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The Plague of Our Contemporary Times

By: Christopher Ryan Maboloc

ONE OF the most enduring insights from the American philosopher John Dewey is that both the traditional and progressive methods of learning will not actually work. First, the curriculum-based approach will simply reduce children to obedient, docile individuals. In this traditional method, the children have no input whatsoever to their own personal development as learners. Second, the progressive approach unnecessarily thrusts children into an unreachable ideal. The learners are forced to perform mature acts that are beyond their personal capacities.

Dewey theorized that education should be the interaction between the learner and his or her experiences. He thought continuity and interaction are the two fundamental principles that link the learner’s past, present and future experiences.

“Education,” he said, “is not a preparation for life, but it is life itself.”

Dewey had been and will remain influential. For him, education is not just the acquisition of a set of skills. Education is in fact crucial in democratic and women empowerment. He believed that social change and democratic reform form part of the aims of modern education. Learning must be experiential. It should consider the child’s interest and curricular content. Schools in this regard have the moral obligation to prepare the young for ethical participation in society. The pragmatic approach to education tells us that the development of the individual is inseparable from human experience. Children must think for themselves in order to develop their capabilities as active citizens of the state.

But Dewey’s philosophy of education faces a stumbling block as far as the Philippines is concerned. Let me elaborate: The Philippine education system prepares the learner to possess the skills that will make him or her a productive member of society. Pragmatically, the introduction of curricula is linked to the production of socially favorable outcomes. Learning is tied to the idea of material progress. In this sense, education as the freedom of humans, while not interpreted in an abstract way, is valued on the basis of its ability to enable the Filipino child to escape the poverty trap later in life. Knowledge has become that indispensable instrument in improving the standard of living of people. Our schools are expected to produce citizens who are fully conscious of their duties and responsibilities as citizens.

However, what is problematic is that our leaders have failed to bring about an environment that promotes authentic democracy. Elitism, and therefore structural injustice, still dominates our education system. And an elitist educational culture actually deprives our children of the real purpose of learning. The emphasis on competition rather than cooperation reinforces the elitist frame of mind, which tends to rationalize everything in order to produce and deify an intelligent biped, but one who is morally insensitive to the social aims of learning.

According to another American philosopher, Richard Rorty, Western societies have created that individual whose mind is floating in the universe of ideas but is wanting in terms of moral sensitivity for his or her fellow human beings. As a developing nation, we have lofty goals in terms of our expectations for generational change. But we have not moved an inch in terms of the maturity of our democracy and in making human progress truly inclusive.

The dictum “Know thyself” means that education, as the perfection of the human soul, is concerned with the development of human virtue. The most common complaint is that many of our corrupt leaders studied in the country’s private Catholic schools. It is a valid observation. But it is not a question of whether they did receive the right training or not. Beyond the emptiness that a school’s vision and mission promulgate, the problem really is the obvious lack of fit between the goal of creating a democratic society and the kind of elitist values that our leaders hold.

Education is a public interest. The future of our country and its people depends on it. Many of our young students have been taught to become socially and politically aware. But the problem is that most of our schools cannot be the barometer for human development. They have been transformed into centers of social exclusion. Inevitably, the brightest students that they are training will take over the helm of the corporate world and, as a result, repression and the cycle of social inequality will remain unchecked.

Structural injustice, which the commodification of education exacerbates, is the plague of our contemporary times. While it is wrong to demonize the aspect of personal achievement in human learning, educational reform should rise above it. From a moral end, education is meant to create a just society. It must not be allowed to deteriorate into another tool of the privileged few that perpetuates the oppressive political and economic structures in the country.

Christopher Ryan Maboloc is assistant professor of philosophy at Ateneo de Davao University. He has a master’s degree in applied ethics from Linkoping University in Sweden.


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