LUGAR LANG| High on Philippine Literature in Senior High (Part 1)

WHEN I started writing creatively, I had romantic notions about gaining a kind of immortality through my writing. It was a dream abetted by my being a teacher of literature first of all. I thought, not only would my work have meaning for my two readers at that time (teacher and partner), it would surely live on if someone would teach it. But I was familiar with the arduous path it would take for a literary work to make it to the classroom. It had to be canonical, i.e., included in the list of literary masterpieces of the country. I could only wish it at that time, in 1996, when I first decided I wanted to be a writer after attending the Silliman Writers Workshop.

 Much later, I would find out that some of my own friends (God bless them) had begun teaching my stories in their college classrooms even before my book came out. Because of the lesbian content, I knew they’d never make it to highschool textbooks. More important, I didn’t write anything specifically to get into a textbook. I wrote what I needed to write. It was only with my essay about my (failed) marriage, “Sapay Koma,” that my writing began to have a bigger audience.

 In the Dagmay website, readers posted comments about how they took it up in class and how touched they were by the story. Even the grandniece of Manuel Arguilla, whose immortal story “How My Brother Leon Brought Home a Wife,” is pivotal not just in my essay, but in my marriage, managed to stumble upon my essay and left a comment that would always light an ember in my heart on days when I felt inadequate as a writer. After eight years online, “Sapay Koma” is still the most visited page in the Dagmay site and the comments section is longer than the essay itself. I felt like with this one piece, I had secured my place in Philippine literature (never mind that to write it, I had to give up my marriage). Better yet, I knew I was not alone in my wishes to rebuild my life. It was enough to fuel me forward.

And then K-12 happened. Thanks to the subject 21st Century Literature from the Philippines and the World, Grade 11 students had to study works published from 2001 onwards. It downplayed the importance of the literary canon, and foregrounded contemporary issues covered by the works from the respective regions: gender sensitivity, cultural pluralism, and non-traditional modes of writing. While I was disappointed that only one quarter of the schoolyear was allotted to Philippine literature, I was glad that it would be required of all schools. Before K-12, in most public highschools, aside from Florante at Laura, Noli Me Tangere, and El Filibusterismo, literature would only be tackled as a way to teach grammar, if at all. Suddenly, living writers were in demand.

 With the new curriculum, literature and creative writing would be taught starting from Kindergarten through a spiraling method, such that by the time they get to college, students will have learned all the basics about literary form and literary criticism, and become familiar with the writers from their own region. It sounded ideal. And I was willing to give the whole Philippine educational system the benefit of the doubt. My two school-age children would be directly affected, so I attended several PTA orientations about it, in which parents were assured that the teachers were being prepared for the changes. And even in discussions about revising the General Education curriculum in college, I always worked on the generous assumption that the learning objectives of K-12 would be implemented properly.

 There’s the rub. Any transition period is bound to be painful. And this one on such a large scale is no exception. While many teacher trainings were held and many certificates of participation were handed out, the true test of implementation is on the ground, in the classrooms. And I hope that someone is in charge of monitoring and evaluating each school. Otherwise, it’s every teacher for him/herself. Or worse, every student.

(to be continued)

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Posted in Opinion