic requirement. While I successfully defended my thesis and saw value in my work, I began to think beyond the here and now. PhD is the next step if I would be faithful in my personal vision to contribute to the academe. The same degree will add credibility to my initial contribution to knowledge.

My options were, PhD in Applied Linguistics, PhD in Educational Psychology and the least of it was PhD in Communication. I decided for the latter because it would make me a real expert in the field of communication. It is a vertical advancement as to my field of specialization, since I graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Mass Communication and an M.A. in Communication Management.

What for is PhD if I have master's degree already? I can say without it, that I am expert already. But there is a body of knowledge and means of knowing them that are not taught or learned in the M.A. or undergraduate levels of education. The horizon of understanding the world is so different, that it indeed makes one a philosopher.

I am speaking of my experience from studying for a PhD from the Univesity of the Philippines. I can not say that my experience would be the same for those who took their PhD from so called diploma mills, and what one is taking up also matters. To be a Doctor of Philosophy in a specific field does not only add a title to my name, but it entitles me to have my contribution in the existing body of knowledge.

What's the difference? In gradeschool, we learn the terms that identifies the objects in the world and we describe those terms. In high school, we learn the concepts out of those terms and definitions we were supposed to know from grade school. In college, we try to derive concepts from generalizations that we can see applicable in the world, so that we can at least have a life outside school.

In the master's program, we thread the theories with the concepts we learned in college and determine how those theories apply in the social world. In PhD, we make the theories that make sense of the world. In other words, we contribute to the body of knowledge that perplexes the world.

A sophist, who has a passion for knowledge, persistent curiousity, and eagerness to learn, would not really need to attend a PhD courses. Who among the great Philosophers of classical times attended a PhD program? They merely gave theirselves time to learn, reflect and think about how people think. They argue with others and they argue with their thoughts.

But knowledge does not flourish in a vacuum. Learning is a social and cultural endeavor. Learning is assisted. Being in the PhD program have broaden and deepen my understanding of the many realities in communication. Which I will not have learned on my own even if I have those inclinations of a sophist. A PhD does not only teach what those early philosophers taught, they enable us to understand why and how they think they way they do.

In taking PhD, one learns to rediscover, uncover, recover, construct, deconstruct, theorize, synthesize knowledge from the existing and previous. Those who have gone through the path of knowing will have a lot to share to the new learners like me. And I appreciate all their contributions to what I know now.

A PhD holder, becomes a doctor of the field. Similar to a medical doctor, he sees, listens and observes the patient(phenomenon) and can identify the causes, implications and possible prescriptions to treat the pathology. In taking my PhD in Communication, it has enabled me to have the right senses and competence to understand the communication event and its elements in all its aspects.

The way to knowing is similar to taking that narrow road, and that narrow road does not allow for others to accompany the PhD student in his sojourn. My mentors are of great help as they introduced me to their mentors -- their professors in the letters of their published works. They are the beacons of light that guided my knowledge. They are enlightening as well as excruciating with their requirements and fanaticism.

If teachers require a student to read a book in a term in college, in the PhD program, several books have to be read in a few weeks. Reading may be easy, but understanding the complicated knowledge in those required reading materials is a pain in the neck. If to complete a bachelor's degree one needs to write a thesis, the PhD student has to write theses, one for every coursework in every term. Writing not just about what you read, but what you think of what you read is another gruelling task. One has to read so many things and construct meaning to all those things. That is PhD.

I still love it though despite all its odds.Like many other children, I too dreamt of becoming a doctor, but then I realized I got eeks for blood and open wounds. A Doctor of Philosophy does not carry a stethoscope, but the right lenses to provide understanding to the problematic world.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

When Photos Speak

There is a new generation of photography, digital photography that innovates itself from the traditional manual photography.More and more photographers are enjoying their DSLR cameras as their shots can immediately come to life, since these cameras are also equipped with multimedia capacity. With the available computer applications and softwares, they can recreate these images into evocative presentations.

Photos remind us of our experiences and the memories of our past. One of my student is joining a photography contest with human rights theme. I remember him, from his creative works with photos and powerpoint presentations. I told him that he should take photography or multimedia arts and not hotel and restaurant management to hone his craft. Now he is the chief photographer of the school's student paper.

He asked me a favor to like his photo entry. I did not immediately heed to his request. Instead, I have to ask him a few questions first. As I saw his entry, I remember an issue from an international news program about the responsibility of photojournalists.

In the news, images of war victims were shown, and photojournalists merely took shots of them. The question is whether they have the responsibility to help those people whom they took pictures of. I could not immediately like my student's photo until I am convinced that his answers would have satisfied me.

He took a shot of a boy playing with a toy gun on the streets, with other kids. He said it was a candid shot and the boy was not a model. What came to my mind was the thought of creating a culture of violence, and that to these kids, they could be desensythize to the idea of violence.

I asked my student what did he do, after he took the shot. He said nothing. He replied, that it was a just a toy gun and that for him, it was photo opportunity. My issue here, is that a photojournalist is not just an eye or a lens. A photojournalist is thinking social individual, who has responsibility for other members of the society, most especially to the subject of his craft.

I argue that objectifying human subjects is dehumanizing them and dehumanizing the photographer. My student passed my gatekeeping by responding well to my second question. I asked how did the image impact him. He answered that the shot was taken two years ago, which influenced him to take photography seriously, and he wanted to tell other people through those kinds of shots that we have situations like that. Further, he explained that taking such images made him more aware and socially proactive, that he joins rallies and advocacies for such cause.

So he got my like on Facebook for that photo. But I would like to go back to an idiom that pictures speak a thousand words. An image will have multfarious meanings. Hence a caption or a story would help to clarify to the viewer what the artist intends to say about the subject.

He got my like because he was true to his words. That when he joined a seminar on photography, he came up with a multimedia presentation of the pictures he got about the aetas. For a novice, he got my approval. This is the link to his work on another human rights blog. In this blog, his photos speak, as he narrates a story on the plight of the Aetas of Zambales. If you like his photo, like the fan page that hosts it and like his photo. Share the photo as well to your friends if you like it.

Lastly, I would have to say that worst toy you could give any child this Christmas is a toy gun, whether it shoots water, foam or pellets. If you do this you participate in the promotion of a culture of violence.

As an update, the photo taken by Mario Espinosa, won both the people's choice award and the grand prize winner for the 2010 Tinamaan ka ng Lente, photo competition.