A for effortless (sample opinion column)

Back when I was running for g Editor of The GUIDON, I had to write a sample opinion column. I don’t know how it compared to those of the other contenders, or what the then-Editorial Board thought of it, but I still stick by what I wrote, and I hope to continue to do so until well after I graduate.

To those of you who blunted pencils filling in the ACET’s answer bubbles, to those whose names once appeared on the beaten blackboards that stand weather-worn outside the Blue Eagle Gym, and to those of you who picked Ateneo by your own free will, I ask you: Why?

Did you come here to earn the education that has maintained Ateneo’s place as one of the highest-ranked Philippine universities? Did you enroll to hear lectures by a legendary professor like Fr. Dacanay, or to tell Ambeth Ocampo the story of the battle between Magellan and Lapu-lapu from the perspective of a fish? Did you plan to be counted among the students who claim Bobby Guevara changed their lives?

In short, did you come here to learn?

Or did you choose the Ateneo to have its gleaming name shoot off of your resumes and job applications when the time arrives for you to come down from our proverbial hill? Are you among those who pick the “easy-A” professors and claim that it is the grade, not the education, which takes one from deplorable to employable?

Six years ago I graduated from a Montessori grade school, one that didn’t weigh learning with grades or comprehension with exams. Today, six years into my traditional schooling, I am still shocked by the value many students place on their class marks, as though report cards are the be-all and end-all of their education.

Many scoff at the idea of an “unmeasured education.” What will I have to show for the years I spent slaving away in my classrooms? I am often asked. Grade school may not have given me report cards boasting lines of 9 or straight A’s, but I exude the education I attained in the ways in which I carry out my work, think, and make choices. To me, high grades are gratifying but are by no means an expression of what or how much I have taken in and digested.

“Grades are a reflection of learning” is the eternal refrain of every grade-giving administration. But more often than not, they are no more than manifestations of a test’s degree of difficulty, the laziness or fastidiousness of a teacher, or the amount of information one can cram in the days (or hours) leading up to a test.

If it is grades alone that land us in the high-paying jobs that many of us so covet, yet we have retained none of the knowledge that earned us those marks, we lose every right to brag and boast about our alma mater and our success. When knowledge is absent in the presence of a good grade, to take pride in our achievements would be ridiculous.

As we were constantly told at OrSem and are still being told in some classes, passing the ACET is supposedly testament to the fact that we are a cut above the rest. By being among the very few who are granted a spot in this well-funded, high-ranked, and esteemed university, we are allowed access to an excellent education that is almost sure to take us far in later life. From my experience, however, it’s seldom that this is accompanied by the reminder that excellence is not based solely on one’s QPI.

With finals and, for the seniors, graduation fast approaching, perhaps it is time to reevaluate the meaning of the Ateneo education that many of us take such pride in. When the day comes that we must hand in our transcripts to potential employers, will we possess the knowledge to back them up?


The douchebag pass

One lesson my mom insists I never forget is that nobody, no matter how brilliant, gets a douchebag pass (though not in so many words).

As the co-owner of a Montessori school, she’s worked for years with all sorts of kids, many of whom have special needs that compromise their learning ability. The most common needs that qualify as special are those that bestow upon their owners ADHD, autism, and dyslexia, but recently the school accepted a student who’s special in a different way: With math skills, logical reasoning, and verbal and reading ability well beyond his 9 years, he’s gifted.

Unfortunately, in addition to being extremely intelligent, he’s also unbelievably unlikeable. This kid, whose age isn’t even in the double-digits, is already  impatient, condescending, and disrespectful in ways that parents ought only to experience when their kids hit adolescence and their moodiness and the desire to punch them in the face are unwelcome but expected visitors.

So, why is he like this? Is it because he doesn’t see the point in the step-by-step learning process that he has to sit through, just like everybody else? Is is because his thought-process is at the finish line before anyone else’s has warmed up? Probably. But (as my mom asked me when I pointed this out) so what? Why does having above-average ability give him an excuse to be obnoxious? He is the way he is because his parents and everyone else around him gave him a pass and allowed him this feeling of entitlement.

Going to college, widening my horizons, and meeting all sorts of talented people has shown me that this gifted-ergo-douchebag phenomenon doesn’t only apply to academic achievement. It applies to artistic talent, to film literacy, even to taste in music and books. It would be a laughable lie if I said I’ve never been guilty of condescension, but lately I’ve become particularly conscious of how tiring it is be around people who are so good at what they do that it eats away at their ability to be kind.

Does knowing about good, underground music give you a monopoly on good taste? No, it means you have an ear for sound and the good luck to get at it before the radio does. Does graduating with honors means you can scoff haughtily at everyone who doesn’t as you post your QPI on Twitter? No, it means you got high grades that no one else really cares about. If you have talent, does flaunting it as though the world is doubting you have it (when nobody really is) increase that talent? No, because being blessed with talent and skill gives you just that: Talent and skill. To think that those things are packaged together with the right to display superiority is the equivalent of a 7 year old basing his eminence on how much later his bedtime is.

In short, nobody deserves a douchebag pass just because they’re armed with gifts that set them apart. In my eyes, the appeal of talent takes a beating if it’s outweighed by a superiority complex.

The Salgado house, where the will to stay thin goes to die

If you ever need to eat your weight in lutong-bahay na sosyal food and not regret it, Cara’s house is the place to go.

She turned twenty recently, and in celebration of her departure from her teen years, she served paella, greek salad, angel hair pasta, fish, salad rolls, red velvet cakes, and an unending supply of amazing cupcakes. I think that eating a little (okay, a lot) of all of that was a jab at the version of myself who sometimes insists that looking good in a bikini takes priority over enjoying excellent food.

It didn't even occur to me to just go back for more later.

There’s been a lot of nonsense among my own friends lately about what it takes to stay thin. Too many times I’ve heard of people going to the gym everyday, sniffing food to satisfy a craving, counting calories, drinking only juice for days on end, and jumping on the bandwagon of every new and ridiculously priced workout regimen. While their toned legs and flat stomachs say that their efforts were not in vain, I look at them as they push away their carbs and sugars and  seriously question their emotional stability.

I worry that they’ve equated their self-worth with what they see when they step in front of a mirror or onto a weighing scale, and they’ve lost the ability to look at themselves objectively. They hunger for approval, so every spoonful of rice is an obstacle to their goal, every bite of a cupcake a hurdle in the way of their happiness, until nothing is good enough. There’s nothing wrong with working on your appearance, until it becomes the basis for the way you do and view everything else.

Maybe watching people I know do this to themselves is why, instead of spending my first weekend of summer running off the weight I gained during the school year, I lounged about my house, reading books, watching movies, and downloading music. Ironically, hearing them go on about their weight has been a constant reminder to me that there are things in life that deserve to be ranked above my lack of abs.

But I digress. All I meant to do when I started this entry was post food pictures. So let’s get to it.

Greek salad a la Cyma

Red velvet birthday cake!