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OUT OF THE BOX | Homeschooling in the 1980s when it was looked upon with scorn and skepticism



By Marietta Dalman – Romano
3rd of five parts

DIPOLOG CITY (MindaNews) — The lack of money did not deprive our children from enriching experiences. We would all ride on a motorbike to the beach once or twice a week with our sand sculpting paraphernalia, malong and breakfast in hand, and build elaborate sandcastles at low tide. When the high tide came and slowly toppled our belabored piece de resistance, it was then that the children’s tender hearts experienced a palpable sense of loss and understood the stark reality of the temporariness of things.

Tobogganing (padidit, as we called it) down the grassy hill on a coconut frond was a favorite pastime with visiting cousins and friends. Even climbing a tall coconut tree became a life goal for my eldest son which he fulfilled on his sixth birthday. Too terrifying for me, I never allowed it again. At least he got one birthday wish fulfilled, the others were just impossibly far out like having a pet elephant at one time, and an anteater and sea otter in his earlier birthdays. They never saw the Tarzan movie but they knew what it was like to spring from one tree branch to another. Husking a coconut and grating it were practical feats they had to learn.

We were graced with an in-house manufacturer of custom-made toys from Roman helmets, shields, marionettes and dollhouses complete with all the trimmings. My youngest son thought his Papa could make a real spaceship in time for his birthday.

Papa was the painting maestro as each of us, equipped with easel and palette, mimicked nature’s display of light, colors and shades on canvas. Our ground being of clay gave opportunity to crude pottery-making and sculpting.

Happy, healthy pace

Homeschooling our children meant a happy, healthy pace amiss in our present educational system. Our schools are stealing away the joy of learning as they flood students with a spate of assignments that leave the child no time to breathe and unwind.

Students in traditional schools are over burdened with unnecessary and impractical projects that cannot increase their IQ a bit. With no regard for the students’ well-being, too many achievement and qualifying examinations are administered that half or more of their time is spent reviewing for these tests. More for the glory of the school and the teachers, they push the students to get good scores, studying and memorizing under pressure. After the examinations, it becomes a relief for students to flush out all data that had strained them. They end up unlearned and the tedious exercise becomes futile.

My niece in Grade II was distraught when they were assigned to type and submit fifty Christmas songs. How does one expect an eight-year-old to type or print by herself, let alone fifty Christmas songs? Cut-out projects leave the students no choice but to deface and ruin glossy pages of books and magazines. And to what end?

Being a piano teacher to many grade schoolers, I feel their woes and daily struggles. One day, my seven-year-old pupil was in tears exclaiming, “I have twelve assignments to make tonight!”

Isn’t it unsettling to find a grade two student wish that it were the end of the world in desperation over too much assignments? The assignments are beyond their capacity. They would need to have an adult to assist them and procure the materials for those thoughtlessly-given projects. It is teaching them to be dependent.

Stressed and Distressed

Pity our worn-out students, who have to sit through at least an hour of tutorials after an exhausting day at school. Why do our students need tutors after school? Isn’t this indicative of the kind of educational system that we have?

Once in an inter-island ferry, we chanced upon three Atenean researchers and overheard them. “Nakakatakot educational system natin ngayon. Panay input, walang retention.” (Our educational system today is alarming – all input, no retention.)

Instead of producing a wholesome well-being, our system is creating a generation of stressed-out and distressed pupils. At an early age, they are overwhelmed with heavy books that have to be borne by trolley bags. We might be too intent in teaching academics that a pre-schooler learns fractions even before learning to tie a shoelace.

Sadly, with industrialization as a goal, our students have become disconnected from the things that matter most. Family time is diminished. Even our schoolchildren have to beg for their much needed play time. How many of these students would have time to sit and appreciate the magnificent alchemy of a setting sun or a glorious sunrise? Even in the 1800s, Henry Thoreau had warned that we teach students to see through telescopes and microscopes, but we do not teach them to see with their eyes.

It is reasonable for a college student majoring in a chosen field to be plagued with schoolwork, but our little pupils burnt out at seven years old is unwholesome. The buds are shriveled even before they could bloom.

“We are here to teach you attitudes”

Finland has the highest success rate in its educational system. They only start formal schooling with children at seven years of age, which allows the child to grow and play, learn life skills before tackling academics. Amazingly, they give no assignments to take home. Still, they maintain high standards of education with a carefully-planned curriculum which creates a right and happy attitude towards learning. In Japan, pre-schoolers are taught respect, love for nature, cleanliness and order. No quizzes or examinations are given to students below eight years old. The quality of their education is reflected in the order evident in their society and the honorable attitudes among their people.

What values are we teaching in school if bribery seeps through the department as we hear of new public school teachers buying their appointments with a hefty 150,000 pesos despairingly borrowed from loan sharks that hound the teachers thereon? Even elementary student council elections have reports of vote-buying.

The valued Christian principles of humility, honesty and love are taken over by a fierce competition to the top among our students.

On our first day of classes with beloved Professor Francisco Arcellana, he emphasized, “We are here to teach you attitudes,” – an embodiment our educators could emulate. But what attitudes are they teaching in school now? Our system has led our students to dread school. They have quenched the enthusiasm to study and learn, hampered the creativity of our children and hindered the imaginations of potential artists. They have neglected the soul, which is the very essence of our being.

[Marietta Dalman-Romano of Dipolog City, a homeschooling mom and piano teacher, finished AB Journalism at the University of the Philippines in Diliman]

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