I was such a worrywart, dreading class recitations, especially those involving numbers. In Grade 1, I remember how we were taught to count using a funny-looking abacus. The beads were carved in different shapes—a pink pot, an orange fruit, an eypol —and we were drilled every day by our Arithmetic teacher how to add, multiply and subtract using this strange contraption. I never knew how to work that abacus, either the figures or the instructions confused me.
Music was taught the same way—a student had to identify the notes drawn on the scale by singing them out loud—and this quiz was done individually. Every wrong note merited a whack on your leg with a wooden ruler. I learned how to suffer corporal punishment quietly, and most of the time, the humiliation outlasted the pain for days. Industrial Arts, a subject promoted by Thomasites, was another field where I was a complete and abject failure. In sixth grade, I failed to submit a class project because, once again, I fell sick. Worse, on the day I came back to school, I had no medical certificate to show. My rear was given such a bad wallop with a 2 x 3 stick that my parents threatened the teacher with a lawsuit that forced him to come to our home to personally apologize.
There were certain teaching methods that I just can’t get, especially the ones that involved writing lessons on Manila paper. For some reason, I always found myself in classes that held “school demonstrations”—where ‘new training methods’ were presented by a teacher, with the day's lessons always written on--you guess right-- Manila paper. My printed-in-America Dick and Jane Reader, salvaged by my Dad from the family of his American tenants, were more visually stimulating! I remember a teacher who cajoled me into giving up one of my Dick and Jane books—she wanted to cut out the colorful illustrations and use them for her Manila paper school presentation. I can't even remember why I agreed.
If I couldn’t stand Industrial Arts, I loathed every minute of our P.E. class. Our daily exercise consisted of running around the school courtyard, or doing chin-ups using the scaffolding of the school water tank. There were silly games that we were allowed to play on the stage—like “bending” and “jump-partner-and skippy-domino”, whose mechanics escape me now. The crowning achievement of our P.E. classes is always a field event, where we showed off our robotic calisthenic moves, combining bends, jumps, marches, and using props such as flowered arches, hoops or if there was no budget, ribbons on your fingers.
The few moments that I looked forward to were the periodic visits of Clark Air Base teachers to our elementary school. I remember a Mrs. Davies, a matronly teacher who quizzed us with her strange American accent that was music to my ears. Then there were the feeding programs conducted by the Clark medical staff, as well, where we lined up with our paper cups to get a taste of free “Made in America” milk. Back then, it seemed to taste better and fresher than the diluted Darigold I drank at home.
Then there were the Art Education classes that I really enjoyed. We learned to do paper mosaic, dots-and-dashes, string art, paper folding and skills like spattering and printing using bamboo stalks and Parker Ink. My creations were often posted on the bulletin board to show off as great examples of classroom art. There was a year that my artworks were entered in an inter-school competition, and I remember my teachers gushing at my excellent chances of winning. But I lost, which prompted one teacher to say within my earshot that our entry (meaning me) " had no sense of proportion and he drew everything big". Sour grapes!
The teaching methods of grade school teachers have evolved and changed. Grade schoolers today have individual books which they can read, write on and discard the next year. Why, our books were unblemished as they were meant to be handed down to the next student, the next year. Whatever happened to subjects like Home Economics and Industrial Arts? Do boys still make dust pans out of cooking oil tins? Do girls still practice satin stitch, daisy chain and sewing button holes? I wonder.