Monday, June 19, 2006

Values 101

ONE OF THE advantages of having lived abroad was being able to attend an international school that was truly international, where the majority of the students weren’t children of prominent locals rather children of expatriates from all corners of the globe.

With teachers also of varying nationalities, Jakarta International School had a level of cultured diplomacy in the way things were run. A diverse student population entailed the grooming of open-minded students who knew how to appreciate, interact, and work with others from different cultures.

Our knowledge of Islamic Culture was not stained by extremists in the news; it came from learning the devout intricacies of the religion after witnessing many of our classmates sitting in the library for lunch during Ramadan.

“US soccer mom” culture was experienced when intramurals took up the weekends.

Yitzak Rabin, Jimmy Carter, and the French Open were introduced to me by my fourth-grade teacher from New Zealand.

Our American music teacher taught us how to play the gamelan and how to sing Javanese hymns.

I was taught the moral dilemma behind a sheep named Dolly, how I contributed to the hole in the ozone, the teachings of Buddhism, and the sounds of Dave Matthews by a middle-aged hippie who was my sixth-grade teacher.

Modules for mathematics and science were American, which isn’t exactly an advantage, but the trade-off was a truly holistic education in an environment where amidst cultural and religious differences, the universality of tolerance, righteousness, and generosity was stressed just as much as triangles, tables, and square-roots.

Humanity and goodness broke the barriers of obvious differences. Learning our roles and functions overshadowed global dysfunction.

Much has been said of the struggles of Philippine Education. Because of bad facilities, underpaid and under-qualified teachers, and a lack of direction and organization, we are statistically underperforming in all major subjects.

As we try to fix these academic problems, perhaps values need to be at the forefront. Educators may argue that values are parental jurisdiction, but how many parents can we truly say exemplify the right values? The sound values of our culture are “enhanced” by less-desirable, more heavily exemplified values of surviving at all cost, settling for lesser-of-evils, and just finding ways (gawa ng paraan), regardless of order and righteousness.

We’re pretty good at our “institutionalized” lessons (such as respecting elders and saying thank you), but there’s much to be learned in the aspect of personal accountability, discipline, abiding law, appreciating rights, and fighting against abuse.

Whether creating a formal Values Subject in the curriculum or incorporating it within the existing subjects, values need a fair share of discussion time. This needs to be emphasized just as much as memorizing formulas, theories, names, and dates.

Primary-level students need to learn accountability for personal actions as simple as throwing away candy wrappers in the gutters. (My parents were never taught cleanliness of public areas, much less complex issues of segregation of trash. Hence, our environmental mess.)

Secondary-level students need to understand the virtues and responsibilities of leadership, and tending to the needs of others. This will allow them to become good leaders in their own way, and it will enable them to fairly judge the performance of the existing leaders they see.

Giving kids the proper values allows them to most effectively use their personal decision-making powers. Regardless of intellect, morally-sound people become empowered to proactively affect positive change simply by making good decisions about things like approaching work, treatment of family, treatment of neighbors, garbage, abiding law, and choosing leaders (things that are now neglected or mishandled).

Politically-speaking, a public school graduate who repeated three science classes is still equal to a private school valedictorian. One dumb vote is still a vote. But it doesn’t take an A in English to identify the best candidate to vote for—one whose intellect is not stained by selfish intent.

Medium term: a morally-sound electorate will result in better leadership (or at least the least damaging).

Long term: a morally-sound citizenship means a nation of order, powered by good-hearted, well-intended, and disciplined people. Only then can we truly tackle our D’s and F’s.

Education is the key to a better future, but we must be reminded of what lessons need to be urgently taught.


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