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I would like to think that my son got talked into taking the Philippine Science High School (PSHS) National Competitive Exam with the bait that it had the best science laboratories among the high schools that we could afford to send him to. Despite his school’s recommendation, he had doubts about being qualified. But this boy also grew up watching Dexter in his la-bora-tory, whipping up dazzling, world-saving inventions. He took the exam anyway.
He passed! Beaming with pride as we read through the enrollment documents, one stood out. All PSHS scholars, along with their parents, are to sign a contract that required them to pursue a college degree in the field of Science and Technology. I was wary about the finality of affixing signatures to contracts. Those things are binding. I couldn’t ignore the fact that this one decision may, just possibly, haunt us in the future. But there was also a long list of courses. My Science boy had many choices.
That’s what we called him – Science boy.
At 3 years old, he was the neighborhood kids’ expert at identifying creepy crawlies which can be safely touched or just observed from a distance. He beamed at the skill of not only identifying a stinkbug, but also of anticipating when and how it would strike. He cautioned his playmates, but also couldn’t resist getting in the line of fire himself. He had to smell the stink on him and feel the sting to earn the ‘expert’ tag.
At 4 years old, he dug up earthworms and gleefully watched them wriggle in his hands, carefully figuring out which end is the head or tail. He was incredulous at the thought that one would survive even if cut in half. We told him to try and find out. He did not want to.
In 2nd grade, he came home from school distressed. In class, they were told to take out goldfish from water to place in a dish for observation. To process the experience, I started to ask him what the teacher‘s purpose could have been but… Imagine a 7-year-old exploding. “Was it ok to kill them just to prove a point? Everybody knew what would happen anyway! Some of my classmates were laughing when the fish were struggling on the dish.” He was hurt, for the goldfish who died and for those who lived as they watched the others die, but more so because it was his favorite science teacher who had given them the instructions. So, why did he do it when he didn’t want to? He was stumped.
Years later, alone one afternoon at home, he single-handedly managed to help our cat with a breech birth, and a still-born. He didn’t know what to do. But with Google to the rescue, he approached the task with steady hands, a cold sweat, and pumping adrenalin. It was a frightening and amazing three hours, he said.
I was wary about the finality of affixing signatures to contracts. There was a long list. My Science boy had many choices. We signed the contract and had it notarized. Binding.
Growing-up in Pisay
The Pisay life couldn’t be traded for anything else. Indeed, he was privileged to be there. This time, he would arrive home blurting amazing science facts, what-ifs and I-wonders. He raved about this classmate’s or that teacher’s ideas. This sparked further reading, multi-media exploring, and endless discussions. And oh, but he failed a test because of one reason or the other. We did not pay attention to that last part too much, then.
One Science subject teacher said that he was one of the few who raised discussions to a different level, adding that he exhibited higher order thinking skills. To hear that recognition personally was both a proud-mother moment and an ironic one. I was there meeting this teacher during card-giving day because my son got a substandard grade (a grade below 2.5 or 80, “bagsak” in student speak) in her subject. And that kind of parent-teacher meeting happened fairly regularly in his whole stay at Pisay.
He was told, as any high school student would, to focus on his academics; maybe not bring along his guitar to school anymore or limit writing on that journal of his; and put more effort at developing memorizing skills and faithfully delivering what is expected by his teachers.
We knew that a change of heart was happening. Oh, he was not simply your stereotypical angst-ridden teenager who despised other people’s expectations. The Pisay environment couldn’t tolerate just that; he went through journeys and discoveries. He picked-up skills here and there, along with realizations, the beginnings of dreams, and the pursuit of passions. He was growing into his own person.
The news that he might get kicked-out of Pisay at the end of his junior year because of sub-standard grades was not unexpected, but still devastating. But in another proud-mother moment, he told me that he ironically is looking forward to finally be free of the contract that is bound to determine his college degree. He did not hate science and technology. On the contrary, he is still awed by it. It hurt to imagine leaving his Pisay family, too. But he would love to take up humanities or social sciences, maybe even teach high school. He felt that that was where he could, as the person he is setting-up himself to be, give back for being an Iskolar ng Bayan (national scholar).
Eventually, he did graduate from Pisay, and went on to take up Biology. Maybe college is different. Or maybe not. At least, not for him, yet. This time, his love for Science seem not enough to tide him over semester after semester of, in his own words, “always struggling to catch up with everybody, always one step behind”.
And so the contract-and-college-course-options-conversations resurfaced, which transpired in a roller-coaster of emotions. Contemplation. Frustration. Anger. Confusion. Desperation. Rebellion. Helplessness. Hope. Maybe Pisay won’t have to find out? When I read of the recent COA report saying Pisay graduates owe government P32M, I sent him a link with the caption, “Big Brother is watching, ‘wag daw pasaway.” Bam. Another roller-coaster conversation. It was a good thing that the Rosetta mission news diverted our attentions; he chose to get caught up with that, instead.
Of goldfish, earthworms, and stinkbugs
After the distressing goldfish-out-of-water incident, my son was later assuaged to know that at least a goldfish has a very short memory span. Those who lived would not remember that day, anyway. No debilitating trauma. No fear imbibed. No dreams crushed. But now I know that the 3-second-goldfish-memory is a myth.
I couldn’t tell my son to just forget about his past struggles and focus on finishing his, or choose another, science and technology course, lest authority be challenged and a contract be breached. I couldn’t assure him that everything will turn out ok, because he’ll soon forget about dead dreams when he finally gets back to swimming where he is “supposed to be”.
What should a mother who signed a Pisay contract with her son think? Should he have just given-up in junior year, sever life-links grown so far, and move on with the hope that his severed parts would grow back? Should he just stay away from exploring and discovering other options, knowing that he is risking getting stung and stunk in the process?
As of now, my son struggles to picture himself whipping up dazzling, world-saving inventions in a laboratory. He wants to explore his options, and follow a path he is finding himself more competent and productive in. He sees himself contributing to nation-building, because being an Iskolar ng Bayan has indeed inculcated that in him, but not exactly in accordance to a contract he signed when he was 12.
My point is that there are and will be a lot of factors that could warrant a change of heart 3 or 4 or 7 years from when an 11- or 12-year old PSHS NCE passer and his or her parents sign a contract. But I am not to say if all changes of heart ultimately become definitive changes in paths taken, or whether a change of path does not also lead to the same destination. Meanwhile, I am wracking my brain on how or where in the world will I get half-a-million pesos to reimburse the government, and earn my son unstealthy options. – Rappler.com
Mara Melia is the pseudonym of a development worker in Mindanao. She is also a full-time (currently worried) mother of a college student on the verge of breaching a contract.
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