Note: Fr. Go delivered the following homily at the High School Mass of the Holy Spirit.
School year 2010 – 11!
I welcome you all to this brand new school year! And like everything new, the year ahead of us has lots of promise; it brings us new opportunities to learn, to make friends, and to create great memories in this exciting chapter of your life called high school.
Now, if you think this school year may just turn out to be like any other, I think you can’t be more mistaken. This school year, here in Xavier, we’re redesigning your high school. For the past years, we’ve been doing lots of research and consultation, brainstorming and soul-searching just to ask ourselves: “How can we make high school a better place for you to do the two things you’re supposed to do here: to learn and to build character? How can we better promote 21st-century learning and character formation?”
There were lots of great ideas tossed around the past years, but there’s really no way for us to find out which ones will work for us until we’ve tried them, so this year we’ve decided to go experimental. By “experimental,” I mean we’re going to try out some new things—some of them, radically new—and explore and find out whether they work or not and how to improve them. Whatever we learn from these experiments, we will use to decide on our project of redesigning the high school.
This year there are five new things in the high school, and I’d like to talk a little bit to you about each one of them, and what we’d like to find out.
The first experiment is the 4-Day Cycle and it applies to all high school students. This means that instead of the usual Monday to Friday schedule, we will follow a 4-Day schedule that will have its own cycle regardless of the cancellation of classes. Now, let’s suppose that on the early morning of a Monday, when we’re supposed to have Day 1, PAG-ASA calls off classes because of Typhoon signal no. 2, then when we come back for classes on Tuesday, it’s going to be Day 1. The 4-Day Cycle goes on regardless of holidays and typhoons.
One benefit of this is that we will have a greater chance of providing the needed time to our different subjects. Just think of how we usually lose our Monday schedule because of all the holidays declared on that day. The 4-Day Cycle will address that problem.
Sounds confusing—and we expect it to be for the first few weeks. But what’s important here is that we will expect you, our students, to take responsibility for finding out which schedule we’re supposed to follow each day.
We’ve been warned that this won’t work because our high school students are too irresponsible or too young to “get it.” I’m sorry, but we’re not sure we agree. Many high schools in different parts of the world, even grade schools, are following this kind of schedule. Our hypothesis is: If their kids get it, our high school students should be able to. I’d like to test our hunch this year: Are you, as we think, smart enough and responsible enough to get the 4-Day Cycle?
Experiment no. 2: Student Movement. Now this experiment will be limited only to the High 3 and High 4 students. As the name implies—and as you can see in the pictures—this means that instead of your different teachers coming to your classroom, you will be the one moving from classroom to classroom, college-style. Last year during the dry run, students weren’t too happy about doing this.
Obviously, this is some kind of rehearsal for college, but it’s also great training on how to take better care of your things and plan your days ahead.
Again, we’ve been warned that this college-style student movement won’t work with our high school students. Doomsayers claim that our students will be forever late to their classes because they’ll be forever lost in our corridors. Again I think we have more faith in you. And this, like the first experiment, is a good way to find out if you can be responsible enough to find your classes in time and with all the materials you need with you.
Third Experiment: Student-Centered Learning. You will notice that the newly redesigned schedule has longer periods: Either 60 minutes or 75 minutes (or an hour and 15 minutes). The reason is that studies show that we need more time—NOT to give longer lectures to you, but to let you learn things more on your own. We want to change the way we teach from a one-way lecture approach–where we tell you everything you need to know and expect you to take notes and memorize everything for the test–to a two-way, more interactive student-centered approach.
Don’t get me wrong: Lectures are still valuable. Note-taking is still an important skill. And learning always requires some form of memorizing. But for you to become lifelong learners, we need to encourage you to be more engaged, more active, and more responsible for your own learning. Now, this isn’t going to be easy because all of us, your teachers and you, have grown too accustomed to the traditional approach, but this year let’s see if we can try hard to find other, more effective ways of learning. We’d like to test whether or not our students will be responsible enough for their own learning.
This is actually one of the reasons why we are going IB this year, offering the Diploma Program to two classes of third year high school students. The philosophy of the International Baccalaureate conforms to the Xavier School philosophy and very much promotes our 6 Cs. So its spirit is fundamentally the same as our own; that’s why we hope to share what we learn from it with the rest of the school in the future.
Experiment no. 4 is still related to student-centered learning, and it’s called One2One Learning. One2One Learning means that in selected classes, every student will have access to a computer and to the Internet. In other words, we’d like to see how we can use technology more effectively so that you, our students, can learn on your own. Just think of the possibilities: Instead of just getting a lecture on the historical background of Noli Me Tangere, you google the information either individually or in groups, and report in class. Or: Instead of just submitting a composition that only your teacher will read, you can publish your composition as a blog with the world as your readers. Or: Instead of just making a class presentation of your laboratory findings, you create a vlog, post it on YouTube, and broadcast to the world.
How will this work? For this year, the IB students will be bringing their own laptops to school, while the rest will be provided laptops either in the labs or through the Macbook carts. One of the questions I’d like to answer is: Should we in the future ask all our students to bring laptops as an essential learning tool?
Again, you can imagine how we’ve been warned about every possible nighmare scenario: students playing computer games during class, dropping their laptops, losing them—or worse, stealing a classmate’s laptop. All these are possible, and as you know, have happened before here in Xavier. It was tempting not to go One2One because of these mistakes in the past, but we’d like to find out just this time if you can do it. Are our students responsible enough, honest enough, and respectful enough for Xavier School to go One2One?
Last experiment: the Haircut Privilege. Sorry, but for this year, this experiment is only for High 3 and High 4 students—and only for the 3rd and 4th quarter. The details of how this works will eventually be explained to you, but for now, all I’m going to say is that it’s some kind of an incentive program. If your grade average at the end of second year reaches a particular cut-off, and your disciplinary record is good, then you will be allowed to grow your hair longer than the prescribed Xavier haircut rule in the third and fourth quarter in time for your prom, ball, and graduation.
Again we’ve been warned that we shouldn’t go here, but I don’t see why we shouldn’t try it out this year. Besides, I have a suspicion it might work. A couple of months ago, I visited a co-ed Jesuit school in Jakarta called Gonzaga High School, and I was puzzled when I saw long-haired students—even among the boys. The Principal noticed this, and proudly presented the long-haired boys as their best students. We’d like to be able to do the same here in Xavier—and if this works, we may continue to do this next year and even expand its coverage to include our first year and second year students. Again, will our students be responsible enough, respectful enough, honest enough to deserve this haircut privilege?
So you see, how the high school will be redesigned depends a lot on the outcome of these experiments. If you think about these experiments, they’re all going to require us, your teachers, to treat you more and more as young adults. But for these experiments to work, you need to act more like adults—with responsibility, respect, and honesty.
These are the three values that I am challenging you, our dear students, to embody and to promote among one another. These are the things we hope you will learn through these five experiments.
The first is: Responsibility. You must take responsibility for your own learning and your own formation. To be responsible enough to know the policies of the school, to know your schedule by heart, and to follow the school routines on your own. For those of you who will be bringing your laptops and other gadgets to school, you need to exercise responsibility over your property so that you don’t carelessly leave it around, lose it, or damage it.
The second value is Respect. Respect for others, their property, but most especially their person. In other words, I’m asking you to say “No” to bullying, to vandalism, and even to simple discourtesy. Sometimes media has a way of making these things appear cool and fashionable, but
Finally: Honesty. Honesty doesn’t just mean not cheating or not plagiarizing. It means embracing honesty as an important value and making the commitment and the pledge—on your own—to be an honest man—even if many others are not and even if no one is watching. It’s not easy to be honest in a world full of dishonesty and corruption. But it’s a choice that we hope you will make.
So my dear students, this school year we are redesigning high school. The way you respond to these efforts and experiments will shape the Xavier School of the future because the way you’re able to rise to the challenges involved will influence the decision that we will make on what kind of school Xavier School will be in the future.
I’d like to end with a quotation from Matteo Ricci, that Italian Jesuit missionary who lived and worked in the Forbidden City in 17th-century Beijing, the first to be given permission to work in the Imperial Court. We are celebrating the 400th death anniversary of this pioneer, a missionary and scholar who dressed like a Mandarin Confucian scholar to be one with the Chinese. He said:
“The journey begins from within.”
If we want to change the world, we have to change ourselves first. If we want to change the school, we have to begin with ourselves.
Let us ask the Holy Spirit to guide us as we explore the range of possibilities open to us this school year.