De La Salle College
Para sa mga dating estudyante ko sa La Salle:
From 1971 to 1974 I was an assistant professor of mathematics at De La Salle College, Manila (now De La Salle University); this letter is addressed to my former students.
Comments may be sent by e-mail:
Back to my personal website: http://carl.argila.com
(Click for Legend)
Mahal Kong Dating Estudyante Ko,
Kumusta Kayo? Matanda Tayo! How did we get so old, so fast ba? Can you believe that it's been over thirty years since we last met?!!
Over the past thirty years I've taught innumerable fantastic students -- from Boston to Bangalore, from Hong Kong to Athens. But I am very sincere when I say that of all my students, you were the brightest and most diligent (atsaka mabait kayo pa!).
Perhaps I'm biased because you were my first students. Not knowing any better, I made enormous demands of you. I didn't realize at the time that my demands were unrealistic. So what did you do? You met and exceeded my demands! I can only hope that the experience wasn't too traumatic for you. (OK, kung kunti lang ang trauma!)
I'm now at an age where I've started writing about some of my life experiences. And so I'm writing this letter to you; I want you to know something about what we accomplished all those many years ago.
From 1971 to 1974 I was an assistant professor of mathematics at De La Salle College, Manila (now De La Salle University). I was hired by the department chairman, Professor Salvador Roxas Gonzalez (see sidebar). I presented to Professor Gonzalez my vision of what I thought should be the mathematics curriculum for a college training the next generation of leaders in a third-world country. Although it might be too strong a statement to say that Professor Gonzalez shared the entirety of my vision, he was certainly sympathetic to, and supportive of my vision.
Before describing this "vision," I should say something about my background at the time I joined La Salle. As I would relate in class, I had spent the prior four years working in the computer field. First as a computer programmer at the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston, Texas and then as a member of the technical staff at Bell Telephone Laboratories in Holmdel, New Jersey. I was fortunate to have been exposed to the most advanced computer technology of that era.
With the exception of Mr. Bustamante (who still owes me a term paper), I believe the following is a complete roster of all students who successfully completed the ALTRICO class from 1971 through 1974. Comments from ALTRICO students are welcome and may be posted on this website. Mr. Bustamante is welcome to submit his term paper, however he may not expect full credit!
The future direction of computer technology was clear: Smaller. Faster. Ubiquitous. A technology that would pervade every aspect of life.
In my mind the future direction of computer technology would completely change the mathematics curriculum. This would happen in two ways: First, cheap and available computer technology would allow mathematical concepts to be taught in very different ways. For example, I'm sure all of you still recall the definition of the limit of a function ("for any epsilon greater than zero there exists a delta greater than zero...") -- I pounded that definition into your brains! With cheap and available computer technology students could visualize, intuitively, how functions approach a limit.
The second way in which computer technology would change the mathematics curriculum, according to my vision, was that computer programming would become a part of the curriculum. That is, students would learn enough about computer programming that they could apply these skills in what would be a burgeoning job market for computer professionals.
[Update: It was interesting to hear Conrad Wolfram, at TEDGlobal 2010, talk about the same issues I thought about nearly forty years earlier. His vision of how computers should be used in mathematics is similar to what we tried to accomplish with ALTRICO.]
I described this vision in a paper I prepared for the International Conference on Computer Applications in Developing Countries (Bangkok, Thailand, August 22--25, 1977): "The Micro-Processor Revolution -- Its Impact on the Developing Countries." You may download a copy of this paper in TIFF format: CADC.tif
What an amazing man was Professor Gonzalez. He was known among his students as "Speedy Gonzalez." And it did appear as though he was constantly moving at hyper-speed. He was certainly marching to the beat of a different drummer. He was cofounder of numerous Philippine organizations promoting the academic professions, including Samahang Pisika ng Pilipinas (SPP).
I am very grateful to this dear man for the faith he had in me; allowing me to pursue the ALTRICO curriculum. Professor Gonzalez also served as an advisor for my doctoral dissertation at the University of Santo Tomas.
Sadly, the martial law years were not good to Professor Gonzalez. He had the most unfortunate luck to have had one of his anti-government articles printed, on the front page, in the last issue of the Manila Times -- the day before martial law was declared. He had always spoken highly of his former student, Francisco "Kit" Tatad. Mr. Tatad was a member of the Marcos cabinet. He felt that "Kit" would protect him. Never-the-less, after martial law was declared, Professor Gonzalez fled Manila.
After the security situation settled down, we visited Professor Gonzalez' house (in Pasay, as I recall); he was nowhere to be found. The neighbors were tight-lipped. When he finally emerged he alluded to spending time in the mountains. He didn't mention "Kit."
In preparing this letter I attempted to locate Professor Gonzales. I received an e-mail from the SPP secretariat advising me that he had passed away. Rest in peace "Speedy Gonzalez." Any information about Professor Gonzalez' final years would be appreciated.
[P.S. I received an e-mail from Professor Gonzalez' daughter, Eileen Gonzalez-Formanes, advising me that Professor Gonzalez passed away in October, 1991. "He was a wonderful father, teacher, and person."]
At La Salle, I incorporated computer technology into the standard curriculum for the first four semesters of college mathematics. There were no text books that supported this approach, so I assembled a hodgepodge of my own notes, as well as notes from various sources, into that dreadful orange book you may remember: Mathematics for National Development (a lofty title indeed!).
The Registrar's office assigned a mnemonic to the class: ALTRICO, which stood for algebra-trigonometry computer-oriented. A misnomer since three of the four semesters was calculus; never-the-less, the nickname stuck.
The first year of ALTRICO was somewhat uneventful. I was learning a great deal, and constantly updating the course notes. And the college administration was beginning to become more aware of my project. At that time, the late Brother Andrew Gonzalez, FSC was the Academic Vice-President. In my opinion, Brother Andrew was motivated by political ambition rather than academic vision, never-the-less, it is probably unfair to characterize Brother Andrew as a villain in this story. Suffice to say that Brother Andrew and I did not establish a good rapport. I believe there were two reasons for this: First, and most simply, Brother Andrew just did not understand my "vision;" he was a linguist and not a highly technical person. But a more significant reason was that Brother Andrew was a consummate politician. Ultimately Brother Andrew would become President of La Salle and the Philippine Secretary of Education and Culture; one simply cannot rise any higher as a Philippine academician.
What I did not understand in 1971 was that for ALTRICO to be successful, Brother Andrew needed to see how such a radically different program would be politically desirable.
I forged ahead in 1972 with the second year of the ALTRICO class. However, as we all know, our World changed radically on Saturday, September 23, 1972, when the Philippines fell under martial law. College campuses were closed (a move intended to prevent student opposition). And we lost many weeks of class. It was difficult to regain momentum when the La Salle campus re-opened. For one thing, I objected to infringements of our personal liberties. On more than one occasion the military guard stationed at the campus entry denied me entry because my hair was too long! At some campuses faculty members were encouraged to turn-in other faculty members who were suspected of anti-government involvement. Fortunately no one considered ALTRICO to be a threat.
I remember very clearly a meeting I had with one of the American brothers. As I recall he was in charge of campus facilities. I complained about being denied access to the campus because the military guard didn't like my hair. I fully expected that an American brother would be outraged! Instead he lectured me and accused me of being uncooperative. It was a sad time indeed for personal liberty in the Philippines. I can only hope that when the history of Martial Law in the Philippines is written, one chapter will be devoted to the role played by colleges and universities.
Strike two! Not only was the ALTRICO program of dubious benefit (in the eyes of the College administration) but I had distinguished myself as "uncooperative."
I should also mention that Martial Law resulted in our loss of Professor Gonzalez as an advocate for ALTRICO (see sidebar).
By 1973 an unexpected problem emerged; the ALTRICO students were receiving lower grades than the regular mathematics students. However, on the standardized examinations that I administered to you, you were scoring in the 70%-ile range, compared with American students. In other words, your average test scores were in the top 30% of the American control group. And American students were the product of a 12-year school system; you were the product of a 10-year school system. You were doing outstandingly well - but it wasn't showing. What went wrong?
Well, firstly was my grading. As you all painfully remember, I was a bastard about grading. I demanded that you perform to an international standard and graded accordingly. My justification at the time was that you would be expected to perform to an international standard in your careers, and so I could expect nothing less from you in my class. Even today, it would be hard for me to argue any differently.
But there was another reason why ALTRICO students were receiving lower grades than the regular mathematics students:
You may recall that there was a "cheating scandal" at La Salle about 1973-74. The following is based on information that was published and/or distributed at the time.
There were three people, whom I knew, involved in the cheating scandal. One of the clerks in the Registrar's office was changing grades for pay. I'm not sure how this affected ALTRICO students.
Of more direct effect was that one of my co-teachers in the Mathematics Department was selling grades. Mr. "X," as I'll call him, was dismissed from the Department. No one knows, however, how the cheating affected grades. Mr. "X" taught many of the traditional mathematics classes that competed with the ALTRICO class.
Lastly, it turned out that examinations were being sold out of the copy services office. I'm not sure if any of you knew that there was a copy services office in what I called the "La Salle attic." It was always an adventure to take that rickety old elevator to the top most floor. The usual procedure was that we would deliver our mimeograph stencils (remember those?!!), sign a log book, and then return sometime later to pick up copies. I, however, acted like the typical "bastos 'kano." Whenever I had an examination to copy, I would bring the stencils to the copy services office and tell the young man who staffed the office that I would wait while he made the copies. In fact, I don't recall that the copy services office was every very busy. I found it very suspicious that, while mimeographing my exams, he would always try to sneak a copy. However, I watched him parang tindera sa palengke; he didn't have a chance of getting one of my exams. Never-the-less, he apparently was able to sell many other exams.
By the time I learned about the cheating scandal it was too late to do anything about it. Strike Three! The "computer oriented" mathematics curriculum was deemed a failure. And I was advised that the current group of students (1973-74 class) would be the last.
About 1973 a PDP8 computer, similar to the one shown in the above photo, was installed on campus. This computer supported a number of teletypewriter terminals as a time-share system. Even in 1973 this was the obsolete technology of the 1960's.
At about the same time, I was able to bring to the Philippines an Altair 8800 computer kit which I assembled. (The photo below shows an Altair 8800 computer.) My flat on Kamuning Road became the home of one of the first micro-processor based computers in the Philippines.
The PDP8 computer at the La Salle campus and the Altair computer on Kamuning Road portrayed our conflicting visions of technology: one vision looking back and one vision looking forward.
The end of the ALTRICO "experiment" was certainly not the end of computer technology at La Salle. Even Brother Andrew knew that it was important for La Salle to introduce computer technology into the curriculum. But they had a different vision. Some of you may remember Brother Benedict, an American brother. The year we started the ALTRICO program, Brother Benedict was on sabbatical leave working in the data processing department at the San Miguel Corporation. I believe the plan was that Brother Benedict would learn the technology from industry and introduce the technology at La Salle.
Of course, the computer technology in use at San Miguel at this time was the IBM mainframe technology of the 1960's; a technology that was beyond the financial resources of even La Salle. But they were able to secure the next best thing. The college was able to purchase an obsolete PDP8 computer which supported a number of teletypewriter time-share terminals. I believe the PDP8 computer was installed at La Salle in 1973. And, as you might imagine, given the "balut sa plastik" mentality, the computer was locked behind a glass window; it was the La Salle version of an IBM mainframe room. There was simply no understanding on the part of the College administration that the computer technology of the future would extend beyond the mainframe.
Although I was no longer teaching at La Salle, I continued my work with micro-processor based computer technology. I was able to bring to Manila an Altair 8800 computer in kit form. (The process of getting that equipment into the Philippines is a story in itself.) And so, unbeknownst to my neighbors on Kamuning Road, my flat was home to one of the first micro-processor based computers in the Philippines. One of my first projects was to create computer assisted instruction programs for my son, Cecilio. I wrote about these in the Deaf American magazine. This article also relates my experience speaking before the Data Processing and Management Association of the Philippines. You may download a copy of this article in TIFF format: DA197609.tif.
Youth Civic Action Program
Part of my vision for the ALTRICO program was that the students would gain some practical experience in industry. I felt that this objective complemented the Government's Youth Civic Action Program (YCAP). As you all remember, one of the Martial Law government initiatives was the YCAP program; college students would participate in activities oriented around national development.
At this time, I was working on my Ph.D. degree at UST. One of my professors was Dr. Narciso Albarracin, the then under-secretary of education and culture. I believe that Dr. Albarracin was the primary architect of the YCAP program. Needless-to-say, I used my access to Dr. Albarracin to promote the ALTRICO program. He respected my views about the importance of computer technology for the future of the Philippines and, at least initially, he agreed to allow ALTRICO students to satisfy their YCAP requirements by working in the Philippine computer industry.
I worked very hard to find openings for ALTRICO students within the various government information technology organizations. As I recall, all of the ALTRICO students in 1973 found YCAP positions. Only after you completed your YCAP service were there questions raised about accepting your service for YCAP credit. By this time the College had appointed a lady as YCAP coordinator (I don't recall her name). She was, in my opinion, mean-spirited and uncooperative. Because she was not involved with your YCAP service, she refused to accept your service for YCAP credit. [I have been advised that the YCAP coordinator at La Salle, at this time, was Lilia Villa.]
I was confident that I could play the "malakas" system and bypass the YCAP La Salle coordinator by appealing directly to Dr. Albarracin. Instead, I learned another lesson. Dr. Albarracin back-tracked on accepting work in the computer industry for YCAP credit. He told me that the students' work should not "redound" (his word) to their benefit. It was not until years later that I understood that Dr. Albarracin was driven by politics. The YCAP program was a key component of "ang Bagong Lipunan," and how would it look if La Salle students were working in computer rooms while other students were planting kamote in the province. Of course, they could have told us this before you did your service. You were treated very unfairly in this matter and I can only hope that you derived benefit from your ALTRICO "internship," even if you did not earn YCAP credit.
Technology for National Development
One last topic. You all remember that I required you to write a term paper on the topic "technology for national development." Another unreasonable demand by me. Can you imagine? That students at one of the most prestigious and privileged schools in the Philippines should be required to consider national development issues! Well, I recently found your term papers. All neatly bound in three volumes. Many of your topics were nothing short of prescient. Some of your papers could well have been written yesterday. I hope some day I can scan all of the papers and post them on this website. In the mean time, you may view the tables of contents of all three volumes in TIFF format: TND.tif. Of course, the La Salle library should still have the original copies which I gave them over thirty years ago!
Sadly, I must close on a somber note. All of my cousins in the province have died. All of them. Every last one of them. They were all my age, give or take a few years. And they all died of very treatable and very preventable causes: type II diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease. Perhaps it's encouraging to note that they died, at mature ages, of "first world" causes. After all, a generation or two ago they would have died much younger, of pneumonia or tuberculosis or bacterial infections. But that doesn't make their passing any easier to accept. The fact that I'm still around, and in excellent health, proves the truth of the proverb: "ang masamang damo ay matagal na mamatay."
I had hoped that I might spend some of my retirement years living the life of a provinciano. Perhaps instead, I'll spend some of my retirement years in Manila, teaching another group of bright, intelligent students about the wonders of technology. ALTRICO Two!
May God Bless all of you. Your e-mail would be most welcome.
ALTRICO Students Today
Michael Alano -- President, General Manager, M. M. Alano Construction, a general engineering and building construction firm. "...taught us how to make critical decisions."
Mike Cardenas -- Senior Partner, Headway Business Services, Inc. (www.headway.com.ph). Mike spent twenty-five years working in information technology at IBM and ALLTEL. "If there is something you taught us, it was that when great demands are made of ordinary individuals, they always step up."
Edgar Chua -- Country Chairman, Shell Philippines (www.shell.com/home/content/ph-en). "Humility, hard work, persistance..."
Boy De La Pena -- Managing Director, Agrimare Food Solutions Corp. "...Perserverance, appreciation of computers."
Max Jalandoni -- Chief Executive Officer of Synergy Group of Companies (www.synergycompanies.com). "I've been traveling extensively and posted around the globe..."
Allen Lee -- Preseident, MESCO Corporation. "...logical thinking."
Mon Opulencia -- Managing Director and Treasurer of Ayala Corporation (www.ayala.com.ph/). "Taught me how to be creative and have a questioning attitude."
Augusto Paliza -- Co-Managing Director, Advatech Industries, Inc. "'Making things happen' attitude to handle anything assigned to you."
Link Teves -- Senior Vice-President, Philippine American Life Insurance Company. "Critical thinking."
ALTRICO 35 Year Reunion (Manila, Philippines, June 13th, 2008)
A vision is just a dream until it's shared, and then it becomes a destiny.
In this essay I write about my trip to Manila (June 11-19, 2008) and the reunion meeting with my former students at De La Salle College, Manila (now De La Salle University).