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Friday, February 18, 2005

Reading Keene

by Maria Eleanor Elape Valeros
November 22, 2004; posted at www.thefreeman.com

Piece of news to chuckle at: “Every Filipino university graduate could have qualified for a key level position in the country’s call center industry and the international jobs market had he only been proficient in both written and oral communication using the English language.”

Piece of alarming news: “Teacher examinees who took the regular qualifying examinations for the post of school principals failed. It was not until the Department of Education lowered the mark set for the regional qualifying examinations for the post of school principals that they got teachers to successfully pass the exams. Even then, they still had only 561 teachers of 1,800 who took the examination at the Abellana National High School last September, or a measly 30% passing said test. Original passing score for the 200-item test was set at 150, but not one of the examinees passed, so the officials had to lower it to only 100, or at least 50% of the possible perfect score.”

Piece of thought to ponder on: “A lawyer puts his mistake behind bars. A doctor buries it six feet below the ground. But the mistake of a teacher leads to the mistake of the entire humanity.”

Most teachers today have a hard time keeping up with the specific need in the international jobs market - that of being proficient in the English language. This is mainly because most teachers have created the biggest mistake in their career - to have never developed the culture of reading. So what do we expect from their students?

Back in the graders, our Booklovers Club adviser told us to read Keene. Carolyn Keene was a popular author in the 70s, the brain behind the fictitious characters of young sleuth Nancy Drew and her chums Bess Marvin and George Fayne along with their dates Ned Nickerson, Dave Evans and Burt Eddleton who are all prominent figures of the Emerson College campus.

I still have in possession hardbound book numbers 9 - The Sign of the Twisted Candles, 46 - The Invisible Intruder and 51 - Mystery of the Glowing Eye that hold all those memories with fellow booklovers who would outdo each other in mentally devouring all 55 books, from The Secret of the Old Clock to the Mystery of Crocodile Island.

Carolyn Keene is not really that big-time an author when compared to Jo Kathleen Rowling or John Reuel Ronald Tolkien. But Keene was one thinking tool our curriculum moderators employed to develop in us a culture of reading.

The Booklovers Club adviser told us if we could retain at least two new words off each leaf of the Nancy Drew Mystery Stories series, each book having about 175 pages, this would enrich our vocabulary with 350 new words per book. And since there are 55 books from Strange Message in the Parchment to The Hidden Staircase, the entire collection would give us 19,250 English words. The club adviser said it only takes 12,000 to 15,000 English words for an adult, average individual to speak and write in English fluently.

To have over 19,000 English words in every Filipino university graduate’s vocabulary, correct usage and pronunciation given, would open the windows to global opportunities. For a teacher taking some qualifying examination for the post of school principal to save his face from going “page one-nable” on a community newspaper would only need the initiative to treasure some 19,000 English words.

The culture of reading English was a specific objective of the Individually Guided Education system our school adopted. Creating the Booklovers Club developed in us students an appreciation for reading that had equipped us with skills in composition using the English language, as well as the ability to converse in the same medium.

Historical accounts would give weight that one of the first and most far-reaching decisions made by the American educational authorities in the Philippines during the American Regime was to give all instruction in English. Indeed, the English language became the greatest single unifying factor among peoples and culture during the American period. For a time, this relatively high standard and high regard for the English language in the Philippines gave the Filipinos a comparative advantage in an increasingly globalized, knowledge-based economy. But with the unfolding of the years, the Philippines allowed the “gift” that gave it a comparative advantage over neighboring Asian countries to become the “missing link” in creating a strong republic.

Back in the graders, Keene was our Thomasite. Providing us with Keene’s works is more than skimming through the pages and watching codes cracked, parchments deciphered, or mysteries solved. The Nancy Drew Mystery Stories had helped foster cohesiveness and unity among us students grouped in pods. It prepared us to embrace English as a medium of instruction, aside from the regional languages Sugbuano and Filipino of which we were told never to set aside so to retain our identities as “bisdak” and “Pinoy sa puso’t diwa”.

Reading Keene continues to influence us with its dramatic impact, with its highly positive effects. Reading Keene makes it easy to write and interact with the world, without really trying.

(For your comments, reactions, suggestions and contributions, crank up my addy: pinay_mangatkatay@yahoo.com.)