The trouble with education


Illustration by Rey Rivera

Summer has ended and kids are going back to school again (H1N1willing). For many parents, this is a time of anxiety over the never-ending challenges of educating their children. Consider the continuously rising tuition fees, transportation arrangements, the high cost of books, and the other matters that parents worry about when their kids start going to school.

Every parent in the world dreams of their offspring becoming great someday. I remember my early visions of my own kids on a stage accepting a Nobel Prize. Sigh. I’m still waiting. But who knows, they may still surprise me and become accomplished enough to merit that Nobel, or the Magsaysay Award, or any decent accolade at a later age. I just hope I am still around when it happens.

A great many parents dream of being able to send their children to the best schools they can afford and they sacrifice many comforts and set aside their savings, bonuses, salary raises, etc. to be able to do so.

I spent all my school life at the Ateneo de Manila. I was there from the first day of prep till I got out of college in 1973 to the last strains of the graduation song as we marched out of the gym, out of the school into the proud arms of our parents, and into the world.

Like my father and all of my brothers, I am proud to be an Atenean. And it was my fervent wish that every child of mine would get an Ateneo education as well. My two girls earned their college degrees there. But my son moved out after grade school and spent his high school years in Reedley, a relatively new school.

Every year, the alumni of elite schools like Ateneo, La Salle, UP, UST etc. look at the list of the best schools in the world just to see whether their alma mater has made it to the Top 500, and how it ranks vis-à-vis other local schools, especially their closest rivals. Among Ateneans and LaSallites, there is a perennial rivalry going on. These “jousts” extend to almost every aspect of life from academics to sports to the accomplishments of their alumni in terms of heroism, entertainment and other standards of prominence.

How quickly each school claims anyone who brings glory to it, however fleeting. But not so strangely, the alumni rivalry ends abruptly each time graduates of the two schools are involved in political, economic or social scandals. The rivalry descends to a silence when alumni notoriety is involved.

In my more innocent, naïve days, I used to wonder how anyone who went through the rigors, the grace and blessings of a Jesuit education could turn into a “bad” person. During those simple times, I felt that the religious, moral and intellectual training we went through in school was enough to mold anyone into someone who, at the very least, was capable of doing good, or thriving in any field of endeavor he chooses, or perhaps even becoming “great” someday.

I know parents who put all their bets and hopes on the schools that will “raise” their children. They can name all the good role models and heroes that the school has produced but conveniently forget or gloss over the villains, jerks and other low-life characters who got the same education their sons and daughters are seeking.

And here lies my point. In a book I am reading about education, the author, Rev. Matthew Fox, points out that there is a crisis in education that lies deep and threatens the human race. In an indictment of higher education, he points out that, not surprisingly, the top people responsible for the continuing degradation of the environment all have PhDs. And that people who ran Hitler’s Third Reich, the wars in Vietnam and Iraq and who were instrumental in causing so much destruction to human life were all highly educated in the best schools their societies could offer.

He says that, by and large, education has stopped touching people in a way that inspires them, or brings out their idealism and sustains it throughout their lives. Instead, it has given its graduates pure knowledge but without the wisdom of the ages. Thus, they are able to apply what they learn to systematized corruption, destruction and soul-killing work without any tinge of conscience or a sense of ethics that is developed enough to cry out in horror at what they sow.

In place of wisdom, modern education is becoming more and more just knowledge-based, not unlike a collection of facts and data, pretty much like what we put in our computers. The march to modernity has forgotten the collective wisdom, history, poetry, literature, morality and philosophies of the ages and those of our ancestors.

What is missing is the development of our sense of awe. When our thirst for mystery, imagination and historical connection are not fully developed, we have no grounding of any kind. We lose our interconnectedness to things. We begin to think solely in “compartments.” Thus, the moral dimension becomes alien to all other dimensions, just as all other dimensions become alien to each other.

And so it becomes easy, say, for government technocrats to steal since they do not feel any real connection to the people they are supposed to be serving. Take a look at the language of war as another example, where all dimensions of human activity are reduced to techno-speak. Human lives lost are described as “collateral damage,” and torture has become “enhanced interrogation.”

Albert Einstein reminded us that “imagination is superior to knowledge.” By that he meant that more than the technical aspect of what we learn, the driving force that makes us curious, or stimulates our imagination and gives us a sense of awe will make us more humanly complete.

I am more and more convinced that there is a need for “parallel education” that must happen at home and which parents should not default on, no matter how busy they are. Our children’s sense of compassion, conscience, history and morals must be cultivated by those who love them the most.

But more than all these, I am convinced that the sense of mystery and awe, which makes everything sacred and beautiful, is paramount, even more than political correctness, dogmatic faith and morals.

“I would rather have a mind opened by wonder than one closed by belief,” wrote Gerry Spence. We have seen how, throughout history, beliefs can change. But there will always be something to wonder about, and it is this sense of wonder that has made us human beings soar through time.

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11 years ago

hi just want to share this video on how schools kill creativity:

11 years ago

I read your column in today’s Philippine Star. Your message struck me so much that I immediately went online to forward a copy of your piece to all my former co-teachers and other educators I know. Thanks for writing this.

11 years ago

Nice article Jim, I enjoyed reading it.

Speaking for myself (& assuming I’ve understood you correctly), being too busy to give the parallel education you mention would be a result of working so long & hard to pay for the private education. So I guess for me it’s a catch 22 of one stifling the other. 🙁

But I do subscribe to travel as an eye opener for my kids, & it’s something I can provide for them. My son & I are going to China, Philippines (again hehe) & Hong Kong as his end of high school celebration.

Hopefully next year he’ll be in one of those colleges in Manila you’ve spoken of. 🙂

Thanks for a great article, Jim. 🙂


PsycheD Nurse
11 years ago

I am a Registered Nurse. And many student nurses seem to think of the profession as a mere stepping stone to a life abroad. And it is sad sometimes to think that respect and compassion are not learned in Nursing schools. I am currently working in a mental hospital, and last week a group of female students secretly went at the back of one of the male wards and asked the guys to masturbate in front of them while they take the videos. SOBRA! What they didn’t know is sumbongero yung mga yun. The patients told what happened to the nurses on duty and the girls’ videos were confiscated. I think the school is now banned to affiliate in our hospital.