Dr. Onofre D. Corpuz – Notes on TEACHING
A beautiful memo on “TEACHING” by O.D. Corpuz, written in 1979, as U.P. President:
This is a statement of some of my thinking on teaching and learning. … I go into this exercise because we can improve teaching only by first thinking over why we teach, what we teach, how we teach, and who we teach. Unless the teacher does some earnest thinking about his or her teaching in the classroom, that teaching cannot be improved much by what we do outside of the classroom, by seminars, memoranda threatening sanctions and offering incentives, learning aids, and so on.
I went into teaching in June 1950 mostly because I wanted to be independent. When I reported to my Dean she asked me whether I knew how to teach. I replied that I knew what to teach. I was young. I was a magna cum laude graduate. She was a wise lady, and obviously decided that it would be pointless to argue with the determined young person before her. But I noticed that she was monitoring me throughout the semester, and invited me now and then for a game of chess, punctuating each struggle over a pawn with discreet remarks or questions. I think my Dean’s interest in my progress fueled and sustained my own interest in teaching.
Throughout the 1940s and early 1950s there were many students who did not go to school during the war years. They were older than students nowadays, but I was still a few years older than most. I led the men in tuba drinking bouts (after hours), sports, card games and serenades. It wasn’t because I was trying to be liked, to be one of the gang. I really enjoyed them. Today I can meet almost anyone of those students, men or women, after 27 years, and greet them by their first names. In 1950 I resolved that I was not going to remain an instructor all my life; I aspired to higher status. There was no reason why my students would be different; I assumed they had similar ambitions. So I meant to help them along, to teach them what the system then required, for them to become what they aspired to be. Thinking back, I know we genuinely liked and respected each other. This surely smoothed the teaching and learning. If one were to teach other people with whom one did not have any human rapport, nor the least bit of affection, the teacher teaches out of the duty in a business transaction. What is taught by the teacher is something given because the student paid for it. Real teaching and learning transcend money considerations, and take place only because teachers and students relate to each other beyond official status, and as human beings.
Some genius assigned me five different subjects to teach in that June 1950. Worse, I had seven sections of students. When I was assigned to Diliman in the mid-1950s, I had four subjects, six sections. Enough to make a man feel paranoid, these days. But we had little self-pity then, and we reserved our petulance and rebellious spirits for what we thought were “truly significant issues.” It had nothing to do with diffidence. Anyway, I had to study and learn a great deal in order that I could teach those five courses. Willy-nilly, it now seems, my education was continuing after graduation. Getting prepared for each course was tough. I still believe that it is more embarrassing for a teacher to be unprepared when the teacher has both personal and professional relationships with the students. It is more challenging. When the teacher is just the guy in front he would think nothing of giving a snap test, or some similar ruse, to conceal his unpreparedness. You wouldn’t do that if you knew that your students knew you; they would unerringly smell out your unpreparedness; maybe they would understand, and twit you afterwards, meaning no malice, but that would make you feel even worse.
I started teaching in a small provincial college, and the library was very basic. I was assigned to teach a course that I had not taken in college, and for which the library did not have the textbook – Cheyney, History of England. I remember this book so well, because I ordered a copy from abroad (P2 to $1 yet), and read it like crazy. When you teach in these circumstances, your students without the textbook, you have to give them a lot of the basic information. You give them readings (excerpts), a lot of lectures; they must take a lot of notes, they must retain information and have their own data bank in their minds. The basic need is to get them to develop their memory skills. It is the same for all courses. But then you want to educate them to think about the data. You organize and reorganize the information material and present it to the students, so that the significant historical forces or trends lie contained in the information, not popping up by themselves, but waiting to be sensed and discovered. You handle the discussions to help the students to think things out, until they discover those trends and forces. The students make the discovery through the thinking effort.
As the students think, they will place importance on some information, more significance on others, and less or none on the rest. I used to tell them that when you think, you must edit the information or data. An editor keeps some items, dismisses the others, and organizes those that remain into relationships. In the class discussions I would knock down the silly answers … short of killing the fires of their interest. But the answers were often not the point. What mattered to me was that everybody, including those with the wrong answers, knew that they had to edit. And I told them that learning required two basic skills: the ability to remember, and the ability to forget. You can’t learn anything without memory, and you would die emotionally or intellectually if you could not forget. Forgetting and remembering are both essential to life, and to learning.
Which things to remember, what significance to give to them; and which things to forget or attach no significance to, I guess pretty much sums up my theory of learning then. You had to remember the Magna Carta; you had to think and examine the Magna Carta to realize that it was a weapon of the aristocracy against the king, that it was not really democratic because it did not affect the common people of England; but you could forget the baron’s names, and the nasty king who couldn’t finance his wars from his own chest.
I cannot squeeze any weighty conclusions from such flimsy reminiscences. Yet it is necessary to forestall suggestions that magnify the problem rather than solve it. I will discourage gigantic proposals to spend huge amounts of money to find out why we are not reaching as well as we can, and as well as we should. We should not establish a “University Center for the Discovery, Adoption, and Promotion of Pedagogical Excellence.” On the other hand, we should not adopt a horse-and-calesa approach to the problem of teaching.
Our problems of teaching do not start from outside the teacher, did not start from “the system.” They start and grow from what the teacher brings to the task, and from his or her response to the system. The economic pressures of the situation might be unbearable to some, but in most cases this load can be lightened by the teacher’s thinking again of what teaching truly means to him or her, and for the University. Exhortations probably will not work, and I am frugal with them. But I doubt very much if we can teach well, except by accident, if we were not excited by what we are doing. It is only after we have examined our ideas and our records and ourselves as teachers, that we can consider the external and institutional factors that are relevant to teaching. Only then can we say to the departments and the colleges and the big wheels of the University, that the system and the environment and the people who recommend and act on promotions must support good teaching.
What to do about research, extension service, and those nice juicy and necessary consultancies? We can do most of them, and still teach well – except that most consultancies should not be done on time belonging to the students. I would like to see more group or departmental research or extension service, to facilitate programming of time and effort. For research specifically, I ask the Deans to look at the research proposals of their faculties and to discourage and reduce meaningless duplication. After a good study has been done on, say, “statistical measurements of men’s trousers in the Philippine Army,” we should not allow similar research proposals on men’s (or women’s) trousers in the navy, airforce, police, university, et cetera. Really!
O.D. Corpus Curriculum Vitae:
Address during Conferment of Degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa: