Jack by Marilynne Robinson

The love relationship that grows between Jack and Della is like a love between outcasts.  Jack is already an outcast because of his mis-spent youth and his alcoholism.  Yet he is heroically trying to live a “harmless” life as a poor white man scraping a living at the bottom of his society.  Della on the other hand is a dynamic English teacher who loves her job and family.

This is the fourth novel in a series which includes Gilead, Home and Lila each going back in time to follow the story of a faith-filled community in rural America.  Once again, Robinson creates a lyrical and poignant portrait of a host of characters in her last novel “Jack”.  The crucial difference in this last novel is that the heroine, Della Miles, is black while Jack Boughton is white but not innocent. 

The love relationship that grows between Jack and Della is like a love between outcasts.  Jack is already an outcast because of his mis-spent youth and his alcoholism.  Yet he is heroically trying to live a “harmless” life as a poor white man scraping a living at the bottom of his society.  Della on the other hand is a dynamic English teacher who loves her job and family.  Yet she chooses to let all her comfortable life and position go, in order to love and live with Jack.  At that time in the States, it was illegal for whites and blacks to marry so they have “to marry” themselves and live as outcasts both from the white and black communities. 

This novel can only be read slowly as each section needs pondering.  We can feel the stresses and strains on both Jack and Della.  We are afraid that Jack will crack again.  But he doesn’t.  The family of Della send her aunt Delia to speak with Jack in order to break-up the relationship.  It seems to work for a while, but the pair continue to find their way back to each other no matter what obstacles are put in their way.

It is interesting to note that the anguished conscience of John Boughton, Jack’s father, about the fate of his son’s soul finds it’s counterpoint here.  His father’s faithful but distant love is like a thread linking Jack to all that is good in the world.  The novel recounts the love story of Della and Jack, as two flawed souls escaping from the confines of their similar religious background of black and white. Yet by embracing each other, they incarnate the essential religious teaching of that common background.  God’s provident care does not depend on belief or unbelief, God is always and everywhere benevolent to all both black and white.   In loving Della, Jack may find redemption and escape predestination.  This may have happened long before the family’s anguished consideration of the question in the novel “Home”. 

The love affair proceeds by polite conversations in unusual places and at unusual times.  In this sense the novel is properly “old-style” while managing to speak love and religion in a modern idiom. 

Dark Blue;

Shane Carthy wants to help other young people who suffer from this inner sickness but who are too ashamed to speak about it to anyone.  His honesty and integrity shine through on every page.  His fundamental message is “don’t be afraid to talk about it”! 

In his book “Dark Blue”, Shane Carthy is a man on a mission.  Carthy is a young, gifted sportsman yet he tells the story of a psychological battle with depression.  The sub-title of the book makes this clear; “The Despair behind the Glory, my journey back from the Edge”. 

Shane Carthy wants to help other young people who suffer from this inner sickness but who are too ashamed to speak about it to anyone.  His honesty and integrity shine through on every page.  His fundamental message is “don’t be afraid to talk about it”!  The dedication at the beginning of the book emphasises this point clearly, “To all of those who are suffering in silence in the hope that these words might help the light to shine”.  

Shane Carthy grew up in Portmarnock village, on the North side of Dublin City, where my own mother and sister’s family are now living.  My nephew and nieces attend the same primary school that he attended.  My nieces are in the same club of the Gaelic Athletics Association (GAA).  It is clear that the Carthy family was a happy one and Shane and his sisters, Stephanie, Mairead and Michelle were loved and cared for by their parents, Gerry and Angela.

They were a “sporty” family and Shane was encouraged to try different sports. He was good at them all.  He had to choose between soccer and Gaelic football.  After he chose Gaelic he played for his local club. Later he was selected for the Dublin Minor Team and then for the Dublin Senior Team.  This all happened while he was still at secondary school, so he became a hero and a legend to many other young people.  He followed the advice of his Dad; “anything you do, do to the best of your ability” but not that of his Mum; “you’ve got to broaden your horizons.  Open your mind and see what life has to offer outside of football”.

Even while enjoying this success, Shane began to notice that his mood changed dramatically and suddenly from time to time.  “Dark clouds” would come causing him to feel desperately sad and disconnected.  For a long time, he held back his tears.  He found it increasingly difficult to live up to the image that people had of him.  His grandparents died just at the time that he had decided to tell his parents so he delayed telling them.  The panic attacks got worse.  Sometimes he felt like his “inner demons” were telling him to end his life.  Later he would learn the words “suicide ideation”.  He wept more and more often.  He tried to harm himself. He never harmed anyone else.

Eventually, after a climatic two weeks of psychological chaos amidst sporting success, he told his mum about his sickness.  Then his parents and sisters and friends rallied around to help him.  He needed to receive psychiatric care in St. Patrick’s Mental Hospital.  He stayed there for eleven weeks. He was on the “secure ward” twice.  He slowly recovered his mental balance and perspective but now he was shy and reserved in meeting people whereas before he had pretended to be confident.

He explains how “Cognitive Behavioural Therapy” (CBT) and the “Young Adult Program” (YAP) were used in his treatment.  The Psychologists and Nurses helped him acquire more tools to deal with the depression when he felt his mood changing and the dark clouds coming.  It was interesting to hear Shane describe his feelings as he started the YAP program.  “Will they judge me, will they think I’m weird, will they think I’m different”?

While Shane does not really share much about the content of his conversations with the Psychologists and Psychiatrists, it seems that he began to listen to his mother’s advice which he had previously ignored.  At one moment during his recovery, he interrupted his father who was chatting on about sport.  He asked his Dad about growing up in East Wall.  (East Wall is an old working class community of Dublin which used to be home to dockers and railway workers). His dad, surprised at first, responded.

Even after he left the hospital to return to “normal life”, Shane was not afraid to seek further help when he felt he needed it.  He added more time to his “Mindfulness” meditation periods.   When he travelled to meet the Psychologist again, he called this his “top-up”!

I am left wondering what would happen if Shane Carthy met with Scotsman, Eric Liddell, whose story was represented in the film “Chariots of Fire”.  (Liddell refused to run his 100 metres heat in the 1924 Olympic games as it took place on a Sunday, which was the Sabbath or the Lord’s Day.  Another British athlete let him run the 400 metres race instead).  Would a conversation with Liddell remind Shane Carthy of what his ancestors may have whispered to him long ago about God who loves and redeems him.  

If he heard Eric Liddell talk about his baptism, about his dying and rising to a new life, would Shane Carthy hear this as a new message or would he remember it as an old truth that he has not yet paid attention to? Could his life journey become more meaningful and his resolve to help others broaden, if he developed a personal relationship with God?

Le Démantèlement (The Dismantling)

The film tells the story of an old sheep-farmer, Gaby, who owns a small but beautiful piece of land with a prize herd of sheep in Quebec.  He manages on his own with the help of a young local lad and his faithful dog.  His wife left him long ago and his two daughters have made careers for themselves in the city far away.  They rarely come to see him on the farm.

Last night, the Cambodian One TV channel transmitted a film in French with English subtitles called “Le Démantèlement” or “The Dismantling”.  It kept me spellbound.  The film tells the story of an old sheep-farmer, Gaby, who owns a small but beautiful piece of land with a prize herd of sheep in Quebec.  He manages on his own with the help of a young local lad and his faithful dog.  His wife left him long ago and his two daughters have made careers for themselves in the city far away.  They rarely come to see him on the farm.

child feeds lamb

The older daughter Marie, who is living a comfortable life in the city, comes to ask for a loan of two hundred thousand dollars to help her by her husband’s share of their house as they separate.  Gaby decides to sell his farm, flock and house even though he knows that he will never be able to reach the amount that his daughter requests.  As he explains to his younger daughter Frederique, it is the nature of fathers to give.   His real goal in life has always been the happiness of his daughter, not his farm.

frederique

However this simple story contains another more universal story about the flight from stable rural communities to fragile city conglomerates.  The film catches the sadness of the simple farmers who see their friend’s life being destroyed by his own kindness to uncaring daughters. They know that the end will come for them soon.  It is like watching the end of an era not just the end of one farmer’s working life.

Gaby’s care of the sheep and love of his dog are not demonstrative at all but are all the more real because of his old-fashioned reserve.

This movie is like a parable of a prodigal Father with two uncaring daughters.  At least Frederique came to visit at the prompting of Gaby’s friend but Marie does not appear even to receive the money that Gaby has been able to raise for her.  He retires to social housing at the edge of the town far from his farm. The world is losing something of inestimable value without realizing it.

the land

 

ទស្សនវិជ្ជានៃការអប់រំខាងផ្លូវចិត្ត

ថ្ងៃមួយនៅជំរំ មានលោកគ្រូពេទ្យម្នាក់ឈ្មោះ Mengele បានសុំឱ្យយុវនារី Edith រាំរបាំបាល់ឡេសម្រាប់គាត់ហើយនាងឡើងរាំជូនគាត់ទោះបីនាងដឹងថាលោកគ្រូពេទ្យទើប នឹងបញ្ជាឱ្យគេយកម្តាយរបស់នាងទៅសម្លាប់និងដុតចោលក៏ដោយ។

ខ្ញុំបានអានសៀវភៅមានចំណងជើងថា «មានជម្រើស» ឬ “The Choice”ហើយត្រូវបាននិពន្ធឡើងដោយលោកស្រី Edith Eger ជនជាតិហុងគ្រីម្នាក់កាន់សាសនាជ្វីវ ដែលបានរួចខ្លួនពីសេចក្តីស្លាប់នៅជំរំ Auchwitz នាសម័យសង្រ្គាមលោកលើកទីពីរ។ លោកស្រីបានលាក់ទុករឿងរ៉ាវអាក្រក់ទាំងនោះនៅក្នុងចិត្ត  អស់រយៈពេលជាច្រើនឆ្នាំ។ យូរឆ្នាំក្រោយមកគាត់ក៏បានសម្រេចចិត្តនិយាយពីបទពិសោធន៍ផ្ទាល់ខ្លួនរបស់គាត់​​ ហើយបានចង់ក្រងជាសៀវភៅមួយក្បាលដែលទើបនឹងបោះពុម្ពនាឆ្នាំ២០១៧ថ្មីៗនេះ។

ថ្ងៃមួយនៅជំរំ មានលោកគ្រូពេទ្យម្នាក់ឈ្មោះ Mengele បានសុំឱ្យយុវនារី Edith រាំរបាំបាល់ឡេសម្រាប់គាត់ហើយនាងឡើងរាំជូនគាត់ទោះបីនាងដឹងថាលោកគ្រូពេទ្យទើប នឹងបញ្ជាឱ្យគេយកម្តាយរបស់នាងទៅសម្លាប់និងដុតចោលក៏ដោយ។ បន្ទាប់ពីសង្រ្គាម លោកលើកទីពីរត្រូវបានបញ្ចប់​ លោកស្រីបានប្រើពេលវេលាយ៉ាងយូរមុននឹកឃើញថា           វិធីសាស្រ្តផ្សេងៗដែលគាត់ធ្លាប់ប្រើក្នុងជំរំ ដើម្បីការពារខ្លួន លែងមានប្រសិទ្ធភាព ការពារគាត់នឹងកូនរបស់គាត់ពីស្រមោលនៃអំពើឃោរឃៅអតីតកាល។ ជូនកាល ការស្តាប់ សម្លេងកញ្ចែឬសូរស្បែកជើងទាហាន ឬធំក្លិនរទេសភ្លើង ធ្វើឱ្យលោកស្រីភ័យខ្លាច ញ័រដៃញ័រជើងរន្ធត់ចិត្ត បាត់បង់ស្មារតីទាំងស្រុងនាំឱ្យកូនគាតភ័យដែរ។

លោកស្រី Egerរៀបរាប់អំពីជីវិតមិនស្រួលនៅប្រទេសហុងគ្រីក្រោមរបបកុម្មុយនិស្ត បន្ទាប់ពីការរំដោះដោយទាហានរុស្ស៊ី។ គាត់ពន្យល់អំពីការសម្រេចចិត្ត ភៀសខ្លួន ទៅប្រទេសអាមេរិចជាមួយប្តី។​ លោកស្រីបានចូលធ្វើការជាកម្មការណីនៅរោងចក្រដូច ជនអន្តោប្រវេសន៍ឯទៀតៗនៅសម័យនោះ។ ក្រោយមកលោកស្រីបានចូលរៀនអំពីចិត្តវិទ្យា នាពេលយប់។ គាត់បានអានសៀវភៅរបស់មនុស្សម្នាក់ ដែលធ្លាប់ឆ្លងកាត់ការរស់នៅក្នុងជំរំ ដ៏សាហាវដូចគាត់។​  សៀវភៅមានចំណងជើងថា “Man’s Search for Meaning” និពន្ធដោយលោក Victor Frankl  ។ សៀវភៅនោះបានជំរុញគាត់ឱ្យរិះគិតកាន់តែស៊ីជម្រៅអំពីអត្ថន័យ នៃបទពិសោធន៍ក្នុងដំណើរជីវិតរបស់គាត់។

បន្ទាប់ពីរៀនចប់ លោក​ស្រីចាប់ផ្ដើមព្យាបាលមនុស្សដែលមានវិបត្តិធ្ងន់ធ្ងរខាងផ្លូវចិត្ត។ គាត់មានរបៀបថែទាំនិងថ្នាក់ថ្នមផ្ទាល់ខ្លួនចំពោះអតីតទាហានមួយចំនួន ដែលគ្រូពេទ្យធម្មតាព្យាបាលពុំកើត។​ ដំបូងឡើយ លោកស្រីអញ្ជើញអ្នកជំងឺរៀបរាប់ អំពីបទពិសោធន៍នៃហឹង្សារបស់ខ្លួនដោយពុំមានភាពអៀនខ្មាស់ ដើម្បីឱ្យពួកគេយល់ អំពីដំណើរនៃជីវិត។ បន្ទាប់មក លោកស្រីរិះគិតពិចារណាអំពីពាក្យពេច ទាំងប៉ុន្មានដែលអ្នកជំងឺបាននិយាយប្រាប់ ព្រមទាំងពិនិត្យមើលចលនាខាងផ្លូវចិត្តរបស់ខ្លួន ដើម្បីជៀសវាងការវិនិច្ឆ័យនិងបកស្រាយខុស  ឆ្គង។ លោកស្រីអះអាងថាយើងត្រូវទទួលស្គាល់ថា​ «ទាំងអារម្មណ៍ ឬមនោសញ្ចេតនា ទាំងរបៀបគិតគូពីកុមារភាព» កំពុងជះឥទ្ធិពលនិង គ្រប់គ្រងលើឥរីយាបទនិងសកម្មភាពប្រចាំថ្ងៃរបស់យើងដោយមិនដឹងខ្លួន។  ការនិយាយគ្នាដើម្បីចែករំលែកពីអារម្មណ៍និងការវិភាគបែបនេះអាចនាំឱ្យកើតឡើងនូវគំហឹងឬបំណងចង់សង់សឹកបាន​ ប៉ុន្តែនៅពេលដែលអ្នកជំងឺទុកចិត្តលើអ្នកព្យាបាល នោះការចែកបទពិសោធន៍រវាងមនុស្សពីរនាក់ អាចនាំឱ្យអ្នកជំងឺនឹកឃើញពីភាពអាណិតអាសូរ និងសេចក្ដីស្រឡាញ់ចំពោះអ្នកដទៃ ហើយឈានទៅដល់ការលើកលែងទោសឱ្យមនុស្សដែលធ្លាប់ធ្វើអាក្រក់មកលើគេ។ តាមមធ្យោបាយនេះ ទាំងអ្នកជំងឺ​ផង ទាំងគ្រូពេទ្យផង អាចទទួលការព្យាបាលរហូតទាល់តែជាសះស្បើយពីរបួសខាងផ្លូវចិត្ត ។

មានសំណួរមួយដែលត្រូវសួរខ្លួនឯងថា «តើខ្ញុំចង់បានអ្វីមួយអោយពិតប្រាកដ?»។ ដើម្បីឆ្លើយតបនឹងសំណួរនេះឱ្យបានច្បាស់លាស់ ទាល់តែខ្ញុំរិះគិតលើមនោសញ្ចេតនាច្របូកច្របល់នៅខាងក្នុងដើម្បីឱ្យអារម្មណ៍ស្ងប់សិន ទើបខ្ញុំអាចសង្កេតមើលបំណងប្រាថ្នាចម្បងរបស់ខ្ញុំបាន។ បន្ទាប់ពីឆ្លើយសំណួរចម្បងនេះហើយ សំណួរបន្តទៀតចេញមកដោយងាយ។ «តើសកម្មភាពរបស់ខ្ញុំសព្វថ្ងៃ កំពុងជួយខ្ញុំឱ្យសម្រេចនូវបំណងប្រាថ្នាចម្បងឬយ៉ាងណា?» តាមលោកស្រី Eger ជាធម្មតាយើងត្រូវឆ្លើយខ្លួនឯងថា «មិនមែនទេ»។ មកដល់កម្រិតនេះ ច្បាស់ថាយើងត្រូវផ្លាស់ប្តូរឥរិយាបថប្រចាំរបស់យើងហើយត្រូវលះបង់សកម្មភាពអត់ប្រយោជន៍ចោល។  រឿងនេះជាមូលហេតុដែលលោកស្រីហៅសៀវភៅរបស់គាត់ថា «មានជម្រើស»។  ជម្រើសនេះគឺមានតែរូបខ្ញុំផ្ទាល់ទេដែលអាចសម្រេចបាន ហើយខ្ញុំនៅតែមានសមត្ថភាពធ្វើ។ គ្មានអ្នកណាផ្សេងទៀតអាចជំនួសខ្ញុំបានឡើយ។

ជំពូកដែលគួររំភើពចិត្តជាទីបំផុតនោះគឺ ចំពេលដែលលោកស្រីធ្វើដំណើរត្រឡប់ទៅជំរំដ៏សាហាវ Auchwitz ម្តងទៀត។ បងស្រីបង្កើតរបស់គាត់មិនព្រមទៅជាមួយឡើយ។ មកដល់អតីតជំរំហើយ លោកស្រីបានរំលឹករឿងអាក្រក់ទាំងអស់ដែលបានកើតឡើងចំពោះគាត់។ លោកស្រីពន្យល់អំពីចម្លើយខុសឆ្គងរបស់គាត់មួយ​ ក្នុងពេលដែលលោកគ្រូពេទ្យដ៏សាហាវម្នាក់សួរគាត់ថា «តើស្រ្តីម្នាក់នេះជា ម្តាយឬជាបងស្រី?»​​។ សម័យនោះលោកស្រីអាយុតែ១៥ ឆ្នាំ គាត់បានឆ្លើយថា «ជាម្តាយ»។ ដូច្នេះហើយគ្រូពេទ្យបញ្ជាអោយទាហានអាឡឺមង់យកម្តាយលោកស្រីទៅសម្លាប់ចោលភ្លាម ដោយចាត់ទុកថាគាត់ជាមនុស្សចាស់មិនអាចធ្វើការធ្ងន់បានឡើយ។ លោកស្រីត្រូវសុំទោសម្តាយដោយបានឆ្លើយសំណួរខុស។

មានបងប្អូនខ្មែរច្រើននាក់ដែលបានចែករំលែកពីបទពិសោធន៍របស់ពួកគេនាសម័យខ្មែរក្រហម ដោយបានប្រាប់អំពីសមាជិកក្រុមគ្រួសាររបស់ខ្លួនដែលត្រូវបានគេវាយប្រហារជីវិតឬស្លាប់ដោយសារអត់អាហារ ក៏ប៉ុន្តែ​កម្រមានមនុស្សទទួលសារភាពថា «ខ្ញុំសោកស្តាយទង្វើផ្ទាល់ខ្លួនដែលខ្ញុំធ្លាប់ប្រព្រឹត្តនាសម័យខ្មែរក្រហមនៅឡើយទេ»។ អ្នកគូរគំនូរខ្មែរឈ្មោះ វ៉ាន់ណាត់ ធ្លាប់ណែនាំការិះគិតពិចារណាឡើងវិញចំពោះអំពើទាំងប៉ុន្មានដែលបានកើតឡើងនៅពន្ធនាគារទួលស្លែងរបស់ខ្មែរក្រហម ហៅថា S21 តាមឯកសារទូរទស្សន៍។ ចំពោះមុខឆ្មាំចាស់របស់គាត់ ពួកគេពិតជាពិបាកទទួលស្គាល់អំពើអាក្រក់ឃោរឃៅដែលពួកគេធ្លាប់ប្រព្រឹតទៅលើបងប្អូនខ្មែរសុចតិតទៀងត្រង់ ទោះបីលោកវ៉ាន់ណាត់សួរសំណួរដោយរបៀបទន់ផ្លន់ស្លូតបូតយ៉ាងណាក៏ដោយ។ ពួកឆ្មាំតែងតែចាត់ទុកអ្នកជាប់ឃុំឃាំងថា​ជា «ខ្មាំង» មិនមែនជាមនុស្សស្មើនឹងពួកគេទេ។

vann nath

ចំណុចខ្លាំងក្នុងសៀវភៅរបស់លោកស្រី Eger គឺជាការអំពាវនាវដល់យើងម្នាក់ៗឱ្យទទួលខុសត្រូវចំពោះរាល់ការសម្រេចចិត្តរបស់យើងនៅក្នុងឆាកជីវិត កុំឱ្យយើងផ្ទេរការទទួលខុសត្រូវនេះដល់អ្នកផ្សេង។ រាល់ព្រឹកយើងមានឳកាសដើម្បីជ្រើសរើសការរីកចម្រើនជាមនុស្សដោយសម្តែងសេចក្តីស្រឡាញ់ តែបើយើងជ្រើសរើសយកការបដិសេធមិនព្រមបង្ហាញសេចក្តីស្រឡាញនោះ យើងនឹងប្រែពីសភាពជាមនុស្ស វិលត្រឡប់ទៅរកសភាពជាសត្វវិញ។

 

Kung Raiya, the silly twit!

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court charged activist Kung Raiya with incitement to commit a felony today for printing T-shirts with murdered political analyst Kem Ley’s image and words.

On the 11th of July, I read a ridiculous story from Cambodia.  I have decided to simply let it speak for itself.   The background is that on the 10th of July 2016, a Khmer social activist, Mr. Kim Ley, was shot dead in broad daylight at a Caltex petrol station in Phnom Penh.  The CCTV footage was handed over to the police but has never been been leaked to the media since. So there is not a shred of evidence to support people’s suspicions. Continue reading “Kung Raiya, the silly twit!”

Washington Black

The novel throws light on the warps in human personality caused by complicity with slavery. The shadows of this awful past still mark friendships today.

This novel, by Esi Edugyan, was short-listed for the Booker Prize in 2018.  It is an unusual novel by its attention to historical detail.  It is a novel about the limits of love and friendship set in the context of slavery.

Esi Edugyan for NOW Magazine.

It starts by describing the life of a young slave on a plantation in Barbados in 1830.  His name is Washington Black.  The prose descriptions of life on the plantation are vivid and harsh.  Washington experiences both wanton cruelty and motherly protection.  When the plantation owner’s brother (Titch) arrives to carry out further scientific research, Washington becomes his technical assistant.  The story of this relationship provides the central focus of the novel.

Barbados+Slave+Code

In an extraordinary escape from a violent death, the unlikely pair flee the island in a balloon, land on a boat and end up searching for the long-lost father in the Arctic.  The wonderful descriptive and realistic prose help to carry the reader along this strange journey from extreme heat to extreme cold.  The wildness of nature is reflected in the wildness of emotions experienced by Washington as he finds himself abandoned by Titch.

h000398

Yet Washington finds love and direction in the Arctic and with the help of another scientist and his daughter makes his way to London to set up a Marine Museum.   At the end of a journey, Washington rediscovers Titch in Morocco at the edge of the desert engaged in more scientific research.

baldwin-zeigler-expedition-ship-1901

This novel reflects on the complexity involved in human friendships.  The expectations and hopes in the partner are never fulfilled and one is left with a frustrating sense of incompleteness.  It could be argued that while Washington was abandoned by Titch, Washington inadvertently abandoned Big Kit, back on the plantation, whom he finally discovers through old slave records, to be his own mother.

images

The novel throws light on the warps in human personality caused by complicity with slavery.  The  shadows of this awful past still mark friendships today.

 

Fundamental Freedoms in Cambodia

The Fundamental Freedoms Monitor from April 2017 to March 2018 was published two months ago. This report analyses how the three fundamental freedoms; of association, of expression and of assembly, were practiced over the period.

This was the second year of such a thorough and systematic monitoring process. The report also studied individual cases where personal liberty was unjustly infringed. The conclusion points to a progressive deterioration in the practice of these freedoms in Cambodia over the second year as compared with the first.

While the statistics back up the anecdotal evidence of a severe curtailment of the three freedoms over the last year, it is nonetheless interesting to observe how poorly Government officials and the public actually understand these three freedoms as they are enshrined in the Constitution.

Perhaps it would be worthwhile for international agencies working in Education here like JICA, VVOB and others along with the International and local NGOs to collaborate with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport through the Teacher Training Colleges to help ensure that the syllabus for the Civics and Morality studies includes these three fundamental freedoms. If the trainee teachers are clear about them, then their students will become clear about them. In this way families will become clear about them and civil society will be strengthened.

If these agencies ignore the Fundamental Freedoms Monitor, then they risk undermining the education development that they profess to be working for. Of course this includes Jesuit Service Cambodia!

Education in the Age of Fake News & Artificial Intelligence

Educational Frontiers Conference 2018

The conference on Educational Frontiers at the Ateneo De Manila University from 3rd– 6th of October 2018 opened with a presentation of scientific research on The Truth about Youth by Gino Borromeo. While this presentation outlined the significant characteristics of the millennial generation who are media-savvy and ecologically concerned, it failed to draw attention to crisis parameters such as the high level of obesity among modern youth while noting clearly their lack of political engagement.  The epidemic of obesity is surely a manifestation of a deeper relational disorder in families than those we have witnessed in previous generations. This conference on the first day was followed by three break-out sessions, or workshops.

Manila Conference 3
Gino Borromeo

A workshop from the Sanata Dharma University in Indonesia showed how both Muslim and Christian students can follow a common course when the topics are sensitively chosen.  In this way, they can learn about the other traditions and appreciate the goal of religious harmony in society. In the afternoon, the Institute of Catholic Leadership from San Francisco University led a reflection on how to serve the marginalised children in disadvantaged parts of the globe by supporting the education of their teachers.  Another workshop showed how drama can be used to encourage positive discipline with students who are troubled.

Intercultural Education 

The second day began with a conference on Intercultural Education by Dr Christine Halse from the University of Hong Kong. It was interesting to notice that research backs up the observations that children who learn in an intercultural setting do better academically and relationaly than children who learn in a single cultural setting. However the question and answer session indicated that this intercultural approach has difficulty integrating former majority groups who feel oppressed or victimised. In particular, real challenges are being experienced in engaging with traditionalist or conservative communities.

Laudato Si’ and Communal Discernment

I attended the workshop “Learning and Teaching Laudato Si in a Cultural Context”.  It outlined how all our other educational challenges have now been subsumed under this primary ecological concern. We will either collaborate to reduce global warming or we will leave a desolate world to the next generation. As the presenter from Timor Leste had become ill before departure at the airport, I was asked to replace him by giving a presentation Communal Discernment and the Xavier Jesuit Education Project in Cambodia.

Reflective Pedagogy and Personal Style 

Two of the workshops that I attended on the third day will stay with me for a long time. The first was on coaching of new teachers on the job in Reflective Pedagogy (Ignatian Pedagogy). The fascinating and innovative aspect of this workshop was that it showed how teachers with limited experience in the school can become helpful mentors to new teachers.  The model is still the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius where the vision, mission and goals of the school become the truth to be known and loved by the new teacher and the coach is the spiritual advisor who helps empower the new teacher to become the teacher that they are meant to be rather than a clone of some other teacher.  This happens not according to some preconceived standard of good teacher but in a spiritual process where the new teacher both appropriates the school culture and at the same time realises his or her own personal style and charism as a unique teacher who will be irreplaceable.

Mindfulness Practice in Schools

This workshop was followed by another interesting one on “Mindfulness”.  The person responsible for student discipline in the large Xavier School outside Manila explained how she had introduced mindfulness programmes into the school.  One reason she did this was her conviction that students with discipline problems were often not present to the situation so they did not realise how disruptive their behaviour actually was.  Another reason was that so many students and teachers complain of stress.  The invitation to all students to disconnect from every outside stimulus for three minutes silent time at several moments each day seems to have helped calm people down significantly.  The program is easy to prepare as it involves few words and peaceful music.  It works best if the teacher leads the programme in class.  Students are free not to participate but they must be quiet for the duration.  It is not religious so the program can be used for all students.

The Ignatian Paradigm in Student Formation 

On the final day of the conference, Fr Michael Garanzini expounded on the Frontiers in Jesuit Education. He underlined the centrality of the study of the Humanities for the development of practical wisdom and moral conscience. He highlighted the extent of the worldwide Jesuit network of schools, colleges and universities.  He lamented the lack of collaboration in responding to the challenges of the modern world.  However it was noted that graduates of these schools do not resemble each other nearly as much as do Jesuit novices from different countries. The graduate from Sogang University in Korea will be quite different from the graduate of the Ateneo De Manila in the Philippines, yet the Vietnamese Jesuit who has never traveled abroad will share a similar world view to the Jesuit from El Salvador even if neither has ever met anyone from their respective countries.

In this sense the formation of lay people following the Ignatian paradigm may not be as deep as the formation of religious people.  This issue was not addressed at the conference.  However it was also clear that despite all this common formation and understanding, and notwithstanding the huge progress made in collaboration with others in recent years, Jesuits who understand each other well still have difficulty in collaborating together on apostolic projects.  Fr Garanzini confirmed that this has always been and still remains a huge stumbling block to the effectiveness of Jesuit educational programs. It is somewhat painful to realise that the principle challenges to our apostolic effectiveness in education are not really external at all.  They are internal.  Our context in Cambodia is perhaps no exception to this general rule.

Spiritual Insights and the Catalyst for Educational Reform

Hence this conference served to confirm the key spiritual insights about emotional sobriety that I gained during my sabbatical last year in France and Ireland. These insights concern our current efforts to help transform the Cambodian education system.  These insights are somewhat controversial so I hesitate before sharing them. My next blog will be entitled “Catalyst for Education Reform in Cambodia”. In this future blog, I will share these concerns for further reflection and dialogue.

Education Reform in Cambodia

When I reflect on the contents of this interview dating from May 2013, in which I highlighted the challenges facing Cambodia’s higher education system and the younger generations, four recent developments jumped into focus. The rest of the original article is still historically accurate!

When I reflect on the contents of this interview dating from May 2013, in which I highlighted the challenges facing Cambodia’s higher education system and the younger generations, four recent developments jumped into focus. The rest of the original article is still historically accurate!

Continue reading “Education Reform in Cambodia”