Friday the 17th


It is not Friday nor the 17th but Friday the 13th of last week is usually translated as Friday the 17th in Italy when news about it is printed. That is because Italy finds Friday the 17th a scary day. “Scare” is a guiding reality in many of our operations.

“Scare” is imbedded in the U.S. psyche that uses the market crash of ‘29 and the Depression as its sob story. It is the perennial story of Wall Market itself; anxiety of making sure the market index stays stable and on upward trend, until the next crash, is expected irrespective of what measures are put in place to avoid it.

It is the ethos that guides our public school system. With an alleged allegiance to what is “real and authentic”, our children are taught early on to be #1 (was the theme of Yale and Harvard of the ‘80s), using awards in the old carrot-and-stick mode to motivate children. Awards, plaque of recognition, and the gold medal are dangled to quicken motivation.

The Olympic Games still gives out medals at the end of an event but the Games since ‘68 promoted the notion that one competes vs. one’s record rather than try to “best” others.

Lining up to enter the classroom, or head for the dining room, my first graders compete on who is the “leader” of the line. I ‘ve printed a numbered sequence of my roster so that person(s) in front today takes the back end the next day. Most assigned individuals get into a “barking Sarge” mode to line up and “discipline” the children. Thus, I put a wrench on the design once in a while simply on the “teachers say-so.” Tyrants like their roles!

Historically, the elliptic plane of the solar system has us looking up to the constellations. I explained to my first graders, while we were studying the days of the week that they were derived from the planets of our familiar.

First day, of course, is Sunday followed by Monday, obviously the days of the sun and the moon. Continuing with the names of solar bodies, the Latin based calendars refers to Iberian names, Tuesday for Martes, that of Mars. Wednesday is Miercoles, Mercury; Thursday is Jueves, Jove (Jupiter); Friday is Viernes, Venus of the bright star; and Saturday is Saturn.

To the Jews, YHWH rested on the 7th day, which is the Sabbath, thus, Sabado to the Christian community, and Subalu to the Marianas.

Of the English, four were derived from the Germanic terms that honored gods of the Teutons, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, were Tiu (Twia), Woden, Thor, and Freya (Fria), respectively. We look up to the gods. But the association Friday the 13th as a “bad luck” day is a modern superstition of the last two centuries, “without god.” Earlier, the Romans and the Greeks avoided Tuesday the 13th, and Friday the 17th is a “no-no” day in Italy.

Friday the 13th that is the pervasive modern superstition that alarms the CoC for the business transactions on the sheer refusal of the public to engage in commerce and trade on a day of bad luck. We write after the 17th and do not share the superstitious bias by virtue of day and number that lottery crowds follow when choosing their jueteng bets, but we are cognizant of the “scare” the day carries.

We wonder how we develop scary biases. “I choose love” by Shawn Galloway is a song a couple of my students’ mothers play, or have heard play in their parent’s radio, so when we started playing it in class, I was not surprised at the number of children who can mimic the words. It is a choice between “fear and love” that the song wails, and since we “decide and choose” is big in our class theme, it got an airing.

A word on how we increased the use of songs in our pedagogy. At least two methods guide teaching on making children literate. One is the traditional way of making them to recognize sounds (phonemes) associated with the alphabet. Thus, they read by making the standard sounds.

The second is applied to dyslexics and other students challenged by the inability to be literary phonetic. We ask them to repeat what they hear, and songs come into this category because students repeat what they hear.

Either way—letters into phonics, or phonics into the alphabet—the children are led to read. Unfortunately, because of a bias toward the first group, we lump the second group as needing “special education” rather than accept the reality that every person learns differently, and the so-called “handicapped” are just differently abled!

The matter of choice is a normal human activity. Some choose to start at defensive “fear” rather than the welcoming arms of “love,” a choice either intentionally done, or learned behavior from a social contest. It is tragic when our milieu teaches us to fear.

The Peace Builders Pledge discourages “put-downs” but we award children for striving to be ahead of their peers, measured on the shaky grounds of written and oral tests. In grade 1, telltale-ing replaces put-downs, and they are just as vicious.

Friday the 13th, or the 17th, the choice of “fear” remains a choice we make!

Jaime R. Vergara | Special to the Saipan Tribune
Jaime Vergara previously taught at SVES in the CNMI. A peripatetic pedagogue, he last taught in China but makes Honolulu, Shenyang, and Saipan home. He can be reached at

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