Sunday, June 17, 2007

Letting go...

I sent over a hundred books from my library with Fr. Alejo yesterday. The books will find a home at the Mindanawon Initiatives for Cultural Dialogue at Ateneo de Davao. I told him about my ambivalence about sending these mostly Eurocentric and US-centered texts to the Philippines but he reassured me that there will be proper critical translation as they are used.

These books are my children...I waited to let them go until I found a loving home for them. I didn't want to donate them to one of the many "books for the barrios"-like projects that dumps books in classrooms beneath the suspicion of cultural imperialism. I wanted to make sure my children are wanted...and Fr. Alejo wants them.

In our discussion about the state of education in the Philippines and as part of his input at the Kapwa conference, he pointed out that education in the Philippines, as an instrument of upward class mobility, contributes to the widening divide between the educated elite and the less-educated masses. He laments the lack of critical thinking (education for critical consciousness) among those who have the power to create and implement an enlightened educational policy.

Public schools in the Philippines languish and fail to adequately educate students due to the lack of resources -- not enough classrooms, chalk, textbooks, and good teachers. Add on top of this the renewed mandate to restore English as the medium of instruction because "Filipinos no longer speak English as well as they used to."

As a Filipino poet, Fr Alejo still believes in the importance of multilingualism among Filipinos. It is not enough to privilege English just because it is perceived as the tool for upward mobility in the global marketplace. I passed on my books on linguistic imperialism and bilingual education to him, hoping that readers would understand the scientific basis of how to maintain bilingual competency and the privileging of the Filipino language as being equally capable as English in expressing abstract concepts, philosophies, and other complex thoughts.

My thoughts often turn to what it might be like to be a child in a fifth grade classroom today. What is the curriculum like? What language will I be thinking in? What future vision will my young mind be conditioned by? Perhaps the seeds of desire to become a Japayuki, or a caregiver abroad? To become a call center worker? Or a teacher or a nurse abroad? To be a movie star perhaps?

Such commodification of educational aspirations begs for critique. What is the place of patriotism here? Love of country? Love of cultural heritage?

Once, while in Davao, a high school History teacher asked the class which colonizer they liked the best: Spain, US, or Japan? Aarrgghhh! And over at the elementary school library students were checking out Disney books. When we asked the librarian whether the children also get to borrow Filipino books, she said that the Disney books are ubiquituous - a non-answer really. No wonder, Fr Alejo thinks that the Philippines can learn a lot from the multicultural education movement in the U.S.

Maybe my children will be useful towards that end...in that one remote corner of Davao.

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