Education for life (A Morning conversation)

This morning meal, we talked about education in the Philippines and in other countries with topics such as alternative learning system, giving assignments and examinations, and play. Our current Department of Education Secretary Leonor Briones has in her agenda the alternative learning system. This is encouraging to some students in our country since not all students are geared towards formal education and not every high school graduates are suited to enter college.

Currently, if the cumulative grade of a student reaches 60, the student is given a passing grade of 75. It seems that this move of the previous secretary Br. Luistro Armin, a La Sallian Brother, is geared towards mass promotion of the students so they can graduate in high school.

Though I know it’s important to focus on our high school students (since our country is dominated by the millennial population with a median age of 23 years old), I hope that educators and lawmakers would consider the program we give to our children below 10 years old. Like in Finland and Japan, they tweaked their preschool and primary level with lots of play and exploration for kids and no assignments and examinations.

For parents, I hope that they wouldn’t spoil their kids by giving them smartphones and tablets at an early age so kids can enjoy their childhood outdoors and with their playmates.

How about you, what do you think about your country’s education?

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The beginning of Chronicles of a young Brother?

It’s still raining. And here in Cotabato, I think this is the coolest day here since I arrived last May 15. Sometimes, I heard, when the rain is too strong and the swamp overflows, fishes can be seen in the grass field of the campus. I want to witness that one of these days. When I was still an aspirant, there was a city wide flooding just because people forgot to clear the water lilies in the river. Well, this city is below the sea level. 

I don’t know if it’s because of the raining that our internet connection with PLDT is so slow. Alternative? I used mobile data with a Globe SIM which has an LTE signal here. If not for the intermittent connection, I wouldn’t blog again. The mobile data reminded me of WordPress. Force of habit probably. I always find time to be alone and reflect; I just forgot about WordPress. 

And now that I remember, I should come here more often so that I can write about my stress as a homeroom adviser, my battle against lesson plans, encounter with cheeky teenagers, bright kids, table tennis prodigies, cute dogs, and everything that revolves around my life here in my first assignment as a temporarily professed brother.

As I write down my thoughts, feelings and experiences, may the Holy Spirit move me and transform these insipid and plain water-like experiences into intoxicating and zestful wine-like life events (John 2:1-12).

How I combined Math and reflective writing?

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Well wishes and prayer messages disguised in a Facebook Number Game
I manage a Facebook group site for my Geometry class. Though the school year is finished, I posted some activity for them to comment. The post is a Number Game wherein friends would send a number privately to the one who posted then the one who posted would comment on the post, describing the friend, withhold the name, label that person with a number, and letting others guess who is that person being described. The Number Game is, in reality, for me to send them private messages about my well wishes and prayers for them as their teacher and “spiritual parent” (a term I got from Pope Francis). Right now, I ran out of ideas and quirks in writing since the game is still on and I have yet to write for more or less twenty students.

Letter writing activity in class
Last November, I gave the students a letter writing activity called Dear John. You might wonder what’s the connection of letter writing and mathematics? I’ll explain. They are to reply to a former classmate who transferred and talk about John’s struggle with Geometry in his new school. So aside from sharing their own experiences too and their advice to him, I posted other questions such as their preferred degrees in college, their plans for the future, and their aspirations in life. Upon receiving their letters, I replied to their letters and gave advices, recommendations, affirmations, and encouragements in their class performance and in their future endeavors as well. Considering that this activity requires me to reply to 52 students, I don’t mind the hurt in my hand in writing since I enjoy writing for them anyway.

The Number Game and the Dear John writing experience is heartwarming and enriching as a rookie teacher, a brother, and as a human being. I hope that the students felt the same when they receive a reply from this brother.

An encounter with a Dominican priest

MALAYBALAY CITY, MINDANAO — After the Easter vigil this Saturday night, we had a festive dinner followed by socials with matching drinks and dessert. After getting my allowance (which is not that much), I was talking to Br. Romy and asked him about the Starex vehicle that broke down in Damulog. Since his group was on the broken vehicle driven by Br. Joe that arrived at 8pm last Monday, I mentioned about our retreat facilitator and how he started the retreat with an orientation.

The Habit
Our retreat facilitator, Fr. Rolando de la Rosa, O.P., is a Dominican priest who was the former Rector of University of Santo Tomas. When he entered the Manresa conference room here in a Jesuit Retreat House, he was wearing his Habit. His wearing of Habit is not about his being a Dominican Order of Preachers giving a retreat in a Jesuit retreat house (while co-presiding a Mass with a Jesuit priest, they assured us that it’s not yet the end of the world). He emphasised at the start of this week long retreat that his attire is to remind us that the success of the retreat mainly depends on the disposition of the listener, meaning us Marist Brothers present.

The greatest truths are the simplest ones
There are lots of take aways from the seven sessions but I will mention the simplest ones since St. Thomas Aquinas said that the greatest truths are the simplest ones.

On poverty
1. “When God is all we have, we realize that God is all we need.”

On Sinning
1. “There are no private sins. All sins are communal (1 Cor. 12:26).”
2. “Sin brings its own punishment (Deut.6:15).”
3. “Unconfessed Habitual Sin causes Moral Anesthesia.”
4.If the devil cannot make you Sin, he will make you busy.”
5. “If I am full of myself, I am empty.”
6. “Hurt people hurt people.”

On Change
1. “Only the dead does not change.”

On dreaming
1. “You cannot outdream God.”

On love
1. “We become what we love.”
2. “We cannot love that which we do not understand.”

On Forgiveness
1. “Forgiveness does not change the past but enlarges the future.”
2. “Even when reconciliation is not possible, forgive.”
3. “If one forgives, one must remember.”

On classics
1. “A classic is timeless because it is forever timely.”

On hermeneutics
1. “Every translation is an interpretation.”

On presence
1. A bra is someone close to the heart and is there to support.”

On peaceful living
1. “A peaceful life is an orderly life.”

There are lots worth mentioning and I’ll update this post once I remember them.

Renewal of vows for 2016

Today, during this Easter vigil, I renewed my vows for one year. Though my vows are not yet expired (until May 3, 2016), I reapplied for renewal since there was a renewal here in our Annual Retreat at the Jesuit Retreat House here in Malaybalay City, Mindanao. I left my batchmates in the scholasticate (my companions in my first profession of vows last May 2014) and joined the young Brothers in active ministry, which now makes me a member of the Temporary Professed Brothers in Active Ministry (TPBIAM).

Please pray for me and my 10 companions who renewed their vows too, two of which are about to profess perpetually next year.

How A Song Reminded Me of My Restlessness: An Untold Story

Writing this on a Good Friday night, there’s an untold story I would like to share.

Celebrating Holy Week every year, especially during the Triduum, evokes a distinct yet different feeling in me. I only started to have this consciousness of the solemnity of the Holy Week when, believe it or not, I was not practicing my Catholic faith during my late teenage years.

It was 2009 when I was preparing to travel to work in a fast food chain. That afternoon, I was listening to a Sixpence None The Richer album in my Motorola phone. I was struck by a not so famous but beautiful track called Brighten My Heart. I still remember the lyrics without the help of search engine. It goes like this:

Verse:
My heart is as dark as a soil sodden in winter rain.
My soul is as heavy as the beet freshly dug from the bog.
My thoughts are like willow branches caught floating in autumn wind.
My body is as tense as a cat as it stalks it’s prey.

Chorus:
Let me open my heart to you (2x)
Let me open my heart to you, O Jesus,
It’s what I long to do.

The song is as beautiful as the timing. I looked at the clock; it’s 3:03 PM. The date? It’s a Good Friday.

The song expressed the longing inside me as if it was composed as the theme song of my life. I cannot express the feeling I had that time. It’s as if there is something stirring within me. I was looking for a word to describe how I felt that time. The feeling is like listening to kundiman (a Filipino folk song). It evoked a strong longing for I was restless. And seven years past, I can say that it was pangungulila (nostalgia).

That time, I was not yet into journaling so the fact that I am able to recall these events as lucid testifies that I was deeply moved.

As a deer longs for running stream, so my soul longs for You (Psalm 42:1).

What is faith?

As I learned from my previous classes in MAPAC through Sir Francis Castro, it’s interesting to note that life after death was not in the “theology” of the early Jewish tradition. Before, when Jews die, they believe that that was it. The end. No more life after death. Somewhere along the way, they developed this idea of life after death. Notice that in the Hebrew Scripture (Old Testament), only in the second book of Maccabees will you find the word “resurrection”, the rising of the dead, of those who have fallen “asleep” (2 Maccabees 12:43-45). That was in the context of a family who was forced to eat “swine’s flesh” (2 Maccabees 7). For them, to eat pork is to abandon the faith of their forefathers, surrendering to false gods and idols. So when they die as witnesses to their Jewish faith, shall they die in vain? No. These family died with the hope that, through Lord God’s compassion, they will rise from the dead.

Reading Maccabees is teaching me of faith. It is not about certainty. It is groping in the dark. By believing, I surrender to whatever will happen. And through this darkness, God will be walking side by side with me.