WRITING A PAPER

The task was given at the last-minute, but it had to be done. There was still time – two months was enough to complete the task, as my English teacher Mrs. M saw it. Back in high school, my batch – batch 1987 – started the trend of calling their teachers by the first letter of their last name. Mrs. M announced it one fine day in English class that we had to write a research paper and failure to submit it meant missing out on graduation. There was no step-by-step explanation of writing the research paper; there was just a one lecture on the general process and then she told us to get hold of copy of the bible of research paper writing, Kate Turabian. There was no time for complaining; at least I didn’t complain nor did my high school clique, the JAMMERS. There was really no point in whining about it because there was nothing more ignominious than not graduating from high school because we couldn’t write. Certainly, writing a paper wouldn’t be an arduous task since we’ve had years of English lessons. The final requirement in high school should prove a cinch.

The exercise on research paper writing exemplifies Stephen King's words, of having the tools and time to write when you read. It's the opposite when you don't read.

The exercise on research paper writing exemplifies Stephen King’s words of having the tools and time to write when you read. It’s the opposite when you don’t.

I was completely unaware of the long-term repercussion of Mrs. M’s academic exercise until I found myself in a general education class in the University of the Philippines, Diliman, called Comm 1. The final requirement was a research paper. Smug as Hermione Granger, I had all the answers in class when my teacher Ms. A (the high school habit never waned) launched into a lecture on research paper writing. “What is a thesis statement?” asked Ms A and my hand would shoot up in the air. “What is a topic outline and sentence outline?” was her follow up question and my hand was up in the air again. There was no subsidence in showing up my classmates who were rendered silent whenever my hand shot to the air. They were simply lost. A gamut of emotions roiled in me but grateful was the overwhelming feeling; I was grateful that Mrs. M armed me to the teeth for university life.

Defending one's research paper before a panel of judges is a way to prove that the student wrote it on her/his own.

Defending one’s research paper before a panel of judges is a way to prove that the student wrote it on her/his own.

But I’ve always had that edge over my classmates and friends. Writing to my family is what breathing is to people, as my parents are writers. It’s second nature to string words into sentences and sentences into paragraphs. My training never ceased even though I am already out of university; my teachers are always at home when I fly in home. However, the absence of full-time writers in the families of my clique never stopped them from being able to write. Such is not the case with the students of today. Basic writing skills, I’ve discovered time and time again with each new class, are nefandous because the students are unable to go beyond elementary sentences. Stringing sentences into coherent paragraphs is like a death sentence, gaining me the reputation of a psychopomp. Some of my former students, in fact, have taken to whining to others about how I’ve made their lives, with the task of writing a research paper, insufferable.  I take it all in stride, soothing the wounds from their spiteful words with positive thinking and a re-reading my oath which is not expecting less from myself and, following in the footsteps of Mrs M, arming my students to the teeth for living life. It also helped that a couple of my former students were smart enough to ignore the grumbles of their classmates who were determined to gripe their way to academic success.

Like Mrs. M, the final requirement in my IGCSE-English preparatory class is a research paper dovetailed with an oral defence. There are still those who wish to wallow in the tenebrous tunnel of ignorance, half-heartedly completing the first few steps of research paper writing (i.e. topic proposal, bibliography and note cards). If only they did just that but the arena is far from fair. Such students paint a different picture to their parents – they make themselves appear the victims of injustice from an inexorable curmudgeon. The whinges of such students drive the point of what they’re missing, which is summed up by the late writer Roald Dahl who once said, “A person is a fool to become a writer. His only compensation is absolute freedom. He has no master except his own soul, and that, I am sure, is why he does it.”

Make no mistake - the panel of judges for the oral defence read each and other page of the research paper.

Make no mistake – the panel of judges for the oral defence are prepared. They read each page of the research paper.

The walls have ears so when I get wind of such iniquitous stories I go back to my personal oath and recite it like a mantra. Lately, I’ve tweaked it a bit. My focus now is the students who are willing to avoid the mire of vacuity. Some have risen to the occasion looking at their research topics: the monetary crisis of 1998 vis-à-vis Indonesia, the May 1998 riot in Indonesia, the Muslims in America after 9/11, Indonesia’s dominant religion, women’s emancipation and how far it has gone in Indonesia, the Kopassus, Miles Davies and the jazz era, jeans and Indonesian fashion, McArthur and the Korean War. The list goes on. My words, thankfully, have not fallen on deaf ears.

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