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Clueless... In the beginning was the Word… (PJI editorial 21-22 April 2005)

A NUMBER of teachers from state-run schools are currently undergoing crash courses in preparation for the next school year.

As reports quoting top honchos of the Department of Education have it, these teachers lack proper training in certain subjects they teach.

The remedial courses are being given this month for those who teach science, mathematics, chemistry, biology — English included.

There should be cause for serious alarm here. No, we’re not at all scared stiff at how English is massacred in this neck of woods despite our suffering from daily carpet bombing of megatons and megatons of text messages, most of ‘em in an alien tongue.

Science? Take this factoid. The first three years of an infant’s life is most crucial to its development as a fully functional human being. Malnutrition wreaks irreparable havoc on the child’s brain and learning capacity. Let the fact sink deep: the malnourished infant is condemned to a cretin’s life.

A regional survey in the late 1980s found out nearly nine of every 10 people engaged in raising crops do not have a whit of know-how in scientific agriculture. Thus, the nation’s food security has become a catch-as-catch-can job.

Chemistry? Saxitoxin culled off algae that produce red tide is so chemically stable, it can be mixed with water and broadcast as a lethal spray to slay hundreds. Ricin, a protein that can be prepared from a weed that grows on roadsides and vacant lots in Lagro, Quezon City packs a lethal efficacy 10,000 times deadlier than cobra venom. A wee drop at the tip of a clothes pin or sewing needle transforms such into an assassin’s death weapon — kahit sumpit lang ang gamit.

Thank goodness, most Filipino children and adults are hooked into the brainless nonsense purveyed by Darna and Ang Panday.

Mathematics.... No sir, the transport sector top honchos and lawmakers don’t bother with basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and such operations that’ll help ‘em understand the pluses and perks to be gained in bulk procurement of fuel products. That ought to explain why trailblazing entrepreneurship isn’t making much headway hereabouts.

Biology? Uh, we understand that only those who make it to the UPCAT’s top percentile are allowed to go into biology courses. That, we dourly understand.

And crash courses aren’t enough to gain instant competence at what one has to impart to young minds.


TOLD that he had terminal cancer that ought to chew him out in five years, author Stephen W. Hawking went into a flurry of writing activity to churn up a best-seller that allows the layman a wonderful glimpse into the reality of space and time.

Hawking outlived the disease that was eating him as he plied out “A Brief History of Time” on a word processing program limited to a 500-word vocabulary. The pared-down word power was meant to give sharper focus to such huge questions he dared tackle as “Where did we come from? And why is the universe the way it is?”

Hawking’s tack at focused word power reaped palpable results. “A Brief History of Time” hogged the bestseller lists for 237 straight weeks. It has been translated into something like forty languages and has sold about one copy for every 750 men, women, and children in the world.

The words you possess, your word power, determines your role in civilization. The words thrumming and throbbing inside you can chart the limits and frontiers of your life. Thus, limitations on your vocabulary will limit your potential role.

As experts have it, it takes a 700-word vocabulary to get along— that ought to explain why Hawking pared it down to a lean 500-word scheme to fit out and get his message across a broader spectrum.

A 3,000-word vocabulary is the minimum to get a decent job.

It takes at least a 10,000-word power to have a social role, to be a major player who can shape developments, trends, events, why, even history.

An erudite man has around 20,000-word stockpile.

The likes of Hawking, William Shakespeare, Rabindranath Tagore, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and Confucius can muster an army of around 60,000 words.

Both Tagalog-based Pilipino and English are butchered in this neck of the woods despite a daily carpet bombing of megatons of text messages. Reports quoting the Department of Education indicate that a growing number of teachers in state-run schools need to bone up on their English— including science, mathematics, chemistry and biology or subjects that would have delighted a Hawking.

We’re probably at a loss for words. And losing much of our capability and competence, too.


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