Lights and shadows
I often quoted Mark Twain in many intermediate-pad essays way back in my school days (which, up until now, I am unable to escape). The most used-up quote of his would be “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” Though it may sound quite pedagogic in nature, it nevertheless holds resounding truth among the other things that, unfortunately, we are taught robotically, almost—for lack of a better term—zombie-ishly, in the first 16 years or so of our short-spanned life. The truth is, we’ve lived a life worthy of a “World War Z” movie or other zombie shows sold separately in this zombie-crazed world. As a matter of fact, the best proof of this is the ability of students—and everyone, for that matter, in other circumstances—to space out and daydream amidst the static noise of the classroom.
But do we have a choice?
Of course not. Try to be a free spirit and teach children about society—its ugliness and its various flavors, sights and fixtures, symbols and lies, lights and shadows—and they would never see these appear in periodical exams, achievement tests, and other proficiency exams used to measure competency and intelligence for higher forms of learning. Parents, and sometimes the academe, will sue you for not teaching the “essential and fundamental” lessons, which led to the students’ failure in the said exams. But really, there are so many people who pass those tests yet become failures in life.
On a larger image, just look at our country: We have been led by lawyers, economists, statesmen of comparable ability, and other top-drawer people, yet we remain a piece of snot in the international arena and up until recently was the “sick man of Asia.” (Not that I’m saying that we elect opportunistic and ignorant statesmen and women. Oh, wait, we already have.)
We can only introduce these themes of society as trivia and, sometimes, as in history, “historical chismis.” And we watch our students’ eyes widen in intense amazement mixed with shock and curiosity whenever we deliver such trivia like the “sakra at tugbok,” one of the sexual paraphernalia of the early Filipinos, or the real beginnings of Christmas. Or: that among the “Bahay Kubo” vegetables, only a few are truly Philippine; that, according to a shady historical account, “the finger” takes its roots back to the Hundred Years War; that the early Filipinos valued deflowered maidens more than virgins; that Maria Clara was actually a satirical figure of the female stereotype—submissive, passive, and often stupid to the events of life, not worthy of emulation; that Jose Rizal would rather have Filipino women emulate the women of Malolos and his mother, Teodora Alonzo—strong-willed and independent; that we celebrate the death of Rizal (Dec. 30, 1896) as a holiday due to his martyrdom in the hands of the Spaniards but we celebrate the birth of Andres Bonifacio, supremo of the Katipunan (Nov. 30, 1863), because his death (May 10, 1897) was planned and executed by Filipinos themselves!
What treachery! What audacity indeed we have in hiding these significant things, and in consigning them to oblivion just because they would never appear later on exam papers! This is the betrayal of the ages, and it’s the betrayal in which we live. And I can’t see how we can resolve this unless we come back to our senses, unless we stop this academic and scientific pretense of mere quantification, mere qualification, mere theorizing!
We want an application. We need an application: a practice that can be employed by the people, to liberate themselves from ignorance and from the tyranny of the “first among equals,” to make freedom and liberty, economy and polity, reason and faith all their own so they will value them, and demand and fight for them. To make all things that matter come first.
We are proficient in data, yet we are poor in analysis and in establishing relationships. We have memorized all the theories deep down to our bones, yet we reap stunning defeat in putting them to practice. We speak in another tongue, yet our national consciousness remains devoid of life. We have studied cultures, crossed borders, and spanned horizons, yet we remain caged in our biases and in our own fickle, narrow minds.
We have instructed, but not taught. We have calculated so many things, yet we fail to take into account things that really matter, like quality of life, nature, fulfillment, love and the other fundamental needs of humanity. We have discovered and dissected the atom, yet we remain plagued with lingering diseases in our polity and economy. We have established laws, yet every day we live with nerve-wracking fear for our well-being, health, property, grades, jobs, the next meal to eat, the next clothes to wear, the bills to pay, etc.
And so we turn to statistics so we can be assured that we’re doing things right, to give ourselves the ability to control the inevitable and intangible. We quantify things so we can control them, so we can hold them, so that if something goes wrong we won’t blame ourselves; therefore, “the fault is in our stars.” But just as that cut-up quotation is faulty, reality will always have that feisty, clean-cut way of saying that “the fault lies in ourselves…”
It is a pity that today in the world that we live in, people are judged by mere pieces of paper: degrees, diplomas, certificates, titles, documents, and money. All of them enslave us in one way or another. People are judged that way rather than what’s inside of them, rather than their intellect and talent, imagination and creativity, rather than what they can give to humanity.
Right now, well, maybe, you are judging me by the content of this article, how I weave words into coherent patterns, symbols into readable pieces and feelings into indention and punctuation marks, thoughts into pauses and narratives. Later you will develop assumptions on what kind of a person I am, what ideologies and beliefs I adhere to. You will agree with me and disagree with me. You will either dismiss these ideas or contrive with them to stand against the many evils plaguing our nation.
Evil unchallenged is evil sanctioned. And to be oblivious to the suffering and the maladies of the world around you is a sin, the greatest sin. This is not guilt; this is responsibility far too often ignored, shelved and hidden. We can only count on the present ones to move and take action.
To end, I quote Elie Wiesel in “Night”: “Those who kept silent yesterday will remain silent tomorrow… To forget would be not only dangerous but offensive; to forget … would be akin to killing … a second time.”
Domar H. Balmes, 21, teaches social studies at OB Montessori Center Inc.
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