HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated July 31, 2011
During an informal moment in one of my last classes two semesters ago, a student asked me to give a critique on her generation. I found that quite interesting and for a few reasons. One, I see this generation as quite different from mine. Two, I worry at times about this generation, and I will explain why later. Three, I can’t help but feel somewhat responsible since it is my generation that brought and raised them in this world.
To some extent, I compare my generation as parents of this present generation to the parents of Siddhartha Gautama (a.k.a. the Buddha). Even if eons separate us, we parents have one thing in common: we want to raise our kids without the “deprivation” that we experienced. In short, we want their lives to be as comfortable as possible.
It is said that the Buddha’s father, who was a king, made sure that every pleasure, delight and convenience existing at the time was available in the palace so that his son Siddhartha would grow up without knowing pain, discomfort and suffering. He was shielded from all this.
While we may not be as neurotic and protective as Siddhartha’s father, I can’t deny that we do shower our kids with the best we can afford and we try to spare them from a lot of the hardships we encountered when we were growing up.
It is always interesting to my students when I talk about my experiences in college. Ateneo was not a coed university then. I was a junior when martial law was proclaimed. I lived through the dictatorship. I had classmates who joined the armed opposition and were killed in battle.
I was also a scholar. When we wrote our term papers or theses, we used typewriters with about four sheets of carbon paper between pages of bond paper to make the required five copies we had to submit. And we had no word processors. We actually had to write our paragraphs on paper longhand before we typed them so that we were sure what we wanted to type, thus avoiding many mistakes, which were tedious and time-consuming to correct. We also used a curious gadget called a mimeograph machine.
For sources, we actually had to borrow library books, and read and copy notes by hand. There was no Internet, no electronic cut and paste, no highlight and copy. It demanded greater personal and even mental discipline since we had to be more “linear” in the way we thought and presented our arguments.
When my students hear this teacher talk about such things, they shake their heads in disbelief, probably wondering how we actually survived college life or even got educated.
These days, they are quite free to dress the way they please, and they have their laptops open in the classroom, ready to check on links about the topics being discussed. I really do not know if they even feel the need to physically go to the library for any research when a lot of knowledge is literally at their fingertips, a few clicks away on their laptops or iPads.
n my old-fashioned view, student life today is too convenient and non-challenging.
On the first day of class, I like to tell the kids that I am there to teach students, not circus animals or dolphins. I gaze at their puzzled faces as I say this. I explain to them that there are too many students who try to figure out teachers for grade advantage more than to learn the lesson. In a way, they are like dolphins performing tricks to get applause. They appear to “know” the lessons using the words of the teacher when they recite or write their papers but they can hardly speak from experience.
I like the word made flesh. I value feedback that has been thought out, distilled. Knowledge plus experience leads to wisdom, and so I ask my students to always speak from what they personally know to be true, instead of just repeating what they have read or what I have said. Of course, I do not expect much experience from them all the time, but I do appreciate the attempt to internalize knowledge and go deeper with it.
Sometimes, I fear that this generation is too soft, too lax, too “protected” from much of the hardship and work that defined my generation’s school life. A parent I met recently shared her thoughts on the so-called “quarter-life crisis” that more and more young people seem to be experiencing today after they get out of college. She opined that a lot of that is simply delayed post-adolescence teenage blues that’s got a new psychological name and it’s not really a new syndrome. I don’t know.
Is that what you get when you have been pampered and protected from much of the daily challenges of life? Did our fawning type of parenting make them narcissists, softies who “break” too easily?
I must admit I don’t recall ever having a discussion on the issue of “self-esteem” at home or in school. There were also no conditions known as ADD or ADHD that a teacher had to deal with because they had not yet been identified. A student was either good or bad, disciplined or naughty.
In a way, the lack of knowledge on the part of our teachers ensured that practically no student got special treatment. We learned to adjust to the rules and not seek exemption for whatever psychological or genetic disadvantage or reason that beset us.
To be sure, there is both good and bad in every situation. I don’t doubt that teachers and psychologists through the years have learned a lot of new things that are now factors to consider in today’s parenting. I’m just not sure how much of it can really be considered as helpful.
So when my student asked me to critique her generation, I voiced my generation’s usual lament: that they are too fragile, and yes, it’s our fault. I explained that as parents, we felt we were showing our love by giving our children every opportunity to develop their self-confidence and to achieve, while sparing them from the vicissitudes of life. It pained us to see our children suffer.
I told her that our mistake was probably that we misunderstood that the relatively harder suffering our parents made us go through was in fact the gift that made us the generation that has achieved so much. Perhaps we should have passed on the same gifts to our children.
But just as Siddhartha awakened to life as it was, despite the gilded cage his father had built for him, I know this generation will also catch on sooner or later. If ours was the gift that was passed on, theirs is the gift that they have yet to discover.
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