HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated December 06, 2009 12:00 AM
This year, my alma mater, Ateneo de Manila University celebrates its 150th year as an educational institution. There will be a lot of celebrations — some have already started — to highlight the greatness of this paragon of education and formation that has affected in many great ways, the trajectory of our nation’s life.
When I was growing up, there was an aura bestowed upon those who were lucky enough to study at the Ateneo. It was a special privilege to be studying there. It was among the best — and if you ask any Atenean, they will say it is the best — school there is. Its academics, sports and spiritual formation have been the envy of many schools.
Actually, not much has changed regarding Ateneo’s reputation. It is still a great school, and Ateneans still feel that it is the pinnacle of educational institutions in the country. There is no shortage of parents who would move mountains to make sure their children get an Ateneo education.
To be sure, there are many good schools in the Philippines, and all of them can claim that their graduates have played big roles in our national life. Yet, despite the fine traditions and reputations of these great schools — the Ateneo included — in inculcating values and skills among their alumni, and the long list of their graduates who have done well not just for themselves but also by their fellowmen, it is obvious that all these school also carry the shame of having among its alumni the rogues who have not only scandalized the Filipino’s sense of values but may have also inflicted heavy damage on our political, economic and social institutions.
It must make their teachers, spiritual advisers, guidance counselors shudder when they see their former students occupying prominent places in the national gallery of ill repute. I can imagine how bad some of them must feel, having given (at least in the Ateneo I knew) so much time and effort, patience and perseverance to teaching these rogues their A-B-Cs and 1-2-3s as well as the religious, civic and social values that were supposed to shape them into decent, ethical and exemplary grownups.
I remember my early catechism classes where we heard the story of the fallen angels led by Lucifer who were privileged to be among God’s inner circle of goodness but turned away when they chose the path of evil. I think of classmates and other people I know who got the best formative education that money could buy, and yet have turned their backs on the values that were taught them, choosing instead the ways of corruption and destructive self-gratification at the expense of the society they live in. Maybe they never really bought into the values their schools imparted in the first place. Perhaps, to them, these were merely subjects they had to pass in order to graduate.
More and more, it is becoming clear that education at a great school alone is no guarantee that one will grow up upright. I believe that upbringing and parenting have a greater impact on a person than any school can ever have. More than going to prestigious school, it must impact more on a person if he was loved or neglected, cared for or ignored, treated decently as a person or abused verbally or physically. Anyone who was never loved properly in early childhood or whose self-esteem was damaged, whose sense of self was distorted greatly, or was not trained at home to delay gratification, will find alien many of the values of respect, decency, the common good, sacrifice and virtue, since he did not experience them at the time that he was most teachable.
That’s why I sometimes get appalled at how parents practically surrender the rearing of their kids to teachers and educational institutions. They like to believe that their contributions are largely financial and it is the school’s duty to take care of how their kids develop as persons. Often, parents excuse themselves saying they are doing enough — working so hard to feed, clothe and pay for their children’s education. Perhaps such parents experienced the same treatment while they were growing up and they are merely passing it on.
It is parents who must inculcate in children the primal sense of right and wrong. The school merely strengthens, encourages and clarifies their budding consciences. I think of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s childhood in Malacañang and imagine that her sense of decency, morality and the guiding values of her life must have been shaped by her politician parents who occupied the palace for a while. Was she ignored or abandoned? What did she pick up from her parents as she listened to their discussions about the use of power? Did she acquire a sense of entitlement growing up in Malacañang? What decent, adult or moral behavior was mirrored to her?
What about warlords like the Ampatuans? What kind of childhood did they have? Were they not taught to love or even just respect their fellowmen? Do they not feel any human, compassionate connection to the rest of humanity that they have been tasked to serve? What makes a person so obsessed with power and money that he or she can abandon any sense of decency and pursue power to the limit, regardless of who lives or dies in the process?
I am aware that many of our officials who are perceived as corrupt, murderers and cheats went to the best schools, and yet, there seems to be no trace of any of the school values in their style of governance and conduct. What gives the school away is the brilliance and adeptness at legal but crooked reasoning, good English skills, oratorical savvy, double speak, and the power to influence and outsmart their fellowmen.
It seems that all the spiritual formation — retreats, recollections, theology subjects — is no antidote to the poor character training I suspect they got at home.
To be sure, no one is perfect. And we do abandon some of the values we grew up with as we experience life and acquire new ones. But for the most part, we never forget much of what is basically wrong or right. We know when we are good. M. Scott Peck describes sin as the militant denial of the light. We are only able to do things against our values by denying the inner voice that whispers and tells us we are wrong.
Perhaps that urge to look back and in the process return to the fold of one’s values is one of the things an alumni homecoming is good for.
In these cynical times when our leaders seem to gloat at how they can literally get away with mass murder and deception, and plot against their own people just to hold on to power, seeing old mentors, classmates, counselors and recalling the innocent, idealistic days of youth remind us of the way we were, and how differently things have turned out for our country if we had stayed that way.
And hopefully, we can finally make things the way they should be by doing the right things as we were taught by our parents and our teachers a lifetime ago.