Handcuffing Minds

by Juan L. Mercado

Be careful about reading health books, Mark Twain once joshed his readers. “You may die of a misprint.”  Will that happen to thousands of Filipino kids?  Years after whistleblowers denounced   error-studded textbooks, kids are still handcuffed to them.

In  1997, German national Helmut Haas, who teaches English to foreign students in Cebu, denounced  the flawed texts. That led to a congressional inquiry. Thirteen years later, Haas complained over failure to correct errors. Haas discovered multiple errors in “Joyful Expressions”, his son’s Grade 6 Music, Arts and Physical Education book, Sun Star  reported.  “By law, writers of this book should be taken out and hung for the cold-blooded murder of the English tongue.”

“Blatant twaddle” was how he described some errors. Here’s an example: “Astronomers used their naked eyes to observe heavenly bodies.” His son’s MAPE book provides this instruction: “Dribble the ball while walking with one hand in different directions.”

In  Manila  Antonio Calipjo Go who battled single-handedly, the  lucrative trade of flawed books for almost 15 years earlier skewered   “English For You and Me: Reading Text for Grade Three” . Here are some bloppers  he found

On page 11: “Let the pupils do the action as what they think the characters will do.” Page 14: “The walls of the pupa case break. What do you think comes out from it? A baby butterfly comes out”. The caterpillar will be a baby moth.. Page 25: “Ants have long hairs on their front legs. They use their hair like a brush.”

Years later, Go found – like Haas – glaring errors in  “Biology”. This is  used in the subject Science and Technology by second year high school students of public secondary schools. The First Edition, published in 1990, and reprinted editions were “developed” by the National Institute for Science and Mathematics Education Development (NISMED), an extension arm of UP.

It has been in use for 20 years – and  hasn’t be updated. It cites UN data on world population in year 2000 at 6.4 billion, for instance. The world’s population now stands at 6.822 billion. Thus, the difference is a staggering 442 million

The book contains many factual errors. Page 328: “Two endemic orchid species, kapa-kapa (Medinilla magnifica) and waling-waling (Vanda sanderiana) are endangered.” Even unschooled plant gatherers from Mt. Banahaw know that medinillas, by their very form and structure, are not orchids but shrubs,” Go points out.

The errors go on and on, from anteaters of Australia to octopuses. “An octopus uses its tentacles to capture prey and bites it with its jaws;”.

”The real tragedy is not that the book has been overstaying or that it contains many errors,” Go points out.  “But two windows of opportunity had, in fact, been opened to the possibility of this book being replaced, after 20 years, by a better one. Those prospects had apparently and sadly been allowed to fritter away”.

He noted that the Education Department’s approved contract for this textbook was P226 million. Two years later, another P531 million was allocated for this obsolete book.

In Fiscal Year 2008, DepEd spet P1.77 billion for books. For all that, no new textbook in High School Science and Technology from First Year to Fourth Year had been published, printed and delivered. What we see are new reprints of old textbooks.

“Where did all the money go?,” Go asked. “ Shouldn’t it have been harnessed for the purpose for which it was conceived — the procurement of textbooks that do not miseducate, that do not idiotize….

“There is no greater lie than a textbook which teaches errors in lieu of lessons. No official fiat can make the errors vanish into thin air. There must be real, honest-to-goodness textbook reform.”

”Books are the carriers of civilization”, historian Barbara Tuchman insisted. “Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation silenced”, said this author of “The Guns of August”   Indeed, “the true university these days is a collection of books.

The dangers that Haas and Go documents so lucidly resemble the threat that stems from subsidized falsification of history textbooks for public school students, Inquirer noted earlier

Joel Sarmenta and Melvin Yabut of University of Asia and the Pacific, for example, documented how some text books paper over militarization of Philippine society and massive human rights violation under martial law. They presented their paper before the Ateneo-Wisconsin Univesities conference on: “Memory, Truth Telling and the Pursuit of Justce.”

These books, funded by taxpayers, denigrate dissidents. Massive corruption is ignored. They regurgitate the dictatorship’s claim that martial law was “the only way to save democracy.”

”It should not surprise us to see that young people today are so apathetic about the struggle for democracy, historian Ambeth Ocampo has written. “Martial law text books continue to miseducate.”

President Benigno Aquino III has proposed “Ten Ways to Fix Philippine Basic Education.”  “Poor quality textbooks have no place in our schools, “ P-Noy said. . I will not tolerate poor textbook quality in our schools. Textbooks will be judged by three criteria: quality, better quality, and more quality.”

That is a welcome policy direction. Today’s sloppy grade school textbooks exact an inordinate cost to our children’s future is extortionate, as Haas and Go point out. And we’re  painfully learning the truth of what Ralph Waldo Emerson stressed: “Books are the best of things, well used; abused, the worst.”

(Email: juanlmercado@gmail.comThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it )

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