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Commentary

Schools as centers of freedom

12:05 AM April 22, 2015

In his 1950 Nobel Prize lecture, Bertrand Russell declared that “the main thing needed to make the world happy is intelligence,” and that it is “an optimistic conclusion because intelligence is a thing that can be fostered by known methods of education.”

The basic point here is that we should not just ask what sort of learning our children need. It is not enough to know what type of instructional materials are necessary in order to make teaching effective. More importantly, our children need to understand how certain things in society operate and why some things are wrong. In this sense, schools can also become centers of freedom.

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Unarguably, a child is not some kind of a product that a craftsman fashions out of an assembly line. Schools must be places where they see the greater meaning of life. If a child feels that he or she must obey the teacher because of the latter’s authority, then that child loses the critical part of education, which is not only about possessing a curious mind but, more so, about learning why it matters to be able to ask the hard questions in life.

Education is a way out of poverty. But it is not enough to know why Philippine society reflects the chasm between rich and poor. First off, it must be stated that the present status quo is not acceptable. But the poor are not only victims of exploitation and abuse. Their willingness to accept things and to no longer seek change is symptomatic of a culture whose will has been totally dominated by the agenda of the ruling few.

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Knowing what sort of objectives our society must pursue is not the problem. What is happening is that we are giving our children mirror-images of the truth. They see an ideal of the good life when schools present to them certain models that they should be able to imitate. For instance, commencement exercises in schools highlight a success story by inviting someone to speak before graduating students. This person’s diskarte becomes some form of a standard on which our children can begin to technically pattern their lives. However, this age-old way of doing things masks the reality that each student is unique in his or her own way. It fails to recognize the fact that people live in different circumstances and face far more difficult challenges, both culturally and politically.

So, instead of highlighting some sort of a deified model of an achiever, why not demystify things by emphasizing that achieving the good life is not really about individual achievement but a collective effort on the part of all? For example, most of us judge the incompetence of this administration on the basis of various unmet expectations. But what we have failed to understand is how and why as a collective body we have those unrealized expectations in the first place.

Apparently, the fact that some children go to school hungry means that millions are deprived of their just entitlements. Just the same, those who are in positions of authority say that as citizens, both the rich and the poor have to perform a role in nation-building. In this sense, they argue that it is not enough for the poor to complain about those things of which they have been deprived. The poor are told that they also have a stake in their own lives and, thus, should act more responsibly and begin to feel accountable about their situation. But is this not another way of deceiving people? Does it not suggest that accepting things for what they are is some sort of a requirement under the guise of the mantra that people, including the poor, should also make sacrifices?

These questions need a clear answer. For instance, are our leaders really committed to improving the kind of learning that our children receive in school, or have our schools been all about finding that common fit between the demands of a global economy and the types of graduates that they produce? Perhaps, what is morally objectionable in our education system is that it is sometimes discriminatory in creating two types of learners: those academically inclined and those not. The academically inclined is touted as one who would become an achiever someday, is seen as a potential doctor, engineer or lawyer. The nonacademic is judged as a nonachiever who would be confined to jobs like dressmaking or carpentry. Again, skill or technique is emphasized. But does it not make Filipinos mere industrial tools who will supply the need for overseas contract workers, relegated to becoming another cog in the machine?

Our children are instructed that good citizenship means the fulfillment of our moral obligations to society. This remains the moral aim of education. But the emphasis on the technical is cause for alarm. I hope we are not establishing a type of “disciplinary society” where we hide from our children the pernicious forms of control and domination. We cannot and must not manufacture the future of our children like some expendable good.

Christopher Ryan Maboloc teaches philosophy at Ateneo de Davao University. He holds a master’s degree in applied ethics from Linkoping University in Sweden.

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