Thursday, September 27, 2007

Education is a Partnership

At a recent forum on education sponsored by the Association of Commonwealth Teachers, Tina Sablan, a candidate for the House of Representatives, noted that education must involve everyone in our community, not just teachers. Her comment echoes one of my long-held beliefs about education and is something we must take to heart. Education isn’t a passive process whereby teachers fill students’ minds with information. Rather, education is an active and interactive partnership, where students construct knowledge on their own, where the focus is on learning not on teaching. In this model, a teacher is not a sage on the stage. Rather, he is a guide by the side of the student.

But this progressive perspective is not shared by many people, many of whom blame teachers for not teaching. Furthermore, teachers and schools have increasingly become the scapegoats for all that’s wrong in our society. The business community blames our schools for not churning out a skilled workforce. Community leaders blame our schools for low test scores and lackluster student performance. And, at least nationally, pundits and cultural warriors blame schools for the breakdown of society and traditional family values.

But, the truth is that schools cannot and should not bear the brunt of all this blame, for true education is a partnership. At the individual student level, that partnership involves teachers, parents, and students all doing their fair share. At the community level, that partnership involves schools, businesses, and community leaders working together for a shared mission and vision.

However, it has become all too common, easy, and even fashionable to blame schools for our social ills. This is very unfortunate because school teachers, staff, and administrators all work very hard to give the best possible education they can give, with what limited resources they have. And they keep at it, doing the best they can, even though some of their “partners” in education spend more time pointing the finger than lifting a finger.

There is simply too much at stake to keep passing blame. And what’s at stake? Our future and the very livelihood of our islands. Given those stakes, it’s time we all did our part in this partnership of education. It’s time we talked more about responsibility than blame. It’s time we found not blame, but solutions—together.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

What We Spend Our Money On Reveals What We Value

When I got back from college in 1997, I was astounded that Marianas High School was still the only public high school on Saipan for thousands of students. I even taught there for a while and was shocked to see as many as 40 students crammed into each windowless classroom. The simple fact, as verified by credible research, is that overcrowded schools and classrooms are difficult to manage and, therefore, difficult to teach.

What was even more shocking was that while MHS waited for a new gym—one that had been stalled for almost a decade—it took no time to erect a new court building and prison facility right next door! And while now we may have two new public high schools, it’s still a shame that we can build courtrooms and a state-of-the-art prison facility, but we can’t even fund toilet paper for MHS, let alone renovate or build new classrooms. And don’t even get me started on the challenges faced at Hopwood.

On top of that, discussion is underway to give government attorneys higher pay at the same time that PSS is facing severe budget cuts.

And from a national level, it sickens me that while thousands of billions of dollars are spent on the military, most schools have to beg and fundraise and panhandle just to buy textbooks. You have to ask, when was the last time the military had a bake sale?

I’m not saying that we don’t need the military. Nor am I trashing on our men and women in the armed forces, for whom I have nothing but respect and admiration. I just think our priorities are a little warped.

After all, what are our priorities?

Why do we spend more money to build courtrooms and prisons instead of classrooms? Is it more important to put people in jail than to keep them out?

Why do we spend more money on attorneys than teachers? Is litigation more important than education?

And why do we spend more money on weapons and bombs than on schools? Is it more important to destroy than to build towards a future?

In the end, what we spend our money on says so much more about what we value than anything else. So, while the adage may be that actions speak louder than words, our spending priorities must be so loud it’s deafening. If that’s the case, have we grown deaf to the symphony of destruction blasting away? I certainly hope we haven’t.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

After a storm, only the trees with the deepest roots remain standing.

The following was a speech delivered to the Mount Carmel School graduating class of 2007.

I remember my high school graduation. Unlike my classmates, I couldn’t wait to get out of here. I just wanted to get off this rock and set off for a new life. And unlike my classmates, I couldn’t stand the idea of following a clique to the same college. I wanted to be on my own. So that’s what I did. I enrolled at a college where I was the only one from the Marianas. People had no idea where Saipan was, which is exactly what I wanted.

But when it came time for my college graduation, I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to stay in college.

And I had every reason to stay. I had just been nominated for both the Rhodes and Marshall fellowships, two of the most prestigious fellowships in the world that would have allowed me to study at Cambridge or Oxford in England.

I had professors who paved my way into graduate school at the University of Washington. On top of guaranteed admission, free tuition, and a paid stipend, I was going to publish a book with one of my professors. Had I taken those opportunities, I probably would be a professor right now with my college roommate and good buddy, Dr. Kevin Price, teaching in the University of Washington’s Politics and Government program.

Instead, here I am where I swore I’d never return, back on this rock, back at Mount Carmel School. And I’ve been here now for eleven years.

What happened? What went wrong? Well, nothing really went wrong. In fact, things went very, very right.

At first, I returned because my mom was in tears, begging me to come back home.
And trust me, when I got back home, I hated it. I complained about everything, even the pizza on island. But in my first year back, I had one of those once in a lifetime opportunities to fix things with my dad. You see, I grew up hating my father. He was an alcoholic who played poker, was very abusive to my mom, and didn’t seem to care at all about me. But, when I returned, he was a different man. Or, perhaps he finally revealed his real self.

He and I ended up having some simple yet important talks. Nothing serious. We would just sit in the garage and talk about the orchids he grew or about family. But those talks brought us closer. And I got to see the real man behind the alcohol, behind the gambling, behind the abuse.
I got to know him as a man who regretted the mistakes he had made, and only wanted to make things rights.

At the same time, I also learned from my mom how proud my dad was of me. He never said anything to me, but he would always brag to his friends about everything I was doing. And it was at that time that I also learned that he was not, in fact, my biological father. Despite that, he still treated me like his own son.

When I finally realized all of this about my dad, I built up the courage to tell him some of the hardest words any man can tell his father.

I told him that I loved him.

A few weeks later, he passed away.

While his passing away was sad, I was happy that I had the chance to mend things with him before it was too late. I was happy that I came home to do that. Had I gone on to graduate school to do all those important things I was supposed to do, I would have missed my chance to do something even more important.

So, the sacrifice was well worth it.

And since then, I’ve had the opportunity to do many great things, from teaching to drama to meeting my beautiful wife and starting a wonderful family.

I tell you this story for two reasons.

First, never miss an opportunity to show your love and appreciation for other people. You, yourselves, have learned that lesson all too well this year. Remember at the beginning of the school year when I asked you how you would treat someone if you knew that person were going to die tomorrow? Can you imagine how different this world would be if we all treated each other that way? It would be a very different world. It would be a better world.

Second, I tell you the story of my homecoming because just as my mom asked me to come home many years ago, I ask that you, one day, come home too.

I know this seems strange, at a graduation, to ask this. should be telling you to fly off to the horizon of your future.

But, to be quite honest, I am tired of seeing people leave, especially when we need them the most. Too many people from our islands have left for “the states” for a better life, rather than making life better here. And we so desperately need life to be better here. For that, we need your help.

Sure, go off and get your education, get some experience, but then bring it back here to help us.
God knows we need it.

I’ll admit, coming home won’t be easy. It wasn’t for me. But, I promise you, it will be meaningful. It will be worth it.

If you don’t believe me, let me share one more story with you.

In 2004, I was pursuing my passion to make movies and was all ready to head off to film school.
But, just as I was receiving acceptance letters, Bishop Tomas Camacho asked me to apply for the principal position here. I didn’t answer Bishop right away, but I promised him that I would think about it and pray on it.

And so I did.

And one of my favorite times to pray is while running in the mornings. Well, it so happened that one morning right after Typhoon Paka, I was running along the beach pathway, thinking about it. When I stopped to catch my breath for a bit, I noticed that there were a lot of trees that were blown down, but a few remained standing. I stood up and just stared for a long while trying to figure out how those few trees withstood the typhoon’s 100-plus mile-per-hour winds, heavy rains, crashing waves, and massive flooding and erosion.

How did those trees do it? Well, as I looked closer, my eyes moved down towards the ground.
It was then that I realized that the only trees that remained standing were those with the deepest roots.

And that’s when it hit me.

My roots are here.

And only by digging deeper roots will I remain standing, no matter what typhoons come my way.

So, that’s why I gave up film school to come back to Mount Carmel.
I came back to dig deeper roots.

Now, I urge you to remember your roots. Remember where you came from. And one day, come home. We’ll be here, ready to welcome you back with open arms and open hearts.
Until then, know that we will miss you—I will miss you—and we’ll do our best to hold down the fort, eagerly waiting for your return.

Thank you and congratulations.

Why We Need to Support Teachers

I will always be a teacher. And I will always have respect and admiration for other teachers because, in my biased opinion, no other service helps people and society more than teaching. Whether it be Socrates, whose teaching started Western philosophy; Lino Olopai, whose teaching offers wisdom in our modern times; or the countless teachers in our classrooms whose teaching inspires young minds and hearts to achieve great things, teachers make a world of difference in the lives of all of us. Indeed, Henry Adams got it right when he wrote, “A teacher affects eternity; he [or she] can never tell where his [or her] influence stops.”

Moreover, teachers sacrifice so much to help our children. Even in these hard times, teachers dig deep into their own pockets to buy supplies and surprises for their students. They stay up late into the night writing lesson plans, grading papers, and thinking about how to help little Johnny who’s having a hard time with his multiplication table. And while some voices in the community pay only lip service to education and others outright bash the education system, everyday, in the trenches of our schools, teachers fight the good fight, moving forward one student at a time, against the daunting tide of criticism and empty promises.

Some say that we have to be practical and realistic about education and the economy, a perspective often used to undercut education. Well, if you want to be practical and realistic about the current state of affairs, how can you not see education as the practical and realistic solution to our problems? An educated workforce is a skilled workforce that attracts high-paying jobs and profitable industries. An educated electorate is a thinking electorate that will not tolerate government corruption, incompetence, and indifference. An educated people is an enlightened people that will work together to find common solutions to our common problems.

So, why in our darkest hours do we cut funding for our schools? Now, more than ever, we must invest in our schools. The most important resources in any given community are its human resources, and you cannot have that without good schools. Despite businesses and industries that run to protect their access to cheap labor, the new global market increasingly demands a high-skilled, high-knowledge workforce. As the National Center on Education and Economy put it, “only countries with highly skilled workforces could successfully compete in [the new global] market.” In other words, we don’t need cheap labor. We need smart labor.

That is why, instead of investing in lobbyists, consultants, and a third-world model built on cheap labor, we must invest in our children and we must support our teachers.

For teachers have not given up on our children and our future. Neither should we.

Galvin Deleon Guerrero
Candidate for the Board of Education
“From the classroom to the boardroom—an educator for education.”
Garapan, Saipan

p. s.
I don’t claim to know it all and welcome your thoughts and comments. Feel free to email me at