Making our history
“We create our history,” Joshua Wong tweeted after the withdrawal of the extradition bill in Hong Kong. The words caption an illustration of protesters in black outfits and yellow hats. It’s a deliberate homage to the 1830 Eugène Delacroix painting, “Liberty Leading the People.” The poster is all about blood, sweat and teargas — the fuel for the monthslong ordeal which has left Hong Kong life paralyzed, and left the world in awe.
It’s a show of unity that seems like nothing but a pipe dream for Filipinos of today. Not even our own 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution, much lauded at the time for being the model of peaceful protest, had seen as much unity. We’ve been told that we have much to learn from Hong Kong — but how, exactly? Do we begin to wear black, close up shop and line the streets? And what for? It would be a miracle if Filipinos could find one cause behind which to rally, because we can’t seem to agree on anything. The politics of any single matter has become highly polarized. Even objective facts are questioned, made redundant by fake news or simple, blithering ignorance. Many face the threat of the loss of civil liberties, the disintegration of the criminal justice system, or the administration playing willy-nilly with our national budget, and seem unable to understand how they are affected, or ought to be. Maybe that’s the difference between our mass of Filipinos and the tiny city-state that is Hong Kong: that the latter could recognize the threat of human rights violations when they saw them, while many Filipinos remain unaffected even when the insults have come to pass.
Maybe this is where we could learn from Hong Kong, not through anything so literal as to take to the streets in mass protest, but to give our youth the benefits of a true liberal education. Liberal studies, a controversial yet integral part of Hong Kong education, help students to understand current events and question authority.
Much fuss has been made locally about student activism and how schools in the Philippines, prominent among them the state universities, are churning out mindless rebels and wasting subsidized education instead of producing good students. But nowhere is the importance of a liberal education more clearly exemplified than in Hong Kong’s recent ordeal, especially when it is contrasted with the ideological education encouraged by mainland Chinese officials and their supporters. Liberal studies, mandatory in Hong Kong since 2009, are framed to help students to become critical thinkers, to question propaganda and to engage in reasoned political discussion. The curricula, therefore, also need to be rooted in a study of history that refuses to whitewash the flaws of its past administrations or to hide dark periods in a state’s history — things that are not uniformly present in our own history books.
Social media has done more for the liberal education of the youth in the Philippines than any standardized education: what our elders mock as varying stages of “wokeness” are symptoms of a youth that is being educated on what injustice means for different people around the world. But not everyone has access to social media, and not everyone is equipped to understand the lessons it can teach.
Take, for example, the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression (Sogie) Equality Bill: Even at the level of the Senate, the debate is peppered with symptoms of a poor education, with some officials not even equipped with the basics of logic and sociology, and thus debating with the skill and wisdom of children. What more the man on the street, or the janitress in the rest room? How do we expect them to exercise, assert and defend rights in a free state, when we don’t equip them from a young age? We can’t expect a well-meaning few on social media to walk them through the basics of human rights and dignity. It is the sort of thing which should be taught in schools, even more than good manners and right conduct. It is, as the youth involvement in the Umbrella Movement and the recent protests show, what makes history, and what could make the difference between one apathetic generation and the next.
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