Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The Meaning of Illiteracy and Our Cultural Illiteracy (And Its Demise is an Imperative in our Homeland)

"Television is altering the meaning of "being informed" by creating a species of information that might properly be called disinformation... Disinformation does not mean false information. It means misleading information - misplaced, irrelevant, fragmented or superficial information - information that creates the illusion of knowing something, but which in fact leads one away from knowing."- Neil Postman

“On the EDUCATION of the people of this country the fate of the country depends.” - Benjamin Disraeli, 1804-1881, British Statesman, Prime Minister


Hi All,

The post-martial law generations of native Filipinos are now showing the adverse effects of WB/IMF/WTO tinkering of the Philippine educational system which efficiently discouraged or de-emphasized the study of the social sciences, i.e. Humanities/History. 

Add the negative effects of the dominant pop/American culture facilitated and reinforced via globalized media and the internet. In the long run, all these machinations to subtly and continually destroy/negate Filipino nationalism to attain the intended purpose of total covert domination of our homeland and unwary, uninformed and miseducated native people.  

See also :http://thefilipinomind.blogspot.com/2005/05/deterioration-of-public-school-system.html

- Bert

UPDATE 5/05/2014:  My recent 3-month sojourn in our homeland reconfirms/validates my feelings and thoughts about our homeland and fellow native Filipinos. 

My stay at Pangil, Laguna the birth town of my parents and siblings gave me an ambivalent feeling of happiness and sadness: the joy at seeing close relatives, lifelong friends and meeting a few new ones; and the sorrowful anger, at the much deteriorated and still constantly worsening/regressing state-of-life for those "left behind."

Our fellow native majority who are caught in the vicious circle or cage of: poverty-ignorance/illiteracy-medieval religion-patronage politics-untimely economic globalization/privatization-overpowering foreign influence-exploitation-ad nauseam.

All these in "living color" witnessed from that small, rural municipality rated as economic Class 5 of 6, a microcosm of our national society. To live in such a milieu is to fall into and reinforce obscurantism, impoverishment/hunger, and inability to obtain or practice real political democracy as such depends on economic democracy and literate minds. 


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-Paul Harrison is a freelance writer and consultant on population, environment and development, based in London. He holds masters degrees from Cambridge University (in European literature languages) and from the London School of Economics (in sociology), and a Ph.D. in environmental science from Cambridge University.


NOTE: Usually for literacy to equal a better job, it has to be fluent literacy, accompanied by well-developed writing skills, mathematics, and general knowledge far beyond what is normally acquired in a basic adult literacy class. Secondly, literacy does not necessarily equate wealth.

What literacy can mean for both the individual and society at large is betterment of people's lives—enhanced self-esteem, ability to read instructions on medications and civic documents, ability to learn new things which will help them to expand their knowledge, ability to cope with the majority society, etc.

Literacy provides people with the option of becoming members of a self-confident and informed populace that can understand issues, represent themselves, take responsibility for self-improvement and family health, and better participate in civic affairs. These are among the more priceless payoffs of literacy. - SIL International


Illiteracy is not only a disqualification from better-paid employment in offices or factories. It is not only cultural deprivation, an exclusion from national life. It is also a political fact, a handicap for disadvantaged individuals and groups in the Third World.

To be illiterate is to be helpless in a modern state run by way of complex laws and regulations. The man who can not read or write is at the mercy of those who can. He is totally dependent on the sometimes questionable honesty and competence of lawyers and officials. He can not read signs or official announcements.

If he wants a job, he can't look at the classified ads, he has to go round on foot and hope he will stumble across something. If he is a farmer he has to rely on other people to tell him new seeds are available. He knows little of his rights, and even less so about how to assert them. He is a sitting duck for exploitation and fraud. He may be able to count his small change --but he can be cheated out of his inheritance.

Illiteracy is a personal tragedy, and a powerful force in preserving inequalities and oppressions. Its extent in the modern world is one measure of the ground Third World education still has to cover. Illiteracy, like other forms of educational disadvantage, weighs heaviest on the groups who are already disadvantaged in other ways.

In all this, illiteracy is simply the most acute expression of a more general deprivation: the lack of education among the poor, either of an academic kind that would give them equal opportunities in the employment race, or of a practical kind that would enable them to improve their land or workshops. 

Education is not only the key to personal enrichment. In the Third World context, it should be the central mechanism by which entire villages, towns and urban communities learn to develop themselves, their productive potential and their resources.

“According to this conception, the sole function of EDUCATION was to open the way to thinking and knowing, and the school, as the outstanding organ for the people's EDUCATION, must serve that end exclusively.” - Albert Einstein, 1879-1955, German-born American Physicist


Cultural Illiteracy

During the first week of classes, I decided to give a General Knowledge Test to three sections of my English 25 classes (The Research Paper). Although the test was not designed to be an empirical research to determine the students’ level of cultural literacy, I had been prompted to administer it when I read an article by a college teacher who, after years of teaching, suddenly realized when he gave such a test that he was culturally alienated from his students. He had reasons to be frustrated by his students’ diminishing grasp of classical ideas. 

Although I was earnest in giving the 80-item test, I ended up more amused than frustrated with my students’ answers. Given certain cultural artifacts, each students was asked to “say a few words” about them. Here are some of their answers.

PEOPLE. Adolf Hitler is a brave man in Russia. Crisostomo Ibarra was the husband of Gabriela Silang. David Hibbard donated Hibbard Hall. The Palanca Awards is a reward given for best actors or actresses in U.S. Claro M. Recto is the husband of Vilma Santos. Barbara Streisand wrote hundreds of novels. Albert Einstein discovered the lightning rod. Abu Sayyaf is a communist. Karl Marx was the leader in China. Jose Ma. Sison is the host in Kapag May Katarungan, Ipaglaban Mo. Michelangelo is one of the Ninja Turtles. Charles Darwin contributed some theories in Chemistry. Nick Joaquin is a foreign actor. Vincent van Gogh was a musician during classical times. Isaac Newton was the first man who say atom is round and spherical. Manoling Morato is an actor. Mozart is a scientist who studies Chemistry. Sigmund Freud, on the other hand, was a great composer. Edilberto Tiempo is the owner of Tiempo (Tempo?) Magazine. Margarita Go Sinco-Holmes is the wife of Rolito Go.

GEOGRAPHY. The Philippines is composed of 750 islands. Mayon Volcano can be found in the National Capital Region. About half of the students thought that Basilan island is in Luzon. The capital of Malaysia is Myanmar. Palawan is the biggest island in the Philippines. Nile River is in China; Leningrad is in Germany; Bogota is in Belgium; Rome is in Greece; and Paris is in England.And so on and so forth. The list of quiz bowl errors is rather long. I don’t know how to transform the result into a statistical index showing the deterioration of student knowledge

But even if one considers the thread that links history to abstract concepts like “values”and “civics” which the youth ought to possess, I have reason to be disturbed by the fact that more than half of the students didn’t know what year the Philippine Revolution was. (In this regard, the Centennial Commission has a lot of educating to do before the majority of the country’s population, the “hope of the Fatherland,” will be able to fully understand what patriotism in the Philippine context is.

In the realm of civic consciousness and Philippine sociology, students may actually have a hard time discerning the implications of the conflict between Cardinal Sin and Juan Flavier because most students don’t know the population size of the country. Their answers range from 1.5 million (no qualms about begetting more children) to 600 million (Help! I’ve got no place to stand on!) Only a few hit the 65-70 million range.

It is true that ignorance of culture is not criminally liable nor is awareness of it necessary for survival despite the usual reasons often cited for its necessity, shibboleths like “technological competitiveness” and “globalization of culture.” I am usually suspicious of those cliché and trite ideas.

However, the university setting, just for the sake of knowledge, I still insist that students in college should at least have a broad grasp of vital ideas involved in the different academic disciplines. University education is supposed to be an experience of students being exposed to a forum of ideas, and in the intellectual marketplace the currency we use for this exchange are cultural artifacts. How can teacher be able to engage in critical exchange ideas when student lack the intellectual vocabulary for such a discussion? 

In many cases, teachers don’t even have a pretense towards intellectualism and reduce classroom discussion to chismis. Much has been said about inadequate training in high school resulting in a generation of students unprepared for the intellectual demands of college. (Often, the substantive element of education is overshadowed by mere socialization.) But the students who took the test were mostly in the sophomore and junior years and had presumably been exposed to the general education program of the university. 

The blame-high-school argument cannot be invoked here. How can I possibly expect the average student, who leaves half of the test items unanswered, to go into research, that nitty-gritty compiling of details in order to push the frontier of knowledge, when he or she does not even possess the basic knowledge in the different academic disciplines? (In this connection, I’d like to ask: whatever happened to that proposed revision of the general education program of the university?)

I believe that classes to whom I gave the cultural literacy test are representative classes of this university, and the complaints I now express are also the usual complaints of the most teachers regarding that deterioration of education. I am, therefore, positing some recommendations which, when implemented, may stop us from glibly talking about “quality education” and “academic excellence."

First, it is high time for the university to be selective in the recruitment and retention of students. If Silliman has to retain its status as a “center of excellence,” it has to insist on high intellectual standards from its students. Grade inflation, satisfaction with mediocrity, and lackluster teaching have aggravated the situation of the school getting more than its usual share of rotten apples. 

Prophetically, I can see a slide from “cultural illiteracy” to“functional illiteracy” in the college level if this trend continues. (A student, for example, correctly indentified Raul Roco and Enrile as a senetor while another hit it right by saying Michelangelo was a paintor. How did they get past the spelling quiz in English 11? Beats me.)

Second, teachers, to avoid feeling like dinosaurs caged in a Jurassic Park, should be aware that the X generation’s culture has already shifted to a postmodern one, and that there are attendant challenges that go with negotiating the two cultures. The classical/modern culture most teachers stand on, if it has to be understood and appreciated by the students, should be bridged by the teacher who also has the responsibility of understanding the students’ culture. 

Many teachers act like hated dorm managers who consider the “generation gap” as an excuse for the hostility with young residents. How will you teach Mozart’s or Bach’s music when the only music he knows is that of Eraserheads’? The answer is challenge. (Incidentally, students were consistent in getting the right answers to pop questions. Everyone knew Eraserheads, as well as the new husband of Sharon Cuneta, Kiko Pangilinan.) Why not teach Film Appreciation (a medium young students are more familiar with) instead of exclusively confining ourselves to High Literature? (Who reads Shakespeare? Instead of Homer, Marlowe, and Matthew Arnold, why not Scorsese, Copolla, Spielberg, and Bernal?)

Thirdwe teachers should not presume that students know the systems of ideas and paradigms we swim in academically. The ordinary student pretends he or she knows until caught ignorant in an A,B,C test.There is no finger-pointing involved here as to where the fault or deficiency lies. Bad teachers make bad students. However, according to my teacher in poetry, even a brilliant teacher “can’t make hair grow on a billiard ball.”

"The media serve the interests of state and corporate power, which are closely interlinked, framing their reporting and analysis in a manner supportive of established privilege and limiting debate and discussion accordingly."- Noam Chomsky

“...the sole function of EDUCATION was to open the way to thinking and knowing, and the school, as the outstanding organ for the people's EDUCATION, must serve that end exclusively.” - Albert Einstein, 1879-1955, German-born American Physicist

“The aim of EDUCATION should be to teach us rather how to think, than what to think -- rather to improve our minds, so as to enable us to think for ourselves, than to load the memory with the thoughts of other men.” - John Dewey, 1859-1952, American Philosopher, Educator 

“EDUCATION is a better safeguard of liberty than a standing army.” - Edward Everett, 1794-1865, American Statesman, Scholar

"EDUCATION... has produced a vast population able to read but unable to distinguish what is worth reading, an easy prey to sensations and cheap appeals." - G. M. Trevelyan, 1876-1962, British Historian 

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Silvia Porras said...

Happy BlogDay 2005. Today I recommended your blog to my readers, because on a BlogDay people look to find interesting blogs to share.


Bert M. Drona said...

Muchas gacias. Aprecio.