Thursday, December 16, 2004

Learning in the 21st Century

Perhaps what differentiates this century from the last one is how new methods of learning are available. In the past, "education" meant either apprenticing yourself to a master of a craft, or formal schooling. And in the long run, perhaps the biggest flaw in that kind of education is that we depended too much on the latter. Did you ever wonder why in most classroom setups, there will be always be a gap between those who got good grades and those who got low (or even failing) marks? My biggest mistake as a kid was thinking that those who got low grades were either stupid, lazy, or incompetent. I honestly think that students who got low grades are either not motivated to learn (for one reason or another), or the teaching method is simply not compatible with their own learning methods. Let's face it, we all learn differently. Some people are more suited to schools and universities, while others are better off learning via other methods. That doesn't make them any less smarter, but simply different when it comes to thought processes.

I'm been entrenched in the school system for so long that when I first heard about home schooling, I didn't believe in its effectiveness. I mean the first question that came to mind is "what about classmates and friends?" or "what about grades?". I failed to see that those questions were my own concerns. As an insecure child, I was shy and lacked self-confidence, especially when it came to meeting people. The school system we know made it easier for me to know other people since everyone in a class had classmates. There's really nothing you can do about that. And so friendships would inevitably occur, especially in the face of a common adversity (i.e. the teacher, a difficult subject, etc.). But is every child like that? I'm sure a lot of us have their own fear of rejection, but some kids are able to conquer their shyness at an early age. Home schooling does not eliminate the possibility of friendship, it just places the initiative on you rather than on the school. As for grades, well, that's my competitive spirit talking. The beauty of home schooling is that you learn at your own pace. You don't need to compare scores with someone else (at least immediately), and you learn at a rate that's comfortable for you. I mean some students learn fast and they're the type that gets accelerated to higher levels (but this can come at the expense of losing your ties and friendships from the previous level). There are also those who take longer to learn a particular subject, and they unfortunately get labeled as failures, when a little more patience and effort would have done the trick. I'm not saying that the school system is bad, but rather home schooling has its own advantages that a regular school (whether it be public or private) is unable to provide.

Books are usually associated with literacy. If you read books, you're smart. If not, you're stupid. Again, this is a big misconception. Being able to read books is just one sign of being learned. If a person is a reader, then it only shows that the person is adept when it comes to processing words. There are other kinds of intelligences involved and various factors can affect how much one can learn from reading. For example, someone with dyslexia will find it more difficult, or perhaps slower, to process what they're reading than the average person, not because they're less intelligent but simply because they perceive the text in a different way. There are other alternatives to learning aside from reading. What makes this era great is the rise of portable media players. Audio books are great alternatives to people who don't like to read. They can also be listened to while on the go, such as while driving your car or jogging (of course while I'm in the bathroom, a book or magazine is still the thing for me). And while perhaps a 1-hour CD doesn't contain as much information as a 1000-page novel, it does convey the lesson using sound and speech, a faculty neglected when it comes to reading. And what's good about books and audio books (or even speeches of talented educators) is that they're products of self-study. Unlike the classroom setup where you have to be there at a specific time and place to learn the lesson, books and audio books can be brought anywhere, anytime, and be repeated over and over again.

Perhaps the biggest weakness of conventional schooling is the interactivity. There's nothing lacking in the interaction between student and teacher but there often is a lack of interaction between the student and the lesson. For example, if I give a student a calculus problem, the student might solve it, but fail to see its application in real life. What's good about the old practice of apprenticeship is that there's interaction between the lesson and the student. An apprentice to a blacksmith works in the forge, hammering metal to form them into tools. There's a lesson being taught there, and while perhaps it's not as formal as say, school, the apprentice learns it as he practices his craft. For most of us, any lesson we learn is held in the theoretical state, and the only time we get to apply it is when we're in our profession (assuming we get hired in a job we were actually training for). At that point, everyone expects us to be experts in our field, when that's far from true considering we lack practical experience. Thankfully, that's been partially solved in the present. We have valuable learning tools that enable us to act on our knowledge and skills. They're called games. Games, after all, involve action. We don't depend on sheer memorization but get involved in the activity. Take the game Tetris for example. It might baffle the beginner but as we continue to play, we begin to familiarize ourselves with the rules and how the laws of physics affect spatial matter. Chess on the other hand involves anticipating your opponent assuming both of you start out with the same resources. Monopoly incorporates a lot of concepts, from planning to financing (to buy, to mortgage, or to get out of jail right now) to trading (should I trade one of my railroads for Boardwalk?). It might seem simple, but we're actually practicing a number of principles when playing games. There's interaction between us and the subject matter, although we're not always conscious of it. Or perhaps playing a game is simply more fun than listening to a boring lecturer. Where in the World is Carmen San Diego falls under one of those edutainment video games where playing and interaction is mixed with knowledge and trivia. I'm sure you'll all agree when I say playing Text Twist is more fun that browsing through the dictionary systematically to learn new words. Best of all, it involves a lot of our senses, from sight to hearing to touch. And the more senses we utilize, the better we remember something.

The past few decades has also seen the rise of what I call miniature libraries. That's basically what computers and the Internet are. You don't need a huge hall to store a lot of information. Sometimes, a computer the size of your bag will do. Some even do with less (such as PDAs, cellphones, etc.). Information has never been so accessible, thanks to globalization. Perhaps the only weakness of computers and Internet is the fact that anyone can disseminate information. It's bad enough that we can't trust 100% of everything we read from books, newspapers, or what we see on TV, and these are mediums that are already controlled by a few people. The biggest challenge is not about finding information, but rather verifying whether they're true or not. And as helpful as search engines are, researching can still be difficult (although perhaps not as difficult as navigating through the Dewey Decimal System of your local library). But the beauty of the computers is the fact that incorporates most (if not all) of what I've listed above. Computers enable us to home school ourselves as well as our children, and with the Internet, we have access to pictures, audio, and even video of interesting subject matter. Games are also made available, and so learning becomes easier and much more enjoyable. But for me, the greatest asset of the Internet is that we can communicate. There is dialogue between one person from one side of the world to another. We can discuss ideas, post on bulletin boards, mailing lists, chatrooms, blogs, etc. Like-minded individuals can find common group and learn through methods that are optimized for them. There's enough room for everyone in cyberspace.

But as much as all of these options are available to us, it only really matters if they are actually utilized. As much as a I thrive in the archaic education system that we call school, I've come to realize that school is not necessarily for everyone, nor does it give us the tools for optimum education. Learning, in the end, comes down to the individual.

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Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Dark Soul

Deep down, I'm really a coward. I want to run away from my problems. The first thoughts that come to mind is usually suicide. When I think about the future, I can't help but be depressed (although currently, I'm living more or less a comfortable lifestyle). I actually have several excuses to be so. For one thing, I'm twenty two, unemployed, and without a bright future ahead of me. The book Personality Plus claims that it's my tendency to behave so because it's my tendency as a Melancholy personality type. For most of my life, I've been a loner, the perpetual outsider (and that's more or less true until now). Oh, and it's Christmas, and I really don't have anyone to spend it with.

There are various factors affecting this sudden bout of depression. Usually, the weekend is something I look forward to, since that's the time when some of my friends hold their RPG games. Alas, there's been no game last week and again this week. I doubt it if there'll be one next week since it's Christmas. There's also the fact that lately, I feel more alone than ever. Sure, I get to meet old friends, but that's usually where it stops. No follow-ups, no calls. And well, not having a phone line and access to the Internet also hurts. My money is slowly being depleted as I have to go look for an Internet cafe just to check email and post blog entries.

Several years ago, I got depressed when my crush more or less rejected me. One of the ways I managed to cope was by helping other people and making them smile. Perhaps that's why I try so hard (sometimes to my financial detriment) to please other people and make them happy, as if their joy will make up for the loss of mine. And to a certain extent, it does help. Helping other people and making them smile gives me a sense of fulfillment, purpose, and more importantly, direction (sorry, I wasn't born altruistic).

Whenever I have my own bouts of depression (such as now), I also see the not-so-pretty side of people. Some people who you were there for during their own troubled times don't give a damn (not that I'm counting). Or some just trivialize your own problems. Or they begin to despise you. Not that it's entirely their fault. I mean I don't think anyone wants to be around a melancholy person. It gets everyone's mood down. Or perhaps my barriers aren't up that I say some things which I'm not supposed to say, and the other person gets offended. Sometimes I plainly have expectations from other people that they're not willing to meet, especially when I'm too engrossed in my own problems that I fail to see other people's problems (and let's face it, everyone has problems, not just me).

Anyway, I'm glad that I committed myself a long time ago not to kill myself. Forgive me for ranting. I know it's not often, and I'm often self-righteous in my writing, but deep down, I'm just a kid who wants to run away from his problems and be done with it all. My optimism and helpfullness is just a facade to a regular human being.

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Words Do Have Power

While I've far from a full-fledged writer, one of the things I recognized is the fact that words have power. Great power in fact. It's no surprise that when it comes to religion (and no matter how much you may despise religion, one cannot deny the influence it has over world affairs), words play a vital role. In Christianity, for example, "the Word was made flesh". And in other religions, while words don't have that kind of personification in their doctrine, mantras, prayers, and invocations do play a vital role. And naturally, they involve using words.

Perhaps the most important value of words is that it enables us to communicate with each other. The story of The Tower of Babel just shows how important communication can be. Various types of relationships (whether it be boyfriend-girlfriend, cliques, parent-child, friend-friend) are ruined just because of simple miscommunication. In diplomacy, proficient translators are needed lest misunderstandings arise and cause conflict between nations. Personally, part of the gulf between me and my parents is the fact that I don't know how to speak Chinese. They expect it from me, even though they never really taught me the language (or perhaps a better explanation would be that my parents never taught me using a method that was optimum for my type of learning). Words enable us to communicate.

Communication, however, is limited to how many people you can talk to and how much of it is recorded. Perhaps what gave words significant power is when we developed more efficient ways of recording what was said. At the dawn of mankind, we depended on sheer memory. Several centuries ago, we developed the art of writing (and we can thank Plato for his records of Socrates). Now, the written word has multiplied its power several hundredfold thanks to free speech, publishing, media, and the Internet. A single phrase can cause ripples in the very world we live. All it takes is a single mouse-click, and millions of people will have access to what was just said, no matter how enlightening or ignorant the statement. Not only does words enable us to communicate with people, but it also keeps track of what was said. What makes my blog more effective than a diary is the fact that potentially millions of people read it (although in reality, I actually get less than a dozen).

In the past (and some still do practice it now), people who were incapable of speech (whether temporarily or because they were mute) were labeled as dumb. Why? Because our words reflect who we are. Words define our very person (although it is definitely not the only element that comprise our being). How I would say something would be different from how you would describe the same subject matter. For some of us, parrots aren't as evolved as human beings because all they're capable of is repeating what was said (and are incapable of producing original statements). The words we use have an effect on our person. Which is also why we have to watch what we say. They're called self-fulfilling prophecies. If we think and say to ourselves that we are failures, for example, we will become failures. Our words reinforce our existing ideas, and they in turn reinforce our words. It's a cycle that perpetuates itself. Which is also why it's important to learn "good words", statements that we want to be true. But naturally, our words have to be backed up by actions as well.

Speaking of truth, words also have the ability to destroy. Lies, deception, and ignorance, for the most part, are achieved through words, whether spoken or written. A few decades ago, roleplaying games (RPGs), specifically Dungeons & Dragons, were considered evil and satanic by a lot of people. This was perpetuated by the media such as news reports and newspapers. Was it true? Well, some might behave that way, but for most people, RPGs were just a game. Even now, lies and deception abound in the very news we watch everyday and the newspapers we read. A few weeks ago, there was an incident regarding this Filipino girl who got less attention than Jasmine Trias even though the girl gained acclaim for the Philippines. And this was published in a newspaper. Later, it was discovered that the article was merely a hoax. I won't even go into all the bogus information that's roaming around the Internet. I'm not saying that the people who write these stuff intend malice. But ignorance begets ignorance in other people as well, and nothing can be more effective than the written word, especially when it's published in a place that people look to in terms of authority. Suffice to say, words have power as to illicit such reactions from people. Which is why we should also be wary of the words other people use and say (including mine).

So are words merely shapes and letters? Well, they do have a huge impact on the world we live in. Even if we're mute, blind, deaf, or illiterate, words can affect how we perceive the world, and how the world perceives us.

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Monday, December 13, 2004

Still No Phone Lines
Well, one of our two phone lines has been partially restored. Unfortunately, it's not the one near the computer, so I still don't have Internet access. And since I used to troubleshoot computers, I know the perils of using a really long extension cord when it comes to modem bandwidth (and no, the extension cord doesn't even reach the phone line).
Requiem for CCHQ
CCHQ will be open until December 22, Wednesday, noon (i.e. lunch time). So if you come at say, 1 pm, you'll be disappointed as the shop will definitely be closing. The owners will be moving on (with their lives, not to a newer location).
Business Ventures
Right now, while I am focused when it comes to business startup and education, I'm also looking for other business ventures. I'm interested in meeting people who could possibly mentor me (so that I can learn from them), and people who are interested in business in general. I mean a lot of the people I know partner with their friends to start up their own businesses. Well, so far, no one seems to be talking to me, much less offering any business proposals. There's always comfort in doing things in groups (and while you may split the profits, the business risks are also less when it comes to the individuals).

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A few days ago, I met up with an acquaintance from an org I was part of in college. She had been living in South America for more than a year, teaching, traveling, and enjoying herself throughout the entire time she was there. Perhaps what fascinated me the most was the fact that when I was talking to her, she knew what she wanted for her future, thanks to what she had recently experienced.

I remember that for most of the year, I was aimless myself. Before I graduated, I already knew I was going to leave the confines of comfort. Let's face it, in college, the rules were simple: they were dictated by the school officials. You either submitted your requirements or you didn't. I had no illusions that upon graduating, forging the right path for me would be difficult. For one thing, I didn't know where to start. As someone who graduated with a degree in Creative Writing, employment opportunities were far from easy. But perhaps thinking in that way was a pit trap in itself. I mean upon graduating, there was one thing in my mind: to keep busy and earn money. That usually meant a job. And I honestly don't know what job I'd like to pursue, much less actually qualify for.

I failed to differentiate vocation from a job. The first one is what you really wanted to do, whether it was to travel, be a philantrophist, or perhaps even be president of the Philippines. The latter is just that: a job. They pay you well, and if you're lucky, you get treated right and obtain a lot of benefits (such as travel). But that doesn't change the fact that a job is a job. You're working for someone else. Another person is benefiting from your labor. Some of us are lucky to find a job that's our vocation as well. For example, there's teaching. A number of people I know like to teach. It's their calling, as some might say. So even if the financial rewards aren't that high, they still pursue teaching as a career.

I know someone who's working as a highly paid consultant. But what he really wants to do is go back to Manila and teach in the public schools (because he himself was a public school student). The former is his occupation. The latter is his vocation. Right now, he's making plans so that he can pursue his vocation. Perhaps the biggest mistake a lot of people do is box themselves, limiting what they can actually accomplish. Many people subscribe to either overspecialization ("I can only do one thing") or too much focus ("Right now, the only thing I want to do is this"). They fail to see that they're human beings and as people, they're actually capable of a lot of things. You don't have to just do one thing and focus on it. You can do several things at once and be successful in all those areas. Of course having said that, doing so would not be easy. It would take some planning and forethought. The consultant I know is making plans so that he has a business running to support his finances, so that he can pursue teaching.

My biggest disappointment is when I ask people what do you want to do. More often than not, they don't answer me with what they really want, but rather what they think they can land as a job. For me, employment is merely a stepping stone. Yes, it's good to be employed. It puts food on the table, after all. But that shouldn't be the be all and end all of your life. What do you really want to do? Don't be afraid to ask that question.


Working as a call center agent, as short a span of time that was, gave me the opportunity to reflect and explore what I really wanted to do. Adversity, taken in the right way, makes us better people. Two months ago, I discovered what I really wanted to do. Unfortunately, that was just the first step. Once I realized what I wanted to do, I knew thing wouldn't be easier but rather, they would prove more difficult.

It's good that I now have a goal. But the question I'm asking now is how do I achieve that goal? How can I accomplish my dreams? Unlike school where you have textbooks and teachers to guide you in your endeavors, when it comes to real life, there's no perfect answer for every problem. One has to explore how one can fulfill their goal. I mean we're all born with different skills and talents. While we might have the same dreams as other people, the methods we choose will not be the same. Some are suited better for others. So realizing what I really wanted to do or be in the future was not an easy thing to do. I did realize though that if I were to fulfill my dreams, I'd have to be a better person than who I was now. I mean if the "me" right now was good enough, then why aren't I fulfilling my dreams? I need to grow, learn, and be a better person. That might mean doing some things I haven't done before, or going out of my comfort zone. It might also mean being more humble on my part, and realizing that things will be more difficult to accomplish if I merely do it as an individual. I have friends and my parents. Because perhaps of my pride, I've neglected them for so long.


While they aren't necessary for success, it's always nice if you have someone like mentors to guide you in whatever exploits you have. I really didn't have mentors at home since my parents were often tight-lipped and refused to answer a lot of my questions. Rather, my parents were more of anti-role models. I learned more from their mistakes and wrong attitudes more than anything else to mold me into the person that I am today. But even then, anti-role models can only go so far. Even until now, I'm looking for mentors whom I can learn from.

One such person is my friend Dean Alfar, a talented writer who has won seven Palanca awards and even had his fantasy short story published in this year's Year's Best Fantasy and Horror. I often look up to him and perhaps the only reason I'm not trailing him left and right is the fact that he and his lovely wife smokes, and I'm far from someone who has perfect health. The other day, stayed up until the wee hours of the morning as Dean talked about writing and his goals in life. I was in one corner, near the door (where I can get some fresh air), and even though my throat had lots of phlegm which prevented me from contributing to the conversation, I listened attentively, marveling at his insights and beliefs (not necessarily agreeing on all of them).

Several years ago when I was still working in Comic Alley, Teddy Sy also proved to be a valuable mentor to me. He taught me a lot regarding business and dealing with people, and he was always kind. Perhaps right now, my only regret is that I wasn't able to fully maximize the opportunity to learn from him.

Right now, I'm still searching for other mentors, whether it's in writing, business, or anything else that piques my curiosity. I'm always open to new ideas, and in the end, it's probably ideas that will pave the way for my future.

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