Love and GE

That’s not General Electric but General Education, referring to the liberal arts subjects in college.

I woke up this morning somewhat fuzzy-headed with a bad cold, and a “hang-over” of sorts from a long discussion the previous day with our deans about our GE program, part of a long-playing saga of sorts in UP about what GE should be like now that we have a K-to-12 program.

Numbers were still dancing in my head because of the long-drawn discussions over units and courses, but I shifted my attention to a topic for my column.

I thought about “Tula ni Oriang,” Oriang being Gregoria de Jesus, who I suspect many readers will not know because many history teachers skip her in their lectures, and her contributions to the Katipunan and the Philippine Revolution.  She was the wife of Andres Bonifacio, and she wrote the poem shortly after he was killed, filled with sorrow, love and longing.

I will admit it took me some time to even remember her name. Then I couldn’t quite remember the title of her poem, which is not mentioned in the Wikipedia entry for Gregoria de Jesus, so unlike “Pagibig sa Tinubuang Lupa,” attributed to Andres Bonifacio.

Somehow, GE continued to lurk on the edges of my mind and came back with a vengeance as I realized that the obscurity of “Tula ni Oriang” is a case to use for a stronger liberal arts program.

Artes liberales was the Latin term used to refer to subjects considered worthy of a free person so he or she could actively participate in civic life. The classic core liberal arts were grammar, logic and rhetoric, with arithmetic geometry, the theory of music and astronomy added later. Today, the liberal arts include a wider range of subjects from the arts and literature, social sciences and natural sciences.

Liberal arts programs are constantly evolving. Academics continue to ask what the liberal arts should be in the 21st century. In my time, in the 1970s, UP students had to take 60 units of GE subjects; in fact, you entered college still without a fixed choice of a degree program. The GE subjects, to be taken during the first two years of college, were there to help you make the decision. . . and to prepare you for life after graduation.

We had to take “Natsay” 1 and 2, “natsay” meaning natural science. There were “wetot” (Western Thought) and “spetot” (Speculative Thought), both no longer required GE.  We had History of the Philippines, as well as Asian Civilization. Today, only one history course is required; our students, still fond of abbreviations, call it Kas 1 (for Kasaysayan 1).

With K-to-12 bringing in two extra years in high school—where GE subjects such as history, philosophy, psychology and college math will be taught—there have been moves to further reduce the required GE courses at the university level. The review of GE also comes as educators  look into the possibilities of reducing the number of years to get particular degrees: engineering in particular wanting to reduce their five years to four.

The debates can get heated around the numbers: how many in total, how many to require. The views about the numbers vary as well—from those who would like to totally abolish GE, arguing that they have no practical value after graduation; to those who would want to keep the existing 45, worried that senior high school graduates may still come inadequately trained and that students will not get a well-rounded education.

My concern is that we might lose sight of what GE is all about, a program to prepare our students to tackle the world outside as a member of civil society, able to think for themselves, with an appreciation of the duties of citizenship and the importance of love of country.

Keeping Oriang alive

That’s where “Tula ni Oriang” returns.  Her poem is overwhelming in its grief and sadness. Wherever she is, whatever she is doing, even when on her banig (sleeping mat) trying to sleep, his memory returns.  It is a powerful poem, showing how lost love can engulf a person.  Yet, it is a poem almost never mentioned, even on Valentine’s.

In contrast, there was a piece some years ago as a letter from Bonifacio to Oriang, and when Gang Badoy and her Rock Ed did a rock opera to commemorate Andres Bonifacio’s 150th birth anniversary, popular singer and composer  (and UP alumnus) Ebe Dancel did a moving song, “Lakambini” (Oriang’s nom de guerre), taking on the voice of Andres Bonifacio: “Kung ito na ang huli kong liham, ayoko syang masayang sa isang paalam” (If this be my last letter, I do not want it wasted as a farewell.)

I was struck that we have Dancel’s song, and Bonifacio’s “Pag-ibig sa Tinubuang Lupa” put into music. As far as I know, “Tula ni Oriang” has itself been put to music; if it has not, someone, or several people, preferably women, should take up the challenge.

When I was still in college, and involved with student activism, we were told love was bourgeois (pang-burgis), a distraction from the revolution.  The puritanism of that era was, of course, rhetorical. Activists loved, too, sometimes secretly, often with Catholic guilt. No one told us at that time about Oriang and her love, and the revolution.

Think about it: “Tula ni Oriang,” Bonifacio’s “Pag-ibig sa Tinubuang Lupa,” Dancel’s “Lakambini,” all good material for a GE subject with all kinds of questions about the human condition, love of country—and more.  Those materials can perk up a class in history, or literature, or philosophy.

We should not presume that the knowledge needed for free women and men is the sole prerogative of GE subjects.  The spirit of GE should permeate all our courses, inspiring students to dare to imagine possibilities. I’m thinking of our first Filipino micro-satellite, named Diwata by UP’s engineers—the name’s from folklore, taught in GE.

GE, then, is more than a collection of subjects and units. Let’s get back to Oriang’s poem, and a line where she laments her not being able to talk about her sadness to fellow revolutionaries. She is trying to be strong, remembering his counsel: “Tamis na bilin mo’y magtiis ka sinta.”

Magtiis.  Bear your hardship, bear your sadness.  Our women have been doing that for centuries, and continue to do so today, in love and war, sometimes without choice.

“Tiis” conjures images of suffering quietly, in the dark. I like an alternative, a redefinition of “tiis” found in the last line of Dancel’s song: “Hanggat pagibig ang panig sa atin, kumagat man ang dilim, wag mangamba, dahil liwanag tayo ng isa’t isa.”  (As long as love is with us, have no fear even when darkness sets in, because we are the light for each other.)

A class on Oriang could jump into our own times.

That’s what GE should be about.


A Congress of cats