Thursday, March 25, 2004

MARCH 25, 2004 (THURSDAY)

metamorphosis
You're Metamorphosis of Narcissus!

You're bright, philosophical and creative, but you
don't always get the attention you deserve.


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Cut-and-Paste

Taking a break from my exhaustive paper for English 146, I happened to open my email and this is one of things that came in from one of my egroups. Rita, who always supplies us with our daily dose of wisdom, got this from INQ7.net. It's one of those things you just have to agree with -- particularly for those who are already graduating, ot facing the impending doom of the real world.

Moral Dilemmas
Conrado de Quiros
25 March 2004


IT'S like the two EDSA People Power uprisings. Each time they come, we undergo a ritual of lamenting the extent of their failing to live up to their promise. It's true, they haven't. Graduation offers a similar ritual. Each time it comes, at about this time of year, we undergo the ritual of lamenting the extent to which the graduates will fail to live up to their promise. That promise being able to find a job within the near, or even distant, future.

The air is filled with the same lament these days, helped in no small way by the topnotcher of the board exams for medicine, Elmer Jacinto, declaring his intention to work as a caregiver in New York. He has already bagged a contract there, and will be off soon. Several editorials in print and on air have pointed out how many graduates are not likely to be able to work after graduation, given the current rate of joblessness, a rate that is worse this year than last year, and will be probably be worse next year than this year. With the peso plunging to record lows, and probably going into free fall after the elections, and with many industries closing down from the brunt of globalization, the bulk of graduates may have to set their sights abroad to show something for their pains.


The premise of this, of course, is that people study to be able to work. It is that the purpose of education is to find a job and live a reasonably secure, if not comfortable, life.

I am not totally unsympathetic to the idea. Having come from a poor family myself and subsisted on scholarships, I am aware of the pressures that go with schooling. Parents do expect their kids to be able to get a good job after graduation to help them in their obligations. I am lucky in that we were only three kids, and my elder brother subsisted on scholarships as well. My father died early, when I was in second-year high school. So there was only our mother to take care of.

I recall, however, that the other scholars in the dorm where I boarded felt the pressure far more than I. They had bigger families and having gotten farther ahead than their siblings, they were expected to be their families' steppingstone to a better life. The dazzling irony is that it was this same group that would take to activism as fish to water, to the monumental chagrin, or wrath, of their parents, who felt betrayed. Even more monumentally because some of them died or were jailed after Ferdinand Marcos proclaimed martial law. But that's another story, one full of tragedy and heroism.

I am not entirely unsympathetic to Jacinto, even if the course he has taken is one I would not encourage others to take, or indeed one I would criticize bitterly. You have people depending on you, who continue to live in a place where kids routinely hear bursts of gunfire from their classrooms along with the stream of wisdom from their teachers, you would also think twice before making blithe decisions. Great if you can take the path of heroism and self-sacrifice, but it is at least understandable if you can't.

But having said all this, I don't know that we aren't doing ourselves a monumental disservice -- or harm -- by having a resolutely utilitarian concept of education: We teach in order to produce workers. Or from the perspective of the student: I learn in order to work. Indeed, not just a utilitarian concept of education but a narrow utilitarian one: We teach in order to produce people who will find employment. Or from the perspective of the student: I learn in order to be hired.

The entire thrust of our education is already veering in that direction. Students are being taught only skills that are likely to enable them to land a job somewhere. Preferably elsewhere: That is how English is being taught -- not as a language you can read great literature with or gain much wisdom from but as a language with which to communicate with your foreign boss and gain advantage over the nationals of other countries who are competing with you for the boss' favor. I know that is an option in life, but that is not the only option there is. And I don't know that reducing education only to that option isn't infusing servility into the deepest parts of our national soul. I don't know that it is making us believe that we are beggars and beggars cannot be choosers.

Other Asian countries do not think that way. Of course, they also aim to produce highly skilled professionals for their own work force or the global market, but they do not limit education to that. They also aim to produce people with enterprise and initiative and imagination. The joke goes that a Filipino graduate will ask a fellow graduate when they meet, "What job have you found?" while a Chinese-Filipino graduate will ask a fellow graduate when they meet, "What company have you formed?" It is not a joke at all. That is true in many parts of Southeast Asia. Students do not study just so they can work for a boss, local or foreign. They study so they can be their own bosses.

And even that, from where I stand, remains a limited, if not wasteful, view of education. Maybe it's my activist background, but though I have felt enormous pressure to think that way, being a proletarian, or one who owns no property but lives solely by his wits, I have not succumbed to it. I confess I have been tempted mightily many times, not least by frustration over our collective capacity to make a mess of this country, but I have not succumbed to it. To this day, my attitude is that I work to learn, not I learn to work. Life is too precious to be harnessed to making money, or gaining material abundance. You can always live simply instead of giving in to consumerism, and gain abundance in other, better, ways.

Its virtue is that you never really stop learning. Learning is the end, not the means. To this day, I still am.

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