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Inhaling flattery

Posted in Books, DECS, Education by Erineus on February 11, 2009

“A little flattery hurts no one,” Adlai Stevenson often said. But he’d tack on a caution: “Don’t inhale.”

Did anybody inhale after Education Secretary Jesli Lapus ladled out a left-handed compliment for those battling error-studded textbooks?

Lapus complimented former academic supervisor Antonio Calipjo Go for waging an uphill campaign against flawed books, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported. [Read story] But did Lapus have a choice? His department ordered schools to ban defective books that Go had pinpointed. Reluctant publishers trotted out correction pamphlets, but these are often ignored.

“Some people pay a compliment as if they expected a receipt.” And Lapus’ receipt? Why didn’t Go sit down with publishers? he suggested. After all his critique, “Burn after reading,” included “lines of ungrammatical poetry taken out of context”?

Go’s new review, “Lengua estopido,” however, ferreted out additional mistakes in both grammar and fact in the “English for You and Me” language textbook for Grade 6.

“Heidi’s family went on a vacation to the province of Paoay,” the book says. Paoay is an Ilocos Norte town, not a province. The country’s best-known “earthquake baroque church” is located there. Construction of St. Agustine started in 1694. The church, completed in 1710, is included on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

“The Tausugs, who live in Jolo, are described as warlike people but most are friendly, peaceful and hospitable,” the book claims. “They are completely attired only when they sport weapons around their waists. They believe in black magic, sorcery, voodoo and love potions. The Koran, their Bible, forbids the eating of dead meat.”

Go’s previous review nailed samples of splintered grammar. “Make some magic for me!” the book reads. “‘Abracadabra, Sssh! Boom!’ Bobby shouted. He ran to his uncle. ‘Looked here, Uncle,’ he said. His uncle looked like an invisible man.”

There are one-liners that double up the reader: “The engine of the tractor is sleeping.” “Turtles squirm independently.” “A ferryman worked hard as transport chief of the rafts.”

The new critique turns up more of the same: “Many can be learned from reading books.” “He resembles the knight in a shining armor.” “Under the bed lay the robbers, as quiet as a mice.” “A smile is something that you give it away.”

But what about “ungrammatical poetry taken out of context” that had Lapus all steamed up?

“Love one another and let them express / For life is short and leads to an end / So feel the touch and moving caress / And may God be the divine witness.” “She lives in a place that is drowned in mystery.”

Wait, there’s more: “I got a butterfly with flower-designed wings.” “He lifted his soul because of loneliness.” “The grass seems to wink at me.” “Even the birds laughed at him!”

“I am aghast at the education secretary’s defense of errors in ‘English For You and Me’ as poetry,” e-mailed Dr. Jaime Ong of De La Salle University. Ong, who has a PhD from Stanford, adds: “Good heavens, I teach poetry — Shakespeare, in fact — and ‘the engine of the tractor is sleeping’ is not poetry, or verse. It’s a strained and graceless metaphor… I, therefore, welcome [Viewpoint’s] support for Antonio Calipjo Go.”

From Dammam, capital of Saudi Arabia’s eastern province, Fred Roda e-mailed. Here’s a quick translation of his message in classic Tagalog:

“I read, on Inquirer’s net page, your column, ‘Nitpicker? Or gadfly?’ I followed news accounts of Go and his advocacy regarding textbook anomalies. Errors in grammar and facts, plain misinformation at ano pang ek-ek in these textbooks can be traced to corruption in producing these books.

“But what do journalists in TV, print and radio want to convey with stories like these? Is it to reach citizens, like us, about unsavory things happening? Is it to inform those influential personalities about unacceptable practices in public as well as private schools?

“How many more Acsa Ramirezes, Jun Lozadas and Major Marcelinos must be made to suffer? There are too many to count now. Add to that, journalists who have lost their lives because they wrote the truth.

“Will journalists, like you, write articles for citizens, like me, so we’re filled with fury over what is happening at home? Or will Filipinos like you and me become ‘nitpickers or gadflies’ to foster reform?”

“Even those who aren’t being criticized can tire of the constant stream of complaints,” the British Broadcasting Corp.’s feature on “The Gadfly” warns. “Sometimes, they wish the gadfly will accept life as it is, and just get on… But one thing that keeps the gadfly on his task is the knowledge he is right. And the world would be a much better place if everyone else realized it.”

Antonio Calipjo Go and others painfully learned that being a gadfly is not for the faint of heart. “They must pick a cause they’re passionate about,” the BBC feature stresses. “Be content with small victories in the beginning. And work up from there… They will have to swim against the current … [But] they can take heart from all the gadflies who have gone before. Know that you’re part of a proud tradition.”

Must our school kids settle for what Lapus’ glib defense of “ungrammatical poetry”: “Stop, look, listen! / A car is roaring, too.”

Meanwhile, don’t inhale.

By Juan Mercado
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:59:00 02/12/2009

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