OpinionWith legs wide open
With legs wide open
July 9, 2014
July 9, 2014

John Sarao

“With legs wide open.” That was how my KASPIL professor described the Philippines’ reception of Spain during our colonization. I don’t recall whether those were his own words or a quote from someone else, but it left a powerful image in my head. According to him, not only did a majority of our ancestors put down their arms throughout most of Spanish rule, but a good number of them embraced the colonizers.

The concept of colonial mentality can be summed up as a feeling of inferiority towards one’s own culture while favoring another, hegemonic culture, and it’s a concept most of us are familiar with, at least in the context of our colonial history.

There’s a similar phenomenon that I’d like to give attention to, something that happens in, I suspect, most classrooms: Intellectual imperialism.

It’s the laying down of logic by students and a wholehearted embrace of the teacher’s word as fact. The student, feeling inferior to the teacher with her diploma, surrenders all faculty of reason and embraces whatever idea proposed by the teacher.

An experiment once done by my Critical Thinking professor illustrates this phenomenon succinctly.  In one his classes, he intentionally started teaching things that were wrong, to see if anyone would catch on. The result? No one did.

Before proceeding, let me first emphasize two things. One, this is obviously not the case for all students. But it does happen often enough, though I will not begin to conjecture on whether this constitutes the majority.

Two, the teacher in this scenario is mostly innocent. I doubt there’s any actual intention to indoctrinate, and the word indoctrinate itself is too strong a word. It is not my intention to manufacture a scathing account of the wonderful men and women who devote their lives to educate.

No, if anything, the teacher is simply a part of a system that erodes our ability to be critical. It begins with primary education, where most students are taught to memorize as opposed to understand. Recall the quizzes answered in your younger years of education, the one’s that asked what body part character X was shot in in Noli Me Tangere or who it was that coined the term politics. Recall how they caused you to scramble over your notes, going over as many terms, definitions, and names as you could, memorizing things that you’ve probably forgotten by now.

The sad truth of the matter is students are rewarded with good grades and other decorations for the number of random facts they can memorize, as opposed to how well they can understand the lessons and synthesize new ideas. The product is a parrot that can repeat the contents of his text book, of his professor, but can’t understand what’s coming from his mouth.

By the time the student is in high school, they go to class not with the intent to learn, but to find what’s going to appear in the next quiz. In this sense, the slacker somewhat has the advantage. Too lazy to take part in the system, he does not contract its ill effects.

If the Hegelian dialectic consists of the thesis-antithesis-synthesis, then the students’ approach consists of the acceptance of the thesis, giving no rise to the counter, the antithesis, and defeating all hope for a true synthesis.

At the end of the day, a professor shouldn’t be able move a graph and suddenly convince a room of 40 students that the minimum wage should be abolished. A professor shouldn’t be able to show the class a video and have them convinced that global warming isn’t caused by humans. A professor shouldn’t be able to convince a class that Aquinas’ Five Ways is the be-all and end-all argument for the existence of a divine being.

And if we were even to concede that the abolishment of the minimum wage would be beneficial, that global warming isn’t caused by humans, that Aquinas’ argument is True with a capital T, even then, we’d still have a problem. The logic, the evidence given to support the conclusion is just as important as the conclusion itself.

I had a brief foray into the philosophy program, wherein I took 21 units of Philosophy majors. I initially sat in because I was genuinely interested in the topics, but to be honest, the main reason I stayed was because I fell in love with the culture. Never had I been in an environment where to challenge the lesson was the norm. I had the pleasure of watching teachers go back-and-forth with students because the students weren’t so easily convinced. The students challenged the teachers until the ideas matched their own standards of truth and validity.

Thus it is this model of the philosophy major, that questions, regardless of whatever authority presents them with an idea; it is this model of the philosophy major that puts an idea in his mouth, chews it, and decides whether it is worth swallowing or spitting out; it is this model of the philosophy major that I see as ideal.

So take back your arms, your logic, and reestablish your faculty of reason. But don’t take my word for it. Challenge it. Go against it. Believe that I’m wrong until you’ve exhausted all possible counters: only then do I ask you to believe.

Lest you decide you’d rather leave your legs wide open.