Crossing the Water: Eighteen Months on an Island Working with Troubled Boys–A Teacher’s Memoir by Daniel Robb: A Book Review

1457748I have been teaching Koreans for seven years. There are times that I also teach non-native speakers from Asia and Africa. I have not taught my fellow Filipinos yet although I dream of it.

There is a big difference between teaching other foreign students and teaching my countrymen: It is a matter of cultural differences. When it comes to Korean educational system, Korean students, especially in these days, have academic competition. Their parents work their butts off to make sure that their parents can afford to send them through expensive academies and schools. In fact, it is a quite common thing to do that they are supported in school overseas. In other words, what all students are supposed to do is to focus on their studies while their parents are away, busy with their jobs. Consequently, based on my observation, students tend to experience psychological and physiological effects. Physiologically, they are always tired and sleepy during class because they always stay up very late , busy  pulling an all-nighter. Also, some of them tend to have short attention span. Meaning to say, they can easily lose patience under slow circumstances. I have learned that students, or I guess my student then and  I coined it ourselves , “ Bali-bali syndrome”, an expression in Korean  which  means, “ Hurry up!”Psychologically, without offense, some I have taught have delinquent behavior. Some were rude to me. Some discriminated against me. Some played tricks on me. Some tended to get uppity because Korea is richer than my country. So, within seven years, I always have had a hard time teaching my students. Nevertheless, I have known it all along that it has been a big challenge for me until I have learned that the best way to build a harmonious student-teacher relationship is to adapt their culture. I found that this kind of approach somehow works.

Daniel Robb, the author of the book, is an English teacher too. He wrote in his memoir about his teaching life on an island which is Pekinese where juvenile delinquents are sent to be rectified. He, along with the other staff on the island, lived with many kinds of handfuls whose lives have been complicated. He taught them academics, particularly English which is his forte, carpentry, and other household chores. The big challenge for Mr. Robb was how to catch his students’ interest, for they were predisposed to anti-social behaviors.  How would you teach students who keep on cussing you? A student who is always making a fool of you? An arson student who can risk your life while you are asleep? A student who likes to get in high? A student who likes to play hit-and-run? A sexually  preoccupied student? Or even a psycho student? Fortunately, Mr. Robb somehow managed to handle them. He tried to be tough and empathic at the same time. However, there were times that  he could no longer put up with them alike. But the longer he stayed on the island, the more he had heuristic insights into his life. There ,on the island,  he learned to understand the students’ abject misery. Like them, Mr. Robb also grew without a father figure.

Given the book is powerful and deeply moving , I really liked it  because I can relate to his pedagogical dilemma. Also, there are some parts in which he tells about some literary and historical pieces such as on Marxism and Mao Zedong. Furthermore, it is perfectly well-written giving the indication that Mr. Robb is a gifted writer. However, I just had a hard time reading some dialogues with various English accents  since his students came from different regions of the U.S.

In the end, Mr. Robb and I , maybe even you when you read it , are in the same opinion that there are juvenile delinquents because of the familial problems which come into existence at home. After all, parents should be responsible for their kids.  They should love their kids because love is a powerful element created in the universe.

Although Mr. Robb quit teaching on the island, he still represents all  teachers who have the same passion for teaching regardless of money or environment elsewhere.

For  the same theme, I suggest that you read Frank McCourt’s Teacher Man. This memoir deals with Mr. McCourt’s teaching difficulties  in a vocational and melting-pot school.

 

Rating: 4/ 5 stars ( I really liked it. )

Advertisements

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett: A Book Review

secretIt is now one of my most favorite books, along with A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry, Frank McCourt’s trilogy ( Angela’s Ashes, ‘Tis, and Teacher Man) , and Lord of the Flies by William Golding.  ( I have just realized that most of the books above have something to do with children. Eureka!  ^_^ )

Its major theme about gardening excited me so much that I  slept  through  it  for one night  ;horticultural skills run in my blood . I love planting and gardening.

When I was in my   kindergarten, I did build my own little  garden behind our nipa hut in our province. I planted different invasive and flowering plants . So,   my neighbors were all amazed   at me because I was still too young to build one. However, I can no longer build a garden since my family and I live here in Manila. I did one when I was  in elementary but failed because the soil here  is not as arable as in our province. Besides, I don’t have time to do so.

If  gardening  were such a highly paid job, I would surely grab it and devote my life to it and at the same time read a book surrounded by the plants and flowers. Presto, it would be  beautiful and enchanting ambiance.

Like in the story how Frances Hodgson Burnett describes the ambiance, I am familiar with the smell of leaves after pouring down in torrents,  of the river  which  water smells  brackish wafting up in the air,  with the warm welcome of the sunshine in the breaking dawn, the marvelous blossoms of flowers in a garden, the  canopies of the huge trees in a forest. Also, I experienced to climb   the trees and trying to reach   the end parts of their  boughs laden with  clusters of enchanting fruits. But the more thrilling one  was  that I tried to bother the nests of birds laid  up  on  the trees. I was a naughty and pesky boy too. ^^  I miss my provincial life!

It may   not be  beautifully-written but if you read it in hindsight, you will realize that  it  is really  meaningful, intended to inculcate good virtues in readers.

  1. Hope

In the story, Mary Lennox   hopes that the garden has the big potential to revive its spirit. With her  great effort , she will  plant some  sorts of flowers again with the help of of her newly-met friend  , Dickon, whom she is very fond of. Also,   with the great impact of the Secret Garden upon Mary, she will help her mysterious cousin, Colin Craven , to be positive in life. He was born bed-ridden in the assumption that he is an invalid.

“At first people refuse to believe that a strange new thing can be done, then they begin to hope it can be done, then they see it can be done–then it is done and all the world wonders why it was not done centuries ago.”
Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

2. Love and Loyalty

This virtue is  illustrated by Ben Weatherstaff, the  gruff elderly gardener who introduces Mary to the robin redbreast. He clandestinely tended the garden during the ten years in which it was locked, out of love and loyalty for the Mistress Craven.

“To speak robin to a robin is like speaking French to a Frenchman”
Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

3. Secrecy

 Since the title of the book is The Secret Garden, no matter what your   ideology about  honesty, you will learn  more the importance of secrecy.  This principle reminded me of a famous etiquette writer’s question that, “ When someone let you her/ into her world, would you tell the other people outside what you saw inside?” My reply to it, however, is ,” It depends on the situation.”

4. Friendship

Mary’s friendship with Dickon and Colin Craven teaches me to be congenial toward other people as well as love my best friends.

“You can lose a friend in springtime easier than any other season if you’re too curious.”
Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

5. Positive Attitude

I liked Mrs. Snowby’s  , Martha’s mother, positive attitude. She influences all the main characters.  For instance, she sends a skipping rope for Mary because she is aware of the fact that  Mary   has   poor health. Also, she sends her healthy milk to put on weight. In fact,  Mr. Craven and Mrs. Medlock both look up to her wisdom despite her poor and austere way of life.

“Everything is made out of Magic, leaves and trees, flowers and birds, badgers and foxes and squirrels and people. So it must be all around us.”
Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

The story is also interesting to ponder over in the context of psychology, religion, sociology, and philosophy.

In addition,  I was challenged by reading some dialogues with Yorkshire accent. I tried to turn over the contracted words in my mind until   my nose bled a great deal. But later on I learned to love and imitate it as did Mary Lennox.

However, I want to make a fuss over  three things :

  1. Where is Camilla? If you have seen its Japanese TV animation series,  you may know the fortuneteller and healer, Camilla. I can’t forget her  because  I liked the character she played in the story. She is also a symbol of a wise woman aside from Mrs. Sowerby, but scared because of her dour and somber aura.
  1. Also, I can’t forget the scene when Mr. Craven walks through the woods where he finds out that someone is hunting there without his permission. This scene gave me an idea then that he has  aristocratic authority.
  1. As far as I remember, Dr. Craven is a crafty character who intends to weaken Colin’s health since he knows that Archibald Craven has been crest-fallen since his wife died. When he dies, he will inherit all his wealth.However, in the story, he turns out to be an uncle who knows what ” flesh and blood “ means.

Anyway, I just guessed that the   story may have been added with some ideas  since it was adapted for  a Japanese TV  animation series .

Thanks to my student for this book present. Without my literary intercourse with her, I would not know that Frances Hodgson Burnnett is also the author of  the other  two famous children’s novels such as  A Little Princes, known as   Princess Sara and Little  Lord Fauntleroy.  So, I’m gonna read them too. ^^

Rating: 4/ 5 stars ( I really liked it. )

Connect the Dots o Kung Paano Ko Kinulayan ang Aking Buhay by Genaro R. Gojo Cruz: A Book Review

IMG_20130115_203929It is my first time to have bought a book  written in Filipino at National Book Store despite that I find  its price ( 175 pesos )  pretty expensive  compared to the  books in Book Sale.  Usually, one of the reasons , aside from the fact that I am a certified bibliophile and bookworm, why  I  prefer to buy books written in English  is  to enhance  my English skills in  my profession and desire to be a good writer  alike .  Eventually, without regret, I fell in love with   it ; its  essays  and stories are  solemnly  and deeply written  like   a deep well stored with the water that had never been fetched by time. Thus,  it is  realistic,  audacious;  and above all,  heart-rending .

I was impressed and moved by Genaro Gojo Cruz’ s “innocent” determination to pull through all the miserable  things he had experienced , by how he managed to support and finish  his studies , by how he filled  his  vacuous self  despite  that he came from a broken family. Besides, I liked   his pesky innocence, typical of a boy bothered by this complicated world . You can relate to him if you really come from a poor family. While reading it, I remembered Frank McCourt’s trilogy  ( Angela’s Ashes, ‘Tis, and Teacher Man ) , ones of my all-time favorite books. Their life stories   have somehow complete resemblance.

Gojo Cruz has received Palanca Award twice for  his exceptional skills in writing children stories. I should not give him any shadows of  a doubt ; I liked his  writing styles. He  sounds as though  your  new friend telling you some stories- not just that they are  stories but meaningful and inspiring. I bet my life  that you would not get tired of him. In fact, I have this condition that he renders me unmoved in the air .  Then, I tend to blurt out, “Encore, I want to  read his other books more! “ ( Overwhelmed )

As a  matter of  fact, I had hung back twice whether I  had to buy and read it or not  because its paperback designs  and  color are not that appealing to me . ( Well,  I did not mind it is  a YA after all.) It just looks like a children book. I just thought that I  would have just wasted  my money  contrary to what the superannuated  cliché goes, “ Don’t judge the  cover of a book.” In the end, this book turned out to be worth reading; it has something to do with the author’s life.

If I am not mistaken,  the pretext why  the  book cover’s color is  orange  is that it was once his  moniker ,  which is the  anagram of his name Genaro, whenever he traded names with his friends; whereas, the jeepney drawn in the middle part  was his father’s .

 If you are a book critic, you might be of the opinion that Genaro  may have intended  to  write  it with  “ paawa ( self-pity ) effect  just to be on the market and  see if  it would be  going  like  hotcakes.  (In fact, this may-have-been idea did the tricks ; the book seems to have been flying off the shelves since it was launched last year.  I can no longer see a large stack   in National Book  Store branches .  ) But in my humble opinion, Genaro is so brave that he was able to narrate his personal life  , especially since he is now a well-liked university professor  ( not that I know  of  ). It is not   so easy  that  you have to muster enough courage to share your bitter feelings you may be harboring for a long time and memories with others at all.  He must have intended  to do so but to inspire others , notably those children out there who have been dreaming of a prosperous life far from the  miserable  reality they are going through  as what happened to him.

I like Genaro’s philosophy that poverty is a downright hindrance to finishing your studies and dreams. It is downright wrong to believe that it is not at all. If so, how? The answer is simple :  follow  Genaro’s  principles of practicality. Besides, I agree to his another belief  that IQ has nothing to do with a student’s capability to succeed; we all can reach our  potential. You just have to be hard-working, persevere, and determined. Do not give up. Get a life as you know it is a matter of choice.

 On reading it, I may be now enamored with Gojo Cruz. ( Blushing) I am now kicking to buy and read other Filipino books more . Of course, I include his as one of the books I will follow enthusiastically.

P.S.

On the verge of finishing it , Genaro happened to be my formerly  university classmate’s uncle. My classmate’s middle initial is also Gojo Cruz. I was thrilled by this fact more when I remember   him  so proud to tell us about his uncle repeatedly. As a matter of fact, I have been to their place in Bulacan where Genaro  grew up. Apart from that, I stayed in the place with my classmates for a project in Sociology for a few days. There I  saw the places as  well as his little house plus private library  Genaro  mentioned in his book. However, I barely saw the well; it must be the artificial well  beside my classmate’s house where I washed my hands. What a small world! Now I have understood  my classmate’s personality. It runs in the family! kkk ^^

Rating: 5/ 5 stars ( It is amazing. )

Boy: Tales of Childhood (Roald Dahl Autobiography #1) by Roald Dahl, Quentin Blake (Illustrator): A Book Review

dahlI am very fond of reading books about children’s bitter experiences. Perhaps I believe in American psychologist, Erik Fromm’s belief that “ to understand children, we, adults, try to think like a child again.”Unfortunately, not all adults are aware of this fact. That’s why the main purpose of literature is to educate people about life, basically about children life.

I have read some books about children. I can hardly ever forget Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt ( 5 stars ), The Butcher’s Boy by Patrick McCabe ( 3 stars ), Torey Hayden’s books such as The Innocent Child and its sequel The Tiger’s Child ( I was so generous to fault to give both 5 stars at that time when I was not yet critical on Good Reads. ) I also cried over the classical books such as Charles Dicken’s Oliver Twist and David Copperfield. Even Beloved by Toni Morrison, one of my favorite fictional writers , punched my chest although the character is a young teen-ager gives eerie feelings. For local books, one is the Connecting the Dots by Gojo Cruz ( 5 stars ) which author swept me off my feet. ( laughs ) Such books are awash in the same theme: human cruelty in children, perhaps, out of ignorance.

This book of Road Dahl is one of the books above. This may be intended to make readers laugh. Of course, I did. However, the real highlight of this , even Dahl admitted it at the end of the story, is his miserable experiences as a student in the hands of his school head masters, teachers, and matrons. ( or you’d rather I put it bluntly , under the rotten educational system in Britain at that time ) Dahl narrated how he was such a poor innocent child . He was an archetype of educational upbringing. He had been beaten many times. So had his classmates. He had been humiliated and treated unfairly. So had his classmates. Admittedly, I abandoned myself to his said stories. If I had been his classmate at that time, I would have been so defiant that I could have been booted out. ( laughs ) So , the title of this book fits all the stories- Boys: Tales of Childhood.

I always want to be an active advocate for children’s rights, particularly for their education. Like Dahl, I was also a victim of wrong education from teachers who may have been ignorant of child psychology. As a teacher now , I believe in teaching students based on their individualism.

The good thing about this is that Road Dahl was still able to make us laugh despite those harboring ill-feelings. He was like a friend I have just made, sharing his ala Thomas-Sawyer stories. The atmosphere he built was so amiable that I felt sympathy for him. In addition, reading it was so easy unlike the other autobiographies or novels about children which require higher level of thinking. He narrated his stories age by age and every sentence is well-written. Since it is a children book, I hope young readers take precious lessons from it. And I do not think that it should be banned from the hands of young readers just like of what happened to his Charlie and the Chocolate Factory which received negative criticism. Duty on their distorted realities! ^^

Road Dahl said in his preface that an autobiography for him is full of all sorts of boring details. If I take him for his words, what he meant to say I believe is like what the famous American writer, William Arthur Ward, said:

“The adventure of life is to learn. The purpose of life is to grow. The nature of life is to change. The challenge of life is to overcome. The essence of life is to care. The opportunity of like is to serve. The secret of life is to dare. The spice of life is to befriend. The beauty of life is to give.”

Yippee! ^^

Rating: 4/ 5 stars