Saturday, March 19, 2011

Ghosts by Brittany Jao Go

There are some things that only night and the darkness it brings can see with utmost clarity, some things that can only be brought to light when the brightness of the day has disappeared.

And so I wait until darkness reigns.

I stand in the middle of the front lobby. A couple of light bulbs are lit to brighten a few corners of the school. I can hear the soft ticking of the clock hung high up on the wall. The time is 10:30 p.m.

Few other sounds can be heard. There is the constant crack of a hammer from the building construction nearby, a locker door slamming at the gym two floors above, and there is the slightest rustle of the wind telling me that the ghosts are out to play tonight.

I turn to begin my weekly Friday night prowl about the dark corridors of the school. I slip through the green metal gate of the first corridor. I pass a door or two, pausing in front of the next classroom.

I can see my reflection in the glass pane as I look through it.

There are small chairs stacked on top of rectangular tables positioned neatly around the room. An array of colored squares makes an interesting pattern on the floor. Tacked on the bulletin board are artworks obviously created by tiny hands.

It is a kindergarten classroom. This is where the journey had begun for most, a long journey that was altogether too short.

I step as close to the door as is possible. My heartbeats must have somehow reached my ears, as they are the only things I can now hear. The ghosts are about to make their presence felt.

And in they come, filling the darkness of the classroom and corridor with a flash of light. I can see them—images that are faint, faded, fleeting.

But the ghosts that come aren’t the dreary, creepy figures that frighten. The ghosts that come don’t moan and groan, nor do they walk with clanking chains.

They come in quick flashes of color, of light, of smiles, of laughter.
I see children taking out their snacks for recess. I see a game of tag played on the old red flooring of the back lobby. I see a seven-year-old girl giving a letter to her best friend.

I see math trainees playing Ice/Water without being caught. I see grade-schoolers rehearsing for a play, reenacting Lapu-Lapu’s heroism.

I see freshmen cheering as they watched their first basketball game. I see students filming their versions of a movie about a wimpy kid.

They are the ghosts of the past.

But they are not my only companions.

The ghosts of the future are there to join me as well.

I see the seven-year-old girl now grown up, probably in her early twenties. She is standing beside the teacher’s table, writing on the board while talking about run-on sentences and dangling participles.

Teaching must be a difficult profession. She looks tired and her voice sounds hoarse. I guess that’s part of the trade. But I look in her eyes and I see the sparkle. That, too, is part of the trade, the part that makes everything worthwhile.

The teacher suddenly turns towards the door and sees me peering in. She smiles and I smile back.

Funny. The lady looks a lot like me.

I continue my trek round the school. At each classroom I stop at, there will be that sudden flash and the arrival of more ghosts.

Every scene is different yet every scene is familiar.

Whenever my Friday night stroll ends, I always find myself back at the front lobby, listening to the ticking of the clock once more.

I turn towards the Panda that looks over the school day after day, night after night.

He sees more ghosts than I do, I’m sure. You can tell from his eyes.

He’s proud of every ghost he sees because he’s proud of the people they’ve become.

I look back at the Panda, and I nod my thanks.

I turn to leave.

This may very well be the last of my nighttime strolls in school, at least for quite a while.

My parents and I are migrating to Canada in a few days. It’s a trial trip. We’ll be staying there from five days to five years, I don’t know.

In the meantime, I am packing the ghosts in my suitcase.

The ghosts of the past are my memories.

The ghosts of the future are my hopes.

They go wherever I go.

The ghosts of the past provide me with reasons for coming back.

The ghosts of the future give me the assurance that I will.

Five days, five weeks, five months, or five years, I will.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Grade-Conscious By Sheila Grace Tan

No other feeling can compare with the agitation one feels in seeing the teacher enter the classroom holding a pile of brown papers—well, for the grade-conscious, at least. Usually, teachers give them out one by one. After the teacher calls the student’s name out loud, the student stands up. Thoughts immediately rush to his head—“Did I pass?” or “I hope I got at least a 90!” A stream of seemingly endless questions goes through his mind until the crucial moment when the student gets the paper and takes a peek at the grade—the number that signifies a whole night’s hard work, a tutor’s guidance, or a quick cramming session five minutes before the test. I could go on babbling about how students stress over tests, and now I wonder: are tests and grades all we really care about? It seems like many of us, I myself included, are so preoccupied with tests. Aside from making friends, do we go to school mainly to ace tests, or get the grade good enough to pass, and call it a day?

I have to admit that there’s nothing quite like seeing a substantial grade and feeling a sense of fulfillment after spending one whole night studying, reviewing, and, more often than not, memorizing. Still, I can’t help stopping and thinking about what I have been doing for the past twelve years. Have I actually been learning in school? Or have I been just answering questions in tests, just filling in the blanks?

I always find myself getting stressed over a bad grade, ranting when I get a 99 for a careless mistake, and almost feeling depressed when I fail. Now that I think about it, why make a big fuss out of numbers? Why bother aiming for that elusive 100 and begging the teacher for “plus points” when one actually doesn’t learn anything?

Perhaps grades are like mirrors that reflect one’s diligence or even intelligence, but I don’t think they are enough to depict how much you’ve learned. A 100 can be the product of a night’s hard work, days of practice, the so-called chamba or luck for others, or the sheer genius of those lucky few. 80 plusses? Not enough for the overachievers but a true blessing for many. Meanwhile, a failing grade may seem like the end of the world for the grade-conscious, but now, I realize I should look at a failing grade as a lesson that will always make a mark on me. Failing should not be something that leads to despair and hopelessness but rather a stepping-stone to improvement. What’s wrong with getting a 60 plus when one can learn something from it? That failing grade can even push one to exert more effort and do better. At the end of the day, I think one learns more from mistakes than from accomplishments.

Yes, getting good grades and passing tests do give us a sense of fulfillment, but I believe that what’s more important is for the lessons we study to light a fire inside us, give us something to think about on our way home, and, even better, ignite our curiosity to learn more. Yes, getting good grades and passing quizzes are great, but seizing the perfect opportunity to acquire endless knowledge should be our reason for coming to school. That’s what school is for. That’s real education.

We squeal with delight upon knowing we get bonus points. We scramble and line up at the canteen to photocopy a test guide. Both are mere aids to pass tests. A student who receives a perfect score after memorizing words from a test guide has nothing to be proud of. A student who attains honors but cannot apply school-taught concepts in real life is hardly praiseworthy. We must look beyond test guides, beyond bonus points, beyond textbooks. We must not cease to remember that lessons are there not to be memorized and written blindly on an answer sheet. Again, getting good grades is nice. By simply memorizing words and hoping not to forget them when it’s time to take the test, however, we are ignoring the beauty that lies behind Chinese culture and history, the unique feeling of contentment we get from answering a tricky math question, and the wisdom we gain from reading stories with beautiful lessons.

Sometimes, we get so hung up on getting good grades and passing tests that we fail to see the beauty of knowledge and the real meaning of learning. As we get older, go through the stages of school, finish college, and get over those stressful grades, we must still have relentless passion for seeking knowledge and being curious about our world.

I think this is how we should look at tests and grades. Maybe it’s time to change our perspective and approach to getting an education. After all, a life spent learning is a life well-spent. Learning is better than studying. Listening and asking questions are better than plainly sitting in class and waiting for the bell to ring. Understanding is better than memorizing. Being inquisitive and imaginative are better than blindly saying yes to everything the teacher says. We now have a good reason to start looking at grades differently. So, the next time you get a hundred, ask yourself, “Did I actually learn something?” and make sure you really understood the lesson.

The purpose of learning is growth, and our minds, unlike our bodies, can continue growing as we continue to live. ~Mortimer Adler