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The Learning curve

To our teachers, with love

It is so true that long after school is over and done with, one remembers little of what the curriculum was. What really endures in one’s memory is the quality of personal relationships made—how the teachers  interacted with you, a comment on your paper, a kind and reassuring look, a carelessly thrown cutting remark, a thoughtful gesture, a consoling message.

And so I remember today teachers who cannot be forgotten, but are remembered and appreciated for giving the best of themselves to me in my most impressionable years.

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Two female teachers came with formidable credentials with their highest Latin honors and student leadership positions. When I got to know Edna Zapanta Manlapaz, I was pleasantly surprised to discover a gentle, soft-spoken, highly articulate soul. I was never in one of her classes, but she rescued me from my MA thesis doldrums. I had done enough research on Casiano T. Calalang, one of the pioneer Filipino writers in English in the same generation as Paz Marquez Benitez and Loreto Paras Sulit, but could not proceed. It was the era in Ateneo when emphasis was made on Philippine literature and the subject was suggested to me by my original thesis adviser, Bien Lumbera. I was left with neither adviser nor direction when Bien went underground and I could not arrange meetings with a second choice, Eric Torres.

Edna came to the rescue. She was organized and forced me to be disciplined, scheduling regular meetings at her home in Makati, where I also lived. She never gave up on the possibility of my completing the thesis and my MA, despite the two babies that came in between. I was never discouraged, although conflicted with the thought of “wasting” my time completing my study—to what end?

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But the end finally came, successfully. And it was not at all possible without a Dr. Manlapaz to bail me out with her quiet reassurance and nagging reminders. These days, when she comments on my writing, I especially value them, for she knows where it all began. I do not even remember the facet of Calalang’s writing I studied, but I well remember who and what made it possible.

Asuncion David Maramba was very soft-spoken and unassuming, too, contrary to the reputation that preceded her as an accomplished writer, especially of Philippine writing in English then. She was humble enough to write in one of her books that she thought she learned more from our class—made up of the likes of Paulynn Paredes, Cynthia Nograles, Chita Vallejo, Eugenia Muñoz, etc.—than we did from her. Nonetheless, her love of scholarship and Philippine literature was what she left me with. With her writing for this section way before I did, it was a special experience to be invited to write a companion piece with Adolf Azcuna on Cory Aquino for a book she was editing, “Seven in the Eye of History” (Anvil, 2000).

Vincent Harmon was guest teacher at St. Scholastica’s College, and a small select group of us was invited to be in his international relations class. Since he was an expatriate, we were warned to always be at our best. Who remembers whatever it was we learned? There were interesting discussions, though. Married to Lina, a Filipina, he was the long-serving superintendent of International School Manila, and he invited a few of us to join his faculty after graduation. None of us heeded his invitation but me, after I tired of a corporate job with a multinational. How that decision altered my personal life and career.

Another American teacher we had for history—or was it Western civilization?— was Robert Lane, who continues to live in the Philippines running his successful Silahis Arts and Artifacts. That wonderful showcase of local heritage began in 1966, I believe the year he taught us, for I recall getting some items for consignment that I often wonder were ever paid for. I patronize his shop today, so I hope he has forgiven me or written my account off. I occasionally see him at history and culture fora. His passion for things Filipino is what he has imbued in me. I do not recall any ambiguous exam questions such as “Where lies the West?” which he gave my husband’s class in La Salle, where he also taught.

The best lessons learned from them: the continuing love for reading and learning, and the burning curiosity to ask questions, always.

Neni Sta. Romana Cruz ([email protected] gmail.com) is chair of the National Book Development Board and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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