eK! is electronic Kabalen, a web-exclusive Kapampangan journal of ideas

jason paul c. laxamana
jason paul c laxamana I WOULD like to quote Mark Twain with his statement about the interference of formal education with learning, but it might appear idealistic instead of real.

I have turned into probably every parent's nightmare. "Best Leader" was my title during pre-school graduation, "With Distinction" during elementary graduation, and "Campus Journalist of the Year" during secondary graduation. From BA Psychology in the University of the Philippines Extension Program in Pampanga, I shifted to BA Broadcast Communication in UP Diliman on my second year in college. With my streak of above average achievements in this idealized path called formal education, Ima was probably expecting I would finish college with at least a cum laude title. But with title or not, my parents have often expressed how my mere acquisition of a college degree would make them more or less satisfied and fulfilled members of society.

But the snake in the Christian story of Creation was never killed. He was only banished—by the God who seemed to like obedient, non-critical, and, I would daresay, ignorant children than children who can otherwise make their own decisions in life based not on what was told to them but on what they figure out as logical. I'll tell you where the serpent found shelter: In my room, under my pillow.

At the age of 19 I could have finished college and proceeded directly to work. "Our son, the TV reporter," I can see my parents reciting upon rising early in every morning of their lives. But having been exposed to one Aeta community at Montalban, Rizal—thanks to school's National Service Training Program (NSTP)—and seeing what seemed like a social pattern that I imagined I could apply to every community, and wanting to pursue things that could potentially contribute to the healing of social cancers, I finally had the courage to declare what "normal children" wouldn't even dare to think about. Backed with concepts that widened my sociological imagination, exasperation of the prevalence of trivia in my curriculum, and a clearer view of the world, thanks to the wonders of LASIK surgery, there was no turning back to that social taboo, especially for youngsters.

It's called making a decision, regardless whether society deems it right or wrong, as long as it was I who made it.

Not wanting to repress myself further, I approached Ima (Papa was working abroad as a caregiver) as a college senior and told her: This is what I want to do in life and, unfortunately, formal education does not meet my standards in my chosen path. Thus, I see no better alternative but to pursue independent education in order to meet my objectives.

Right then and there, I felt like Eve. The only difference: I was the type who would summon the Almighty Father just to tell Him, "Hey, I choose to know good and evil, and so I will eat a fruit from this tree you banned."

The school's reaction was no surprise. Like zealous evangelists, schools tend to think they're the right and only way toward Paradise, a.k.a. social mobility. Filing a leave of absence was tricky on the part where I had to fill out that section of the form that asked for the reason of my going on leave. After considering all possible excuses (including my genuine reason), what emerged as the champion was the usual excuse for not attending school: Financial problems. Partnered with a depreciated health due to a case of dengue and typhoid fever that occurred at the same time in the middle of the semester, I was able to take off the shackles of formal education sooner than expected.

My friends' reactions were no surprise as well. As mentioned, what I did then was as sinful as a priest wanting to shatter his vow of celibacy, as a woman wanting to pursue paid labor more than child-rearing and domestic chores, and as a Tausug questioning the appointment of Tagalog as national language and medium of instruction. In an adultist society which idealizes respecting the elders instead of respecting everyone, encourages the honoring of parents instead of honoring anyone honorable regardless of familial relationship, and imagines the youth as empty, virgin-minded inferiors that need to suckle onto the elders' mammary, I must have been out of my wits.

While Ima and Papa's were no surprise, too, it was their reaction that was most difficult to withstand, emotionally, psychologically, and in manners that cover my other aspects of being.

My Ima's motherly words didn't suffice. She told me it was every parent's dream to see their children obtain college degrees, and hence, their unfathomable toiling to pay for our fees. "Imagine what people would say about you and me as a parent!" Ima would cry out. It was at that point I came to believe that education is predominantly a means of acquiring higher status. Sorry for her, I never patronized branded clothes just because they were branded.

Then, "What a lot of poor children would give just to be educated!" Ima would bellow. "How dare you wish to get out of school?" It was at that point I realized I was a fool to believe that schools are portals of learning, of knowing society, of being enlightened. The reality, which I so expressed in an award-winning poetry collection submitted to the Kapampangan category of a government-spearheaded literary contest, is that formal education only aims to produce—through systematic indoctrination—mere proletariats and to preserve (rotten) society as it is. It does not seek to animate concerned citizens who are brilliant enough to balance individualistic pursuits and social responsibility. Such realization heightened my odium for formal schooling.

Then, acknowledging my "cold heart of stone," Ima tried practical logic—something I believe I'm better at—telling me it's the rule of industrial society. Newly graduates face heavy competition in this period when it comes to getting jobs; how would an undergraduate like her son contend? Too bad, I was able to disprove her by getting a one-project job in one of the flicks of a giant film production outfit as a script continuity supervisor.

I also enumerated illustrious names that were not accompanied by college degrees but nonetheless became successful. She countered by saying that those are only a selected few and that I may not be as fortunate as they are. "Look at Sharon Cuneta," she suddenly said. "No matter her success in her career, she still wanted to finish something." I was not moved a bit.

Being a non-fanatic of physical violence (unlike Papa, but was abroad), Ima resorted to that usual blackmail proposed by every parent to tame aggressive youth—disownment of the child, banishment from home, and cutting off of financial provision. I told her directly—and meant it—I know how prostitution works, thanks to a not-required-by-the-teacher project I pursued out of mere curiosity in Quezon City. And if she was serious with her threat, then that would seriously be my temporary resettlement. Providing sexual service is no big deal to me. "Selling the body" is just like "selling the mind," if not less deserving condemnation. "The body is an economic capital," I would tell Ima. "I would be more than willing to exploit it for profit's sake."

So, Ima gave up. After a series of failures, she offered what probably not every parent knows how to give. It's called trust—trust that I know what I'm doing and the possible consequences of my decision.

And that was what I genuinely loved about her. A certain spark of love grew in my heart toward Ima and it's the kind of love not promoted by the Fourth Commandment of God, not promoted by traditional folk songs, and certainly not promoted by adultist indoctrination. It's a love I developed based on my own logic and based on my own interpretation of situations. I'm not doing these things to prove anything to my parents, but appeasing them with the results would come in handy anyway.

Right now, I am still struggling in facing the industrial world unarmed with a college diploma, for which I invented a new riddle in my native tongue: "Papil a saguling mapirat, alulan ing kekang utak" ("A fragile piece of paper that can contain your brain"). The type of education I pursued, i.e., making my own curriculum, knowing what I need to know, going out to see things for myself, making and verifying my own hypotheses, etc., will never be credited. With my socio-cultural work experience increasing month by month, I hope some firms would open their minds eventually: Not all undergrads are incapable, the same way as not all PhD-holding people are geniuses. If they wouldn't open their minds, that'd be an easy one: Be an entrepreneur.

While the government and concerned groups make moves to improve education by fixing classrooms, adding chairs, providing free materials, opening scholarships and other programs, I hope they would also take time to see the internal problems of formal education. Does it bring the best out of the students intellectually and emotionally? Does it cause the preservation of the poor conditions of society or encourage smart social change? Does it fulfill what our national hero dreamed for our country, i.e., the ridding of the indolence of the Filipinos? Or has this country become an industry of walking diplomas?

Pass your papers forward; no late papers will be accepted.

[About the author. Jason Paul C. Laxamana, 20, is currently spearheading the RocKapampangan Project, an album of Kapampangan songs remade by local rock bands to allow Kapampangan to penetrate the consciousness of the urban Kapampangan youth. He is an independent cultural worker seeking to empower Kapampangan by bringing it (and attempt to make it dominant) in pop culture. He operates an English-Kapampangan blogzine "The Prodigal Kamaru" at http://kamaru.blogspot.com, and a blog for his Kapampangan literary works "Kulang King Yumu" at http://sisigman.blogspot.com.]

-Posted: 1:18 AM 1/21/08 | More of this author on eK!