MOTHER LANGUAGE EDUCATION AND SOCIAL JUSTICE
By Dr. Aurelio Solver Agcaoili
As of this writing, and based on an email I received from Ched Arzadon, one of the key proponents of Mother Language Education—or MLE—in the Philippines, the Provincial Board of Ilocos Norte has approved the first moves to reconsider the merits of MLE in the province’s public schools.
While we have yet to find out where this insight-filled action of the political leaders of Ilocos Norte will lead us, we can now say with certainly that many people are now beginning to sit up and revisit one more time the pedagogical effects of a monolingual form of education the Philippines is following, a monolingual form that sometimes passes itself off as bilingual, with the latter concept borrowed wrongly from the United States.
There are enemies of the MLE, and a number of those are people who do not understand the merits of cultural and linguistic diversity even if in all honesty they are honest about the need to protect the diversity of the flora and fauna of the Philippines.
Translated in simple terms, this schizophrenic attitude of many people of the Philippines simply tells us of the incapacity of their minds to understand that the chasm between their understanding of the need for biodiversity and their understanding of cultural diversity is not a healthy mental disposition.
The reason is simple: one’s real commitment to the preservation of the tarsier monkey in Bohol should have the same intensity as the commitment to the preservation of the various languages and cultures of the country. For while the preservation of all kinds of flora and fauna is important for our ecological health, it is also equally important to make it certain that the various cultures and languages of the country are preserved, maintained, promoted, and perpetuated for all generations.
For languages contain in them our forms of knowledge of self, others, and the world, forms of knowledge that took generations to produce, solidify, crystallize, and systematize, forms of knowledge that forever will give us the clue and cue to how human life has been lived, how is it being lived, and how should it be lived in accord with other forms of life.
In short, when we lose a language, we lose our sense of self, we lose our sense of others, and we lose our sense of the world.
The problem with Philippine education since the colonial times is that it has been an instrument of the continuing production and reproduction of the same vicious cycle of ignorance for the least advantaged, and opportunistic knowledge for the most advantaged.
There is nothing more sinister in Philippine education than to witness that those who come out of Philippines schools and colleges are the vary agents of systematic cultural denigration against their own languages and cultures.
We thus have many Ilokanos who are ignorant of their Ilokano language and culture because the appreciation of their very own language and culture has never been part and parcel of the definition of a ‘good education’ in the Philippines.
We thus have many Ilokanos who hate their Ilokano language and culture—and many of them are the teachers who should know better—because they have been conditioned to believe that the Ilokano language is ‘provincial’, ‘parochial’, and ‘regional’ and is not up to par with the standards from the center of power and commerce and hegemonic education, standards that are essentially Manila-oriented.
We combine these bad habits of the mind—this ignorance and cultural denigration—and we have a social bomb ever ready to be detonated in order to erase forever the traces of ‘Ilokanoness’ in the minds of the Ilokano people.
The trick in Philippine education is that this rendering of the people of the country as imbued with ignorance and equipped with that ability to denigrate his or her own culture and language has been a systematic and systemic project, what with the ruse that a student needs to learn only about himself or herself, about others, and about the world through the national language, Tagalog, now rendered P/Filipino, and nothing else. Okey, there is that token teaching of English as an international language, which many, for reasons that are obvious, are unable to master.
Thus, with Tagalog as the national language as foreign as English to those coming from other non-Tagalog areas, we have two strange languages mediating the act of equipping students of the Philippines with the necessarily life skills in two languages that are never theirs in the first place.
If we are to believe in the government census data for the last ten years that only about one-fourth of the population of the Philippines are native speakers of Tagalog, the numbers will give us an ugly, inconvenient truth: that most of our students do not learn the life skills because these are not mediated by—and taught in—their own language.
This whole brew of abracadabra in Philippine education, Tagalog-language mediated-style, has given rise to millions of students who cannot solve problems in mathematics, who cannot understand the basic concepts of science, and who cannot speak about themselves, their communities, and the world through their own language.
We have with us right now generations of ill-equipped students and young people unable to appreciate who they are and unable to articulate what citizenship is all except to imagine that the real life is out there in Singapore or Hong Kong or the Middle East where they can earn dollars by eking out a life even in the most dire of circumstances, including the possibility of being held hostage by Somali pirates for months, as in the case of more 120 seamen being held hostage by these pirates.
The logic of the ruse is this: we are forming students from Aparri to Zamboanga so they can be useful to Manila by way of their ability to speak Tagalog.
We are forming students and occupying their minds so they can be useful to companies and employers who speak English.
Either way, we are the loser. Either way, we call this phenomenon socially unjust.
For to make students speak and see and understand the world through other languages other than their own is one of the most fundamental abominable act we can inflict upon educands.
For to make a people speak a language or two at the expense of their own language is not only socially unjust but is fundamentally a contradiction to the very notion of education.
Education, by its nature, is cultivation—is rooted in ‘educare’—to cultivate. It is the cultivation of the mind so that the mind that is cultivated will get to see more expansively, more comprehensively, more freely.
But when the manner of cultivation is one in which it is done against the very tenets of ‘educare’, education is not education but miseducation.
And every act of miseducation is socially unjust.
With MLE—with the return of the mother language of the students in the classroom side by side with other languages—Philippine education will finally get to have the chance to redeem itself from its history of hell and non-sense, contradiction and social injustice, miseducation and lack of freedom.
The movement to bring back Ilokano and other major languages of the Philippines into the classroom is not going to be a walk in the park, for sure.
We expect a counter-movement, illogical as the one presently being waged by those receiving undue entitlements and privileges from the unjust and exclusivist Tagalog-English framework of Philippine education.
But there is no greater resistance than those waged by the oppressed, than those who have been marginalized and peripheralized, their resistance fundamentally one of claiming and reclaiming of their sense of self, a sense of self that can only be mediated by their commitment to make their languages and cultures alive.
For true education is always this: education to life. For true education is always this: education to justice and linguistic democracy.
Published, Observer, May 2009
May and Memory-Making
There is so much in the making of memories and in the telling of truth in relation to that moral act of memory.
For one, our stories, the ones that live for all time, are grounded on that capacity of memory to keep those that matter to us as peoples, as communities, as narrators.
They say that we are all stories and that if we are not stories, we are nothing.
And in this May of our recession-filled lives, there is nothing grander, there is nothing more sublime, there is nothing more redeeming than our ethical engagement with truth-telling and memory-making in that delicate dance we call ‘story-making’.
For the Filipino community in Hawai’i—and by extension, in the diaspora—the month of May is a riot of fiestas and flower offerings for the many religious rituals that give reason for the diasporic communities to gather and re-gather in celebration and collective reminiscing of the homeland.
In more ways than one, the religious, such as the Flores de Mayo festival, comes as an excuse to gather and gawk at the spectacle of ternos and tiaras that both glitter in the sun and give some measure of success for the wearers.
The month of May becomes an occasion of prayer, too, what with the santos going around as was done in the Philippines in the past when diaspora was not yet in the lexicon of everyday life of Filipinos and when leaving the homeland, whether forced or voluntary, was some form of punishment as it was also a form of banishment to the strange and the unfamiliar, to the alienating and the foreign, and to that relentless rite of rooting an re-rooting in a land not your own.
While we admit that the fiestas that we stage in our diasporic communities are sometimes far better in administration and management than the ones we have back in the homeland—and far better sometimes in terms of its popular cultural appeal, what with popular singers and popular television personalities coming to entertain and thus, coming to enthrall and make us forget in many ways the tragedy of everyday life in the home country and in the adoptive land—these fiestas need rethinking as they should be.
For unless they tell us of our duty to truth-telling particularly of that broad story of why many peoples of the Philippine have left the homeland to eke it our in other places, these fiestas will fall flat in the general scheme of things, and will end up as empty exercise of a stage show whose meaning lasts only while the spectacle lasts.
For unless these myriad of activities that highlight Philippine popular culture become themselves instruments of consciousness that make us see and hear and feel and sense and touch critically of what we need to understand about our life as a collective, in the Philippines and in the diaspora, what we do will simply turn out to be one of those endless spectacles that will leave us empty-handed in the end.
Because what we need really are cultural instruments and programs that make us remember our responsibility to tell the truth of our being members of the collective in light of our engaging and rich diversity, in light of our need to preserve the memory that will make us celebrate both our sameness and our difference—and in Hawai’i and in the diaspora, our triumphs against all odds, with both triumphs and odds equally recognized, remembered, named.
For truth-telling ought to be part of our commitment to our collective story.
For memory-making ought to make us morally engaged with our history.
Both truth-telling and memory-making are intricate parts of the same act of telling who we are as a people across time.
Published, Observer, May 2009