How to do well in school?

REMOTE CONTROL | DANTON REMOTO | 07/21/2009 3:20 AM
Views and analysis
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1. Listen to the teacher. When the teacher repeats a point two times, red flag it and take notes. That means what she is saying is super important, that is why it is repeated twice, not that she already has Alzheimer’s (she will, 20 years down the road, after teaching young people like you).

2. Read everything thrice. The first is to scan the text, like an eagle surveying the field, before it swoops down for the kill. The second is to read slowly, marking important points on the margins, or underlining key words in the text. The third is to summarize the points in your head, in your notebook, or on the last page of the text. I tell my students: unless you have summarized the text in three sentences, in your own words, then you haven’t gotten it right.

3. Master the four skills. Being a teacher of the old school, I tell my students the four skills of language learning are still important. The four skills are not surfing the net, texting, watching MTV or reading classsics.com. The four skills are still reading, writing, listening and speaking. But because of the four so-called skills I enumerated earlier, some students no longer want to read. “Eh why pa did you go to school if you don’t want to read?” I ask my students in mock horror. Writing well, of course, means reading and rereading The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White. Listening, with the headphones of your iPod off, works best. And speaking, of course. When one day, I asked a student for his insights into Guy de Maupassant’s The Jewels, he answered, “Wala lang!” I said, “That is good. Therefore, your oral recitation grade is also wala lang!” Then he immediately cobbled together an answer that somewhat mollified his English teacher.

4. Budget your time. You are a student, right? Therefore, your job is to study. When I was taking graduate school in the US and we were reading 600 pages of text every week, I asked my classmates, “How do we survive this?” “Read the darned pages,” Boho from Harlem said, “then go to the gym three times a week — and dance in the clubs on Saturday nights!” And so we did. We read tomes on Islamic Mystical Literature, the Nineteenth-Century Novel, and Literary Criticism, then did the treadmill and danced at Splash in New York every Saturday night. In short, you study hard — and then you play just as hard.

5. Consult with the teacher. Your teacher has placed her e-mail address and consultation hours in the syllabus. Go and make use of these. If you get low marks in Composition class, or just cannot get why the old man Iona Potapov, who has just lost his son, begins talking to his horse at the end of Chekhov’s story, then talk to the teacher. With the patience of Job, I am sure he or she will explain why that sentence is a fragment, and you do not mix your tenses, and “occasion” is not spelled with two c’s, two s’s, and two n’s, that is why you got an F. And I am quite sure that your teacher will also enlighten you on the way Chekhov writes fiction as revelation, where the unsaid words and the absent gestures are as important — if not more important — than what is said and shown.

6. Use the library. I taught for 22 years at the Ateneo, which happens to have an excellent multimedia library. During the first weeks of class, I require my students to attend library orientation, so they will know how to dig in that fabulous archive of knowledge. I also tell them that the library subscribes to Time, Newsweek, The Economist, The Financial Times and the International Herald Tribune — the last two papers because I badgered the library to do so, 20 years ago. In short, the most incisive analysis and the crispest writing in accessible formats can be had, right there at their fingertips, via hard copies of the world’s finest periodicals.

7. Use your imagination. When studying literature, let your minds fly! Ravyi Sunico, my teacher in Philosophy, once said in class that the imagination has no boundaries. Therefore, let the wings of your mind and heart touch the sky when you read. When the French master wrote, “Monsieur Lantin was caught in the web of love,” do not tell the teacher that this means life is complicated. Hell-er! First, you answer that “web of love” is a metaphor that means falling in love is like being caught in a spider web. It reminds you of that time when that “fat dimpled spider” (in Walt Whitman’s wicked poem) comes charging along to eat the unwitting fly. In short, I add, my lips curving in a wicked smile, it is called falling in love because “at first, you are in love, and then you fall.”

8. Open your minds. You go to school to obtain a liberal education, especially in the Humanities. In the Jesuit Fr. Roque Ferriol’s book, that means “magpakatao” — being taught to be fully human. That means never being afraid of ideas. Freshmen jump out of their skin when they hear the word “communism” or the name “Sigmund Freud” discussed in their Literature classes. Eh kumusta naman? You tell me we will discuss Ninotchka Rosca’s novel, State of War, without talking about the class contradictions in society? Or talk about Little Red Riding Hood seducing the Big Bad Wolf in Angela Carter’s “The Company of Wolves,” without discussing that dear, dirty old man Sigmund Freud? Time now to forget your high-school class in Literature, where Sister Marionnete always pinned a moral lesson to every poem, play, story and essays taught in class, reducing the beauty of words to the silence of the lambs.

In short, enjoy your English classes. Have fun in the world of words. Read everything as if it is a love letter, which means reading between the lines. Or better yet, as my unforgettable teacher of the Modern Novel, Dr. Edna Zapanta Manlapaz, put it, read not only with your eyes and with your heart, but best of all, read with your genitals!

Which means reading everything at the gut level, at the level of the groin, where the vital seeds of life begin.

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