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How Rizal’s life should be taught

Starting the first-day lecture in the Rizal Course, a college instructor asked, “How many girlfriends did Rizal have?”  Another blurted: “Was Rizal the father of Hitler and Mao Zedong?” Both thought it was a clever way to arouse the students’ interest. They were wrong.

With the implementation of the K-to-12 program, the Rizal Course once more raises questions: What is the course all about? Is it being taught properly and effectively? If not, who should be blamed for it?

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Laurel and Recto were branded as communists and threatened with excommunication when they raised the idea of teaching Jose Rizal’s works in the tertiary level. In the early 1950s, they thought knowing Rizal’s ideology would make Filipinos realize that they have their own interests to promote and protect. The sentiment during that time was to view the Americans as our eternal savior, and the two nationalists were afraid that it could weaken the youth’s resolve to love their nation and their countrymen better.

Fighting the odds and the invectives hurled at them, they persevered, resulting in the passage of Republic Act No. 1425, the teaching of Rizal’s novels.

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It is obvious that the subject was not about the failed love of Rizal and Leonor Rivera, or about his being gay or not; nor was it about when and where “El Filibusterismo” was printed. Knowing that Rizal had an elder brother, Paciano, who joined the 1896 revolution may speak well of their family. But whether he loved Suzanne Jacoby more than Gertrude Beckett borders on the inane. Memorizing “Mi Ultimo Adios” may be challenging to mass communication and language students, but could be torture to others. What good will that do toward inculcating the values of patriotism, honesty, courage, and fortitude in students?

It is no wonder that the Rizal Course has become boring, atrociously inane, and, according to many, a waste of time and effort. Obviously, the issues raised were not what the Rizal Course is all about.

What has gone wrong? How did these faulty conceptions on teaching Rizal come about?

It’s primarily because we expect teachers to teach Rizal’s advocacies with passion when they were never passionate about Rizal in the first place. For a long time, we have allowed mentors who were only interested in their hourly wage to handle the course. It is clear that the culprits are the teachers and administrators who do not know the why and how of the Rizal Course. That’s why they devise ways to tease and titillate their students, thinking it is the way to interest them. No wonder students lose their interest early.

College students are more interested in learning the principles that will help them resolve their personal dilemmas and problems. Where does learning about Rizal fit in?  Maribel Q. Galindo was correct in saying, “A dead person cannot do anything  about the life of the living, but the thoughts, ideals, dreams, principles, or convictions that he left might be very influential to people’s life as a basis of getting strength in their day to day existence. And that’s where the relevance of the Rizal subject came in.”

The Rizal Course is about being loyal to your fellow Filipinos in times of crisis. It is upholding the truth as you perceive it. It is being unafraid to do what is right. It is contributing to the wellbeing of the community. Finally, it is about the love of your neighbors and how you and they together can contribute to make this nation vibrant and progressive. This is the theme of its discourse, and the reason for its being.

Students of the Rizal Course were forced to memorize dates because teachers I knew required them to supply such information in their tests. If standardized testing even in the field of math, science, and language “cannot measure the student’s ability to communicate, empathize and get involved in solving problems in the community,” how much more if students are required to know facts that are meaningless in themselves? This was what Maita Ladrido, the AVP for learning innovation of Assumption College, concluded (Inquirer, 4/22/18). At Assumption, they came up with a new learning approach where students are “expected to gain empathy, critical thinking, leadership skills, creativity, self-direction, and sense of national and global citizenship through activities inside and outside the classroom.” Certainly, the Rizal Course teacher can think of other ways to inculcate those virtues in students more than requiring them to memorize dates.

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Today’s situation sways the ordinary Filipino to different persuasions. Given the contentious issues that divide us, determining whether Rizal was gay or not would appear stupid.

Rizal could serve as a model for all times, for all places, and for all people who cherish freedom and justice. He condemned the corrupt thinking of his fellow Indios, demanding that they live with dignity and pride, as much as he denounced the abuses of the colonial rulers. He would have rejected political dynasties or the economic disparity of foreign trade. He would have decried the millennials’ declining participation and indifferent attitude. He would have denounced the politicians who would rather promote their own agenda than that of the people. He would have frowned upon those who would rather go abroad instead of employing their talents to promote the welfare of their neighbors.

Learning is integrating our acquired experiences with the world we have constructed on our own.

Louis Pasteur is reported to have said, “In the fields of observation, chance favors only the prepared mind.”  Mel Thompson writes in “Understanding Philosophy” (1995): “In life as in observation, the varied situations and crisis that chance throws up present both hazards and opportunities.” He believes that a “person that is alert and sensitive to what life is about, and who has already considered the fundamental principles of what we can know or what we should do, will hopefully be better able to grasp and use each situation to the full.”

Going back to the narrative of Rizal’s novels is no longer compelling since they were already discussed in the secondary grades. Analyzing the plot of the “Noli” and “Fili” and dissecting the meaning of his essays are more critical. “Everything we do is a process where our past experiences, stored in memory, shape our choices and intentions. The crucially important moment is a fleeting transition from past to future.”

George Santayana said that those who do not know about the past are condemned to repeat its mistakes. Rizal believed that those who do not know where they came from will never get to where they are going. It has become a prophetic warning to us.

Efren L. Quiray is a retired history professor and former dean of an arts and sciences college. He lives with his family in Baguio City.

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