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ALBERT B. CASUGA, a Philippine-born writer, lives in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, where he continues to write poetry, fiction, and criticism after his retirement from teaching and serving as an elected member of his region's school board. He was nominated to the Mississauga Arts Council Literary Awards in 2007. A graduate of the Royal and Pontifical University of St. Thomas (now University of Santo Tomas, Manila. Literature and English, magna cum laude), he taught English and Literature (Criticism, Theory, and Creative Writing) at the Philippines' De La Salle University and San Beda College. He has authored books of poetry, short stories, literary theory and criticism. He has won awards for his works in Canada, the U.S.A., and the Philippines. His latest work, A Theory of Echoes and Other Poems was published February 2009 by the University of Santo Tomas Publishing House. His fiction and poetry were published by online literary journals Asia Writes and Coastal Poems recently. He was a Fellow at the 1972 Silliman University Writers Workshop, Philippines. As a journalist, he worked with the United Press International and wrote an art column for the defunct Philippines Herald.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


In his blog, "Critic At Large," Dr. Isagani Cruz discusses institutional education without textbooks. Are textbooks really necessary when a student could access all sources of information relevant to his disciplines? Primary, Secondary, and Undergraduate courses might still need those textbooks to fulfill the requirements of a public education geared towards productive citizenship. Graduate studies would, of course, depend more upon syllabi that would serve the student's specialisation -- a broad range of expertise that might lend themselves to easier and faster access through the information technologies like the Internet. Why even surgeries are now being conducted via the computer-transmitted images and procedure across continents! Dr. Cruz, nevertheless, would be whistling in the dark if he wished this textbook-less education obtaining at this time, particularly in a education-technology-deficient country like the Philippines. What is probably more urgent is the demand of better-written textbooks by its many brilliant mentors who soldier on through conflicting and confusing educational policies that seem to be primarily geared now to employability.

I have been there. I started my academic career teaching in the secondary level at a Benedictine-run high school for boys. I taught Speech and Public Speaking to the seniors; expensive textbooks were prohibitive and scarce, so I ended up wiriting my own textbooks: A Primer in Speech and Public Speaking (SBC and Lourdes School, 18967) and Fundamentals of Speech Arts and Public Speaking (San Beda College, 1968). I even taped English-speaking lessons for the boys. The monks thought I should also teach them Journalism being at that time also a desker at the Manila branch of the United Press International, editor of the undergraduate Journal of Arts and Sciences (1961-63, Arts and Letters, University of Santo Tomas), and Graduate School Journal editor at the same Pontifical University. My journalism tutelage started in high school as editor of the La Union TAB (1958-59), the oldest high school newspaper in the Philippines, and serving as reporter, news editor, and literary editor of the UST's offical student publication, The Varsitarian (1959-63), and the Catholic community's Parish Postscript (founded by the late Rev. LoretoI Palafox, himself a nationally published fictionist.) I ended up writing Fundamentals of Journalism (SBC, 1965).

When the brothers of De La Salle hired me to teach at their (now) De La Salle University in 1970, I was drafted to teach Humanities courses, and I ended up editing a freshman textbook, Man in Search of Meaning: Literature (Humanities Series, Asia Foundation and De La Salle University, Manila), and a sophomore survey textbook Man and His Literary Past: The Classical Tradition. This textbook-writing "saga" culminated in my writing a senior BA textbook on literary theory and criticism, The Aesthetics of Literature (see image) under the Asia Foundation and through the scholarly egging of the late Bro. Andrew Gonzalez, FSC, then the academic vice president. To qualify me for the last textbook, I was perceived as capable having published Summer Suns (selected fiction, 1962), Narra Poems and Others (1968, The Spires, San Beda College Press), and Still Points (poetry collection, 1972), was a published serial magazine writer of poems, short stories, essays, feature articles, art criticism, book reviews, of stage plays, television series plays, and an erstwhile zarzuela (local vernacular plays) writer.
I left the Philippines during the martial law years, ended up teaching an Advanced English course in a Toronto college, and also wrote a manual published by the school as Writing Fundamentals .
Was I in the business of earning my keep by cranking up textbooks and manuals? I hope not. I simply realize at this point of my life that being a teacher also automatically made me a writer of my own textbooks. The Spanish cartilla adage, "Cada un maestro, un libro." (For each teacher, his own book.) seemed to suit me well.
But are teachers the most qualified textbook writers? If they are not, who could do better? What Dr. Cruz is concerned about at this point is the corruption-ridden Philippine textbook printing through the Department of Education patronage. And the typo errors, the errors! (which my Aesthetics was not exempt from -- the personnel at the De La Salle Textbook Development Committee at that time needed copy editors, proofreaders, and the like.)
Rather than get rid of textbooks, writing them for time-pressed and harassed students by the experts who teach the courses must be supported by the government education ministries and the academic institutions through their publishing houses. (The University of Santo tomas, University of the Philippines, Ateneo University, and De La Salle University are at the leading edge of this function).
What kind of Textbook was my Aesthetics of Literature?
It was a cry in the wilderness of teaching literature and the humanities during those turbulent times of the martial law regime quarterstorms. Students were in the streets burning tires, taunting the armed forces patrolling the streets of Manila. Teaching literary theory and criticism was a quixotic act of classroom geeks. It was futile, inutile, and then a waste of time. From excerpts of my Author's Preface, I wrote:
WHEN I began writing this book, I had in mind the fulfillment of several requirements that I demanded of myself as a teacher of literature: that before I would dare profess any idea on literary appreciation, I must first convince myself that I have a firm and reasonable idea of what literature is, why and how it is produced, and how it is appreciated as a work of art.
Subconsciously, perhaps, I was also thinking of how best I could reassure myself that -- as a practising writer of the literary forms -- I know what it means to write and that when I write, I am equipped with the proper artistic discipline peculiar to my craft. It was, therefore, an attempt to synthesize and systematize, as it were, the literary theory which has governed my efforts along the creative line.
More than anything else, however, I had deliberately dogged a very demanding ideal of providing my students with a manual which could guide them in their individual efforts of arriving at their own system of literary values -- an equipment that will serve them in good stead when they start appreciating literature on their own beyond the pale of the classroom and the often irritating pontifications of the teacher. More than anything else, I had wanted my students to be able to validly evaluate literature--with this book's aid--so that I could engage them in the course's most satisfying activity of discoursing on the diverse experiences brought to the reader's world by a motley of sensitive artists who have found it their calling to extend the limits of man's awareness and knowledge.
Indeed, I had wanted to impress upon my students that literature is one sure manner of beating physical limitations imposed naturally upon efforts to extend man's range of knowing.
A convinced devotee of the ontological approach to literary appreciation, I had also tried to chart out an avenue by which students and teachers alike could--in the words of an esteemed artist and teacher, Edith L. Tiempo--"evaluate a poem (short story, novel, drama) not as an instrument of some other discipline, but would judge it for itself, as an artistic object, meaning, an artistically created object."
Certainly, "understanding literature" are key concepts in a literature course. In fact, a nebulous idea of what they mean has always succeeded in derailing the efforts of a well-intentioned teacher of literature so that he invariably runs afoul with directionless lessons on literary appreciation.
"A real understanding of literary is an ability to state the intention of the work and to demonstrate the ways in which the various parts of the work contribute to the achievement of the work's intention. Understanding means comprehension of the purpose or end and the ways in which the parts are interrelated and work harmoniously in order to achieve that end." I subscribe to this competent exposition of P. Albert Duhamel and Richard Hughes (Literature: Form and Function).
Toward this end, this book (Aesthetics of Literature) is poised. In more ways than one, if this book succeeds in making the teacher and the student understand what it means to "understand" literature, then it shall have served its purpose.
If the teacher would like to egg his students on towards a creative expression of their appreciation of literary pieces, I have also seen to it that he would find enough excellent models of how this is done. When the student writes down his appreciation in a discriminating critical essay for purposes of publication, and without the teacher's prodding, the mentor can start congratulating himself..."
(I hope to include the table of contents in future blogs, to illustrate what my idea of a useful textbook is and how it should be fleshed. At this writing, my Aesthetics gathers dust in libraries in the Philippines, in Australia, in Indonesia, and elsewhere, and I am delighted to find out that this 1972 "textbook" is still being cited by e-libraries,, and ironically "rare book sellers" over the Internet. Is it still being read by students? How many of them have become writers? How many kept their copies of this monograph that did not get enough funding later to see its final print sans the errata included in the book's prefaces. De La Salle Textbook Development Committee is now being run by Dr. Isagani R. Cruz for the university where it first got published. Here's a textbook, Dr. Cruz.)

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