Abr 12, 2010

Assistant Professor Folly

One must always be grateful to be the occasion of other people's laughter. Earlier today, for example, I played the part of the Turkish astronomer. I mean the one who made the mistake of wearing his native clothes to a scientific conference in The Little Prince.

I am in fact attending a week-long seminar on the large class mode, a strictly mandatory affair. During lunch, a colleague was talking to me about our subject, Humanities 1, when suddenly he asked me how I felt to be dressed like a CAVHO. I hadn't realized it until he asked. I was wearing a yellow polo shirt like the CAVHOs, that is, the score of people running around manning the LCD projectors, testing the microphones, and wheeling the whiteboards wherever we required them.

I think I smiled, or something, until we resumed our discussion. We two had been working on techniques to improve the chances that an average UPLB student might learn something in the large class mode. But levity should be welcome even in such a week as this, a week where they tell you to make possible - in truth, to justify - a policy that you despise.

Based on other, more enlightening interactions, I knew that some of us were intelligently against this sudden move to fully implement the large class mode without as much as one round of votation, without any consultation of parents, students, or rank-and-file teachers. Like some of the opposition, I felt it necessary to absorb what skills I could. This mode will take over next semester, whether we like it or not, and we shall not be caught flat-footed.

Come June, it won't be the Chancellor or the activists who'll face my students. That's my job. So whatever this is (whether this is a bid for UP presidency, an austerity measure wrapped in the bacon of high-minded pedagogy, a move to justify millions of pesos worth of juicy infrastructure, or an ego trip running on pure testosterone) and whatever this turns out to be, I wish to face my students next semester with honesty and say: "I'm accountable to you, so if you learn nothing in the hours of Humanities 1, I am deeply sorry, I did all I could to stop this while also helping it come to fruit, but it's here, it's somebody's large class stomach rubbing over all our little faces, we ought to make the most of a situation, even a situation such as this, because the fact of the situation is no excuse, sadly, though maybe, just maybe, five or ten years from now we might generate an opportunity to make things better and finally put this behind us. In the mean time there's no existential excuse for you or me to slack off, where oh where are your readings, why haven't you read them, just because some people are stupid doesn't mean you have to be."

I'd say something like that, but I'd have to make it funny. Make a ballad or an interpretative dance out of it. Costume, props, trappings. We have been instructed to make sure that our massed students can hear us.

At the workshop, I observed two lecture assistants at the far end of the room who were looking at me with laughter in their faces while I was trying to make a point about checking 170 essays. I made little sense of what those two were about until I got home and read what another well-meaning colleague had to text. She told me to refrain from wearing yellow the next day if I didn't want to look like a CAVHO. She ended it with a smiley, and that must make everything better.

Menial labor is laughable, we must agree with such texts, and maybe the point of large class all along was to put people like CAVHOs in lecture halls so they can lighten up our day. Things such as this must be noted so that I won't bore my lecture students. For starters, I must get me one of those CSB vests as well, do a Chaplin for the sake of the town. CSB - menial like the rest of them - were specifically hired for mercenary fun.

On the other hand and up on the stage, we were greeted by the starched collars and tasteful pleats of dignitaries like the Chancellor and the College Secretary.

The College Sec, introducing the Chancellor, said that we must welcome "the latest YouTube sensation." Then, she appeared to expect laughter where none was forthcoming. The Chancellor came and finished his speech. The Sec promptly assured him, told him not to worry, for "we will all look forward to your Showbiz career."

Yes, because perhaps, perhaps, this is a town where we have nothing better to do.

The Chancellor likewise desired mirth, everyone's entitled to a good morning after all, even us, we teachers going wholesale. Therefore, as he offered himself as target practice for the diluted green water balloons of Quezon Hall activists, so too did he stand before the assembly of professors saying things like "I was offered to star in a commercial of Surf" and "don't get eaten by dogs... so you won't end up being dogmatic."

It's Monday, hey. There's a whole week of this on its way. Tomorrow and the day after, I see, are equally valid days for yellow collars. I guess there must have been a wise man who said, "All is humor upon an earth where nothing is misplaced."

Or, since the events call for density as well as watered-down lessons, "Laugh and the world laughs with you, teach and you cry alone."