Monday, July 14, 2008

Student welfare from 1 FA P.O.V.

As mentioned before, I accepted an invitation extended by the Dean of the School of Humanities to be the Fine Arts Program’s representative in the Committee on Student Welfare & Development.  

During our 1st meeting, amid related recent tragedies in our own home building, we exchanged insights w/ regard to our experiences in encountering students who may be troubled. We, I being by far the youngest & least experienced, were each asked to email some of our program-specific issues to our committee chair. 

I’ve reproduced below an edited snippet of my message. Teachers, students, writers, please feel free to comment as this will be of great help for the committee -- especially for me as “the rookie.”

“Through my limited experience as thesis adviser for the Ateneo CW program (under the Fine Arts Program), the most telling sign of psychological and emotional trouble in students can be seen through the works they submit in class, whether in the form of a literal essay about the issues that bother them or through the aggression and ‘darkness’ in which some students address particular subject-matters in their works. As a product of the Program and a practicing writer, I realize that works can be a creation of the imagination, but it isn't hard to tell when the emotions within the works come from a ‘real’ place -- urgency so raw is hard to make up, even if hidden under the mask of metaphor.

“I believe that this kind of encounter experienced by FA teachers, especially those under CW and Theater Arts, leads us to our biggest dilemma. In the crafts we teach, we have to encourage personal reflection and experience, knowing that this can be the source of ‘powerful art.’ But because we are dealing with young minds/hearts, we deal with experiences unprocessed, scars still raw, which becomes difficult because it can ‘hinder’ our role as teachers of craft. This dilemma is depicted in the following example: A student submits an emotional work about her being abused. It's a bad piece -- grammar problems, structurally flawed, too self-serving, ‘emotional diarrhea’ as a mentor of a mentor of mine would say. So as teachers, we criticize everything that's wrong with the essay. But the student, still young, emotionally immature, has a hard time separating the fact that we are criticizing her writing and not her as a person.

“The issues above are, I believe, problems perhaps faced by all departments, but are especially heightened in the FA, where skill and output is so intertwined with the person. Whereas an accounting teacher can just rely on a student detaching himself from the formulas needed for a test, we in the FA are asking our students to be completely aware of themselves in doing their output, which in itself can be difficult. But we are also asking these young individuals to do something even older writers/artists have problems doing, which is to assess oneself from a reasonable distance in order for the resulting work to have excellence in craft.

“In the FA, a group of mentor-artists bringing up student-artists, there's no institutionalized ‘arm’ or ‘code’ that addresses this. Personally, and I think it's a sentiment most of my colleagues in the Program share, I don't think such a ‘code’ or ‘arm’ benefits the kind of teaching we do -- the teaching of art as craft is quite a different animal than teaching basic English composition. That said, I'm sure a lot of us would like some guidance, for I think there is something to be gained in the form of insight if we knew what a ‘typical institutionalized method’ would have us do in such situations. These insights we could incorporate in our own personal handling of the situations we face.”

* * * 

This past Saturday (July 14), my students had the pleasure of having award-winning writer, mentor, & friend Dr. Queena Lee-Chua as a guest panelist in our in-class workshop.

She didn't disappoint. It's funny cuz I've always been quick to praise her since I was in her creative nonfiction class as a sophomore, but I sort of forgot how good she really was.

She was on her game on Saturday, as critical as she needed to be but expressing it in her motherly way -- firm but not demoralizing. And I thought I had to play the "bad cop" role. Not so. 

Had I said some of the things she said, some of my students would've probably given up. But from what I observed, the students got the wake-up call they needed w/out them wanting to throw in the towel. Ang galing.

Have a lot to learn. Ma'am Queena continues to be a model.


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