No Free Lunch

Teaching wisdom

05:20 AM September 28, 2018

Certain things that I learned from my fifth grade social studies teacher, Mrs. Alejandrina Casin, remain vivid in my mind to this date. I still clearly recall little specifics I first heard from her well over five decades ago: “Coconut is described as the lazy man’s crop” (and she explained why). “The Philippines is divided into 50 provinces” (that has since grown to 81), with a population of 35 million (which has since tripled). “Zambales is known for chromite” (I had no idea what sort of animal chromite was then).

I can still picture her saying those things in front of our class. For some reason, it was things I learned from Mrs. Casin’s social studies class that I remember most from grade school. I’m not sure if it’s me, because my interest in the social sciences may have already been manifest even at that young age, or if it was she, because she was a good teacher. I guess it’s both, but it’s probably more of the latter.


Mrs. Casin seems to stand out in my memory among the many grade school teachers I had at Maquiling School in Los Baños, Laguna, where I grew up. Not that I don’t recall patient and kindly Ms Cumagun, from whom we learned a new song every week; lanky Mr. Casulucan, whose prominent Adam’s apple would bob up and down when stressing a science lesson; dark and bemoustached Mr. Malabuyoc, whose booming voice kept us at close attention; or tall and sexy Ms Cuñada, who all of us boys and our male teachers must have had a crush on.

But I remember frail-figured Mrs. Casin for the facts and figures she had us remember by heart—who, what, where and when about our country and its people. To this date, “coconut is the lazy man’s crop” resonates in my mind in her voice, when I write and speak of how that crop has failed to uplift the lives of some 2 million farmers who grow it in our countryside.


But times have changed for our teachers. Their job seemed simpler back then, when their task mainly appeared to be that of pouring into our young little brains the information contained in the loads of schoolbooks that filled our schoolbags to capacity, and in the blackboards whitened by chalk with the day’s lessons. It seemed that education and teaching then were all about bombarding students with information and knowledge, a role the schools seemed best placed to play.

But in this Information Age where satellite TV and the internet are all around us, information and knowledge are literally at everyone’s fingertips. We need not load it into the backbreaking schoolbags of our schoolchildren, and spend the bulk of classroom time transmitting it from the mouth of the teacher and the chalk on the blackboard, to the ears and eyes of the students. I’ve witnessed my precocious granddaughter absorb so much knowledge from voraciously watching countless YouTube documentaries, before she even entered first grade.

There is now wide recognition that, with information and knowledge literally at our fingertips, the teacher’s greater role is to impart wisdom, or the capacity to harness knowledge and information toward solving problems. While science and math are important and deserve great emphasis, the humanities, history and liberal arts are crucial to honing one’s wisdom.

While classroom lectures and recitations are helpful, it can be even more helpful if teachers take students out of the classroom and into the community, to understand real problems therein, and develop ways to address them. While testing students on how much knowledge they have gained and retained is useful, it would be much more meaningful to test how well they have gained the capacity to solve problems at home, in the community, in the country, and globally.

To be effective educators, much more is demanded of teachers now. Dear Mrs. Casin would have had to reinvent herself, if she were to teach today.

As we wind down National Teachers’ Month, let us call to mind our mentors from our youngest days to our last days in school: Say a prayer for those among them who have passed on, bring some cheer to those who are still around, and recognize the great debt we owe them for being highly instrumental in molding us into what we are today.

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TAGS: national teachers’ month, opinion, Philippines, socials studies, Wisdom
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