08 April 2017

The American European History Teacher who Blew His Top


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In all my years in college, I only had one evening class. I wasn’t particularly fond of night classes so I tried to avoid them. Because I was an athlete and trained at midday three times a week, I was frequently next to brain dead by five in the afternoon. I have always been a bit sensitive in a paranormal sense. I don’t see ghosts, but I sure as hell feel it when there is one in the immediate vicinity. This was why I didn’t like staying on campus after dark. The St. La Salle Building, the one facing Taft Avenue which was for all intents and purposes my “headquarters,” in particular, gave me the creeps. Some washrooms at the building’s northern end used to give me goosebumps for no apparent reason even in broad daylight; but even more so after dark.

I went back to DLSU to speak at a Lasallian Youth Convention in 1985 and received a hard-bound history of the university for my participation. It was only after I read the book that I understood why some parts of the St. La Salle Building used to make the hairs at the back of my head stand back when I was still a student. Several Brothers, it turned out, were massacred by the Japanese during their occupation of the Philippines in World War II.

At any rate, there was this one time when I had no choice but to take a six to seven o’clock European History evening class because it was the only one on offer. The course was an elective, but not a required one. It was one that I selected because I had always been fascinated by Medieval Europe. In fact, if a European History program was available, I would have opted for it instead of East Asian Studies.

Our professor was this burly mouse-haired American who was in his early thirties and worked, he told us, as an attaché at the United States Embassy. I’m afraid that I cannot recall his name. CIA, we would jokingly ask him outside of class because he was very approachable. He would always deny that he was, but we were nonetheless sure that he was.

He was obviously a novice at teaching because he read off several sheets of yellow paper. Brother Raymond Antolik would later explain to me that this was really how lectures were delivered in universities in the United States; and to be perfectly fair, Mr. CIA always came meticulously prepared. I can now imagine the hours upon hours he spent writing these lectures. In my years as a teacher, I don’t believe that I ever prepared a lesson as conscientiously as he did.

But this was the Philippines. Being a teacher in this country, I would realize soon enough on my own, required a bit of innovation, plenty of interaction and definitely even a bit of show business. Pacing the front platform reading off several leaves of yellow paper just wouldn’t work. Brother Raymond thought so, too, and changed his teaching style after one semester to one that he felt would be more appreciated by Filipino students.

Mr. CIA, of course, was on his first teaching stint in the Philippines. If I was his student in the present day, I would simply have turned on the Voice Recorder app of my Android phone and then gone back to it to check anything that I felt significant. But this was the early eighties; and one needed to have stenographic skills to take down notes. I was admittedly struggling to keep up and would employ the same technique we used with my Malaysian Culture professor to slow him down. This was why he got to know me and would often stop for a chat if I encountered him along the corridors. I was always the guy asking all the questions.

But this was because I was interested in the subject. Not true for my classmates at the back, a ragtag collection of History-Political Science and Asian Studies majors; not to mention those from other programs. The chatting behind me began discreetly low-toned; but as everyone became more familiar with everyone else, the talking became decidedly louder with each passing lecture. Those of us in the front row must have been the only ones paying attention.

Until one evening, Mr CIA finally had enough, threw his yellow sheets into the air and slammed his palm hard on the teacher’s table. Instantly, the noise died down. I never would have thought he had it in him to sermonize a class of senior college students as though we were Kindergarten kids, which incidentally was the very same metaphor that he used. It was just that he was always so formal and even-toned and didn’t seem like he cared if we all went off as long as he was able to deliver his damned lecture.

And he was intimidating angry, mind! He was a bit smaller than me but one could see he was well-built under the suit that he liked to wear to class, never mind the tropical heat and humidity. Imagine this burly American glaring down at all of us with his hands on his hips.

By the way, the basketball star Kenneth Yap, who would also play in the PBA, was among my classmates in this European History class. I never really got to know him because he was always among those sitting at the back chatting to the guy in the next seat. And among those who suddenly looked angelic when Mr. CIA blew his top.

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