It’s an acronym many older (slightly older) Filipinos are familiar with, and a subject once taught in schools but was integrated into social studies. Now a bill to revive it has passed bicameral committees and awaits President Duterte’s signature to become law.
Originally proposed by Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian as the Comprehensive Values Education Act (Senate Bill No. 1224), the new law will “institutionalize values education, including GMRC, as a core subject in the K-to-12 curriculum.”
GMRC is Good Manners and Right Conduct, and will be a separate class from Grades 1 to 6, to be taken over by values education from Grades 7 to 10. In senior high school, values education will remain but integrated into other subjects.
It’s an ambitious and impressive plan that seeks to include, hold your breath: basic tenets on the observance of respect for oneself, others, and elders; intercultural diversity and gender equity; ecology and the integrity of creation; peace and justice; obedience to the law, nationalism and global citizenship; and the values of patience, perseverance, industry, honesty, integrity, and good faith in dealing with other human beings, along with other universal values.
I can see keywords from different sources: educators, the religious, human rights groups, maybe even the police and military (obedience to the law)?
I will admit I have reservations about GMRC, especially the word “values education,” which tends to be used to advance more conservative social agendas. We see a lot of that today in the West—for example, “patriotism” that is used to justify racism and discrimination against migrants.
But I also have some positive feelings about such a program being introduced to schools.
As an anthropologist, I see value in bringing up some traditional practices that we’ve taken for granted. My own children don’t “mano” me (bringing an elder’s hand to the younger person’s forehead), but I encourage them to use it with other people. In fact, I’ve been trying to teach them an extended “mano” used in South Asia and some Middle Eastern countries, where you first kiss the back of the hand and then bring it to your forehead.
Practices like “mano” are meant to imprint values in young minds through embodiment, meaning it enters your body’s muscle memory; although it becomes almost a reflex, it draws out feelings and values. Bowing, “shrinking” your body when you want to pass in between two older people, handing an object (or, for vendors and clerks, receiving payment and giving change) with two hands, are all examples of body gestures that convey respect and humility, and the more you go through the gestures, the stronger they are internalized.
Language should be an important part of GMRC modules. Note how we always ask our children to use “please” by asking “What’s the magic word?” Shouldn’t we now teach that the magic words include “po” and “paki” (in Tagalog) and “palihug” (in Cebuano and Visayan languages)? I would suggest we teach all Filipino students all the terms of respect in our main languages; a polite Tagalog using “palihug” always shocks people in the Visayas and Mindanao!
I have dozens of other ideas for GMRC, including, as Senator Gatchalian pointed out, taking up the challenges of social media, where rants and cyberbullying are now the norm and are turning us into a mean nation.
But let’s not limit ourselves to rules and prohibitions (e.g., Don’t text with all caps because that’s SHOUTING). Instead, we want to emphasize GMRC as ethical behavior. That means moving away from threats like the notorious “Lagot ka” (often using the father as the more threatening figure). Another term that should be banished through our GMRC lessons is “Hala!”, which emphasizes a coming punishment rather than restorative justice, where you help the child (or adult) realize that they did something wrong and need to make up for it, especially when harm is done to another person.
GMRC is still associated with raising a child to be “mabait” in the sense of being obedient. But being “mabait” without a sense of ethics is limited. We need to raise children to be “mabuting tao”—doing something because it is the right thing to do, and rolling in “mabait” as kindness and respect. Central to this ethical GMRC is “kusa,” or voluntarily doing good. In time, we learn to avoid disrespectful and rude behavior because it just goes against the grain, making us feel “bad.” Conversely, we do good by default because, quite simply, it feels right, it feels good.
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