The gift of learning

By Jason A. Baguia |October 09,2018 - 09:37 PM


After drawing flak from school administrators, students, and filmmakers, Oscar Albayalde, the good director of the Philippine National Police moderated on Monday, October 8 his lament against student activism. Law enforcers have nothing against it, he said, provided it does not transmogrify into armed resistance to the government.

While the clarification is appreciated, it does not expunge the opinion — fashionable among government supporters — that the country’s top cop had summarized in statements on Thursday, October 4.

“These youth are given education by no less than the government, right?” Albayalde had said. “In state universities, you are given free education by the government and yet, even when you have yet to graduate, you are already going against the government that gives you free education.”

Granting that these statements were not sweeping rhetoric against all forms of student activism, they fail for want of reason as arguments against politically-motivated violence.

Armed struggles should be condemned as needed not because those dissenters who resort to warfare in spite of having received state-sponsored education are ingrates but because violence for reasons apart from legitimate self-defense is immoral.

I hope that the moral argument was left unused only due to some confusion and not because a strain of will to power among our law enforcers condones the illegitimate use of force in furtherance of peace and order, making them unfit advocates of nonviolent activism.

Albayalde’s remarks, made on the eve of World Teachers’ Day and left unclarified for four days only lent a veneer of authority to popular misconceptions about the nature and implications of education, free (as so-called) or otherwise. These wrong notions need to be addressed.

Any serious learner, whether student or teacher realizes that learning is an unending process of discovery that tends to dismantle even as it builds.

Data wither in the face of new findings. Novel hypothesis may be prologues for highlighting nuances to, if not for overturning fresh conclusions.

Principles prove timeless only when sufficiently adaptable and applicable to the exigencies of different periods. In relation to the government, therefore, education cannot settle for being only a stabilizing principle, a mere soft power counterpart to police and military might for officials to marshal.

Of education may be said what G.K. Chesterton once said of imagination. It serves “not to make strange things settled so much as to make settled things strange.” The poorly schooled take for granted flawed governance. The smallest flaws will bother and be interrogated and protested by the genuinely learned. Their quest for and design of solutions to questionable ineptness will — as it should — be found destabilizing by those who have made misgovernance customary.

Free education, in subtle contrast to Albayalde’s phrasing is not the government’s largesse to Filipino students. Long have I argued that “free education” is a misnomer that obscures the people who defray its costs and their role in making it possible. Parents are often portrayed on screen counseling their children to study hard. “Education is the only gift I can bequeath to you that no one can take away,” parents would say. We thank our teachers because they enable us to experience our parents’ gift.

We owe a debt of gratitude not to the government but to our fathers, mothers, teachers, guardians, relatives, and friends who stand in the background, enabling us to do the pen. They, not the government, live and work to make our education seemingly free.

People, inasmuch as they govern are no more than stewards who should spend wisely the education budget that citizens entrusted to them. The government owes citizens — families, teachers, and students, working or otherwise (whose toil represented in tax money feeds the national treasury) — education that should be the state’s top budgetary priority as the Constitution stipulates.

Since citizens shoulder the expenses of the service that is education, the only thing they owe the government, as its patron and client, is performance evaluation. Instead of entertaining the illusion that by facilitating education, they leave students indebted to the government, public servants should be ever ready to be audited by and to make themselves accountable to citizens — students included — who are their employers.
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In J.K. Rowling’s legendarium, Bill Weasley explained to Harry Potter the fierce sense of ownership among goblins. “To a goblin, the rightful and true master of any object is the maker, not the purchaser,” he said. “All goblin made objects are, in goblin eyes, rightfully theirs.”

Students, teachers, and the publics of their outreach, as persons who synthesize and apply knowledge are its rightful and true master, not the government functionaries who secure the space for and commission their expertise.

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