Who's on the cover of your kids' notebooks?

This is my column today.

I don’t really think it is an issue of earthshaking urgency, but I’m still glad that a ranking official of the Department of Education recently questioned, and publicly, the wisdom of this decades-old practice of featuring on the cover of our schoolchildren’s notebooks the prettified mugs of local celebrities.

I know. There certainly are more important and more urgent issues today such as the surging incidence of heinous crimes in the country. Someone I work with was the victim of a kidnapping recently (no, I am not referring to Ces Drilon since I obviously don’t work for ABS-CBN). The kidnapping of Drilon is understandably given more attention on account of her celebrity status, but there has been a resurgence of kidnapping cases recently. At the same time, the mother and niece of a former colleague along with three of their maids were murdered in a brutal robbery and arson incident, also very recently. I’m going to write about these dreadful incidents when the facts are clearer.

But since classes have just opened and school supplies are still a major preoccupation, particularly since some mayors have been distributing free bags and notebooks to schoolchildren after classes have opened and after parents have already bought the supplies, I figured it as good a time as any to discuss this latest tempest in a teacup.

Most of those living in Metro Manila may not be so familiar with the notebooks that are now the subject of attention of some officials of the Education Department—the ones with pictures of celebrities on their covers. This is because most private institutions in Manila print their own notebooks or have standing arrangements with certain distributors and therefore prescribe a certain type of notebooks for the use of their students. These notebooks are more expensive, naturally. Status symbols don’t come cheap; and whether or not they add value to the learning process remains unresolved.

Most local government officials have also jumped into the fray and have begun this practice of giving away free school supplies to public schoolchildren in their respective localities. It’s a noble gesture. Alas, the act does not seem to be driven by the purest of intentions. This is because the notebooks and school supplies that are given to public schoolchildren carry the smiling faces and the political slogans of local officials. Thus, one cannot help but doubt the supposed altruism and see politics in the picture.

But elsewhere in this country, kids make do with what is available in the market that’s cheaper. These are notebooks that feature celebrities on their covers.

Because I grew up in the province, these notebooks were an ubiquitous part of my childhood. My parents couldn’t afford designer notebooks (like the Sanrio notebooks my sister was willing to die for) or those that we were told were strictly for the use of college students such as Sterling and Harvard notebooks so I had to settle for notebooks with artista on the cover.

This is going to reveal my age and I’m sure I won’t hear the end of it from my friends, but in the interest of providing a context, let me share that in my childhood, the fad were notebooks that featured in various degrees of languorous repose Arnold Gamboa, Lala Aunor, Winnie Santos and Eddie Boy Villamayor, collectively known as the Apat Na Sikat.

As I grew older, the celebrities in those notebooks would eventually give way to the talented and not-so-talented song-and-dance kids from Dats (That’s Entertainment, as if you did not know) and then to the angst-ridden teenagers from Thank God It’s Saturday and G-mik. While in Divisoria recently, I noted that the notebooks that were selling briskly were those with pictures of the Pinoy Big Brother housemates on the cover; although I was told that Juday’s familiar cheeks were still in great demand despite the ban called by the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption.

I know these things because I do have this thing for notebooks—I carry one or two with me everywhere I go. I am a very visual person. I am able to grasp and understand concepts and retain them better when I literally see the ideas written down. I can’t think clearly if my eyes are not engaged. For me, the phrase “see ideas” is not metaphorical but literal. Fortunately, I can now afford to buy notebooks of better variety—definitely better than the ones my mother used to buy for me when I was a student—but not yet the kind that comes in moleskin covers.

The value of using particular notebooks or school supplies other than for the sake of uniformity remains unclear. I don’t know if being blessed with the opportunity of being able to stare at the cute faces of Kimerald (Kim Chiu and Gerald Anderson) while learning—or at a solid green, royal blue, or maroon field with an emblem of an archer, an eagle, or a naked man on it—really does wonders to one’s academic performance. I haven’t come across an empirical study that validated what seems to be a conclusion that’s drawn purely from intuition—that these things matter in the learning process. From personal experience, what or who was in the cover of my notebooks didn’t seem to make an impact on my academic performance either way.

But some people are now saying that they do matter and that our schoolchildren deserve better than to have notebooks with people of dubious character and values on their cover.

I think turning the issue into a moral debate is counterproductive. We can argue endlessly on the real value of putting pretty faces on the covers of notebooks but I think that it really boils down to freedom of choice. People should be allowed to choose for themselves what kind of notebooks and whose pictures they want to accompany them in their academic journey.

Unfortunately, this is the real problem. I don’t think our kids have choices. One either settles for notebooks with celebrities or the generic kind with just boring prints on their cover.
I doubt if the current discussion will put a stop to our seeming collective fascination with celebrities and the way we cultivate fanatical devotion toward them. But at the very least, I hope that the discussion would at least encourage the businessmen who print those notebooks to consider that there are, truly, other worthy alternatives. There is a great number of Philippine historical landmarks and heritage sites that deserve the front page feature. There’s a long list of national heroes with interesting portraits, they may not be in the same league as Sam Milby or Anne Curtis in the looks department, but their stories and historical value cannot be undermined. There are artistic renditions of significant periods and events in our history. There’s also a wealth of art pieces that deserve recognition and appreciation.

At the end of the day, people should just be allowed to choose from several alternatives.


Gina said…
Gracing my notebook covers were faces of the most sikat artista of my high school days- the original Regal babies, and Sharon Cuneta. Kalooy sa Diyos, nakatapos man ak san pag-aram. =)

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