Category Archives: Culture

#22: Twice a Week Means Twice a Week (Only)

I realize that I haven’t made a post for a week now, but I technically still haven’t broken the “two posts a week” rule. But for this post, I will confront that rule. That rule may make me write down posts, but it’s hard to be sure if these posts are of high quality.

Just like school grades. Just because you get an A or a 95 doesn’t mean that you have gotten the learning that you deserve. It may mean a host of other factors: that you have been too much of a stickler-for-rules such that you did what was asked of you without trying out other tasks; the teacher may have been lenient, that you copied a smart-aleck’s answers off every test, and so on. Just like in managerial settings as well. Just because you reach your profit targets for this month doesn’t mean much except that you have lots of money in your hands. It doesn’t say anything about the quality of work, the personalities of the workers, or how you got that money. (Your income, frankly, doesn’t say anything about your life except your income, although people around you may have arranged your life in such a way that your income is a direct cause of a whole bunch of other things that transcendentally should have nothing to do with it, such as happiness or education.)

Targets don’t say anything much about anything else, but we act as if they’re about lots of things.

That’s why I’m close to disregarding the two-posts-a-week rule. You may have public commitment for you to mind your blog, which isn’t really necessary if you’re not pandering to a specific audience and if you’re only sharpening the way you write, blowing off steams of knowledge or experience, or just exploring writing. You may treat it as a reminder that most of writing is tiring, so you better get used to it by exercising. But if you treat writing this way, then all you get is exhaustion every time you write, not satisfactory passages.

Two posts a week, honestly, doesn’t mean much beyond the fact that you can write two posts a week. Post quality is another matter altogether. Or consider this analogy – just because a TV show promises to show itself up every Monday and Saturday doesn’t mean that the show is fine to watch as well.

But at least let me tell you what I do when I’m not writing. I’m thinking. I’m absorbing data from the environment and from reading, synthesizing them into bountiful packages, and releasing them into words. They may not be on this blog, but at least the words exist. That won’t hurt – what use is it to write about what you only dimly know? Know something first before writing. And when you know enough, write, even if it be once a day or twice every year.

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#14: Post About a Post About a University

Somewhere on the Netwaves, there is a blog post whose title is “The Perks of Being a/an X Graduate” where X is the name of a university. You may want to read the original post to find out what X is, but I’ll request that you skip that until the end. For now, treat X as a generic school – it may very well be your own school, or a school of someone you know – and you will lay bare your assumptions regarding higher education in this country.

I’m going to swing my bat right off the bat with an analysis of the opening lines:

These are just based on what I heard from people so puh-lease DO NOT CRITICIZE mehhhh! K here we go:

I’m going to criticize these “people” instead along with their faulty notions, and here I go too:

There is often a “Wow Factor” when people find out that you’re a graduate from the said university which makes you feel like you’re superior to any other universities. Well, admit it. You do feel this, don’t you?

Setting aside the faulty grammar involving the comparison of a person to “other universities”, this misses the question: superior at what qualities? And are these qualities obtainable only from university X? Also, I feel that a “Wow” often ends any discussion, and when it doesn’t, only more “Wow’s” and similar-sounding cheering squad jargon (“ooooh”, “aaaaah”, “oolala”) follow.

Like what I heard, you can easily apply for a job even if you’re not experienced. The name of your school affects your employment these days. And again, just like what they told me, you don’t have to go looking for job because the job will find you.

Setting aside the utter impossibility of a person being “not experienced”, the proposition may be true, but only to a point. Beyond a certain amount of time, experience (whatever it means) will matter more than education. Also, this reflects what people may want more than any other from a university: the name. What about the learning? As the great German Goethe said, “a name is but noise and smoke”.

People would be impressed and think you’re a smart ass and all but some people might get intimidated.

Just because someone came from university X doesn’t mean that the person is already a “smart ass”. While the entire population of X can be justly described as intelligent, there are the “smarts”, the “smart asses”, and the “asses”.

They would think you’re an activist (This is actually a wrong connotation for [X] students. This can’t be called a benefit. Why did I even include this in the first place? K sorreehh..)

I don’t think it’s a bad connotation, unless you want a world full of yes-sayers, trained during childhood to say “Yes” to every teacher’s request so in the future a “Yes” will more easily come than a “No”. To paraphrase educator John Holt, the more you obey, the more likely you will spread evil.

Lastly, you would gain confidence.

Does the confidence gained come with carrying the name of X or is it ingrained?

These do not always happen though but in some circumstances, they do.

Why do they happen, anyway? Whose mind has lingering questions about why they happen?

Forgive me for posting this. I’m so sabaw tonight

Me too, though on a cooler day this would be thrice as long. This post is just to meet my quota of two blog posts per week.

The post I referred to is this: The post

P.S. At least I got some good practice in conciseness and post-cutting.

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#13: Loose Analysis of Questioning in Philippine Education with Geert Hofstede’s 5-D Cultural Model

Most schools in the Philippines, I intuit, have the habit of giving us answers while leaving us in the dark about the right questions. At once it is easy to find out some contributing factors to this. When we recall our childhoods, it’s more likely that our elders suppressed our impulse to ask questions – an honorable impulse brought about by curiosity. We also have a derisive term for a constant questioner: the pilosopo.

It is said that education (especially the public sort) can affect all the citizens of any nation. Therefore the culture of any country is a good enough indicator of the education taking place there. To analyze culture we use Geert Hofstede’s 5-D model, with the 5-D standing for five cultural dimensions: (1) power distance, (2) individualism, (3) masculinity and femininity, (4) uncertainty avoidance, and (5) long-term orientation. Here is a summary of how the Philippines fared:

(1) Power distance – 94. A very high score (the highest is 100); Filipinos generally accept the existence of unequal distribution of power in the society.

(2) Individualism – 32. A low score; Filipinos prefer to commit themselves to a group in various settings, especially school and work, instead of fending off for themselves

(3) Masculinity/Femininity – 64. This score is skewed in favor of masculinity; Filipinos, therefore, are highly achievement-oriented, have an assertive stance to daily living and conflict resolution. Femininity, on the other hand, indicates greater emphasis on “quality of life” rather than trophies.

(4) Uncertainty avoidance – 44. This score is somewhat skewed in favor of less uncertainty avoidance. Filipinos are more welcome to deviations from established norms; the manana habit and the breaking off from company protocols are some instances.

(5) Long-term orientation – 19. This score is very low; Filipinos prefer the quick “jackpot” instead of being like the ant that, during the summer, saves for the winter bit by bit.

Now what does all of these have to do with the culture of questioning in Philippine schools? Using these results can make us form a coherent picture:

(1) High power distance places teachers on a virtually unquestionable position. More often than not, students ask questions to clarify what teachers said, not to offer a challenge or to add to the lesson. Offering a challenge threatens the teacher’s sense of position in the school hierarchy. Adding something to the lesson displaces a teacher’s lesson plan and thus shakes her sense of authority. And too often we forget to ask or demand the value of the lessons we’re learning in schools. What did we learn the Binomial Theorem or the different types of algae for? Such innocuous questions, which permit gentle responses, are surprisingly unasked.

(2) Loosely, low individualism can be disabling in asking questions. Suppose you are a naturally inquisitive student surrounded by mostly “contented” classmates. If you’ll be the only one asking questions, then others will perceive you as a nonconformist and sooner you will be contented like them. It is also low individualism that causes students to do in groups what they would be willing to do as individuals, such as collective cheating and frat wars, and there is little questioning going on regarding these phenomena involving the “madness of crowds”.

(3) The masculine orientation allows Filipinos to accept scores, grades, trophies, certificates and the like as untainted marks of education. The fetish for college degrees also falls on this orientation. Unless they get lucky and someone teaches them the fine art of iconoclasm, they won’t ever ask questions like “What do grades really measure?” “What does having a diploma really imply, and what should it imply?” “Is there a correlation between grades and real-life success?” Hardly anyone of us wonders about the “quality of learning” even if we’re left in the dark as to its “quantity”.

(4) Less uncertainty avoidance should be welcome. Asking questions makes us throw off our cloak of “certain” learning invincibility and allows others to know that there are still incomplete aspects to our learning. However, by my experience, less uncertainty avoidance manifests itself by rule-breaking of sorts. In schools in the Philippines, it is a titanic struggle to be certain about one’s values (while refining them daily), especially honesty. “If you see others cheating at exams, then why shouldn’t I”? And we justify similar practices in the name of survival as we grow older.

(5) Our short-term orientation reflects our attitude towards exams and grades. Should you study for the test? Of course you should, because doing so makes you respect “practice effects”, but you should not let your studying get in the way of your learning. Short-term orientation allows students to ask “What will come out in the test?” and thus fixate them to getting good test scores. And then the students forget their learning right after the exams, after the grades, and after school. I also think that many teachers are to blame for this – instead of giving facts for the sake of rattling them again during exams, they should give facts while sharpening the minds of students (using their subject matter) so the pupils can get training on how to make sense of the facts. That training can very well persist throughout life.

Be reminded that Hofstede’s 5-D framework, when applied to education, is in no way limited to analyzing the questioning habits of students. 5-D can lend coherence to many other educational facets in the Philippines.

However, I chose questioning because it’s a valuable skill useful not only in intellectual and artistic work, but increasingly at all sorts of work. We can attribute the dearth of scientists, mathematicians, philosophers, and book writers to the failure of graduates to learn the right questions to ask, but we’ve lived with that for long already. But we can’t live with that any longer once we find out that questioning is a valuable work skill and many employers around the globe are asking for their employees to have it (and I’s daresay too that employers who do otherwise are becoming extinct).

Here is education innovator and consultant Tony Wagner’s take on the issue. In his book The Global Achievement Gap, he recalls the answer to his question on “what qualities he most wants in a potential new employee”:

First and foremost, I look for someone who asks good questions… Our business is changing, and so the skills our engineers need change rapidly, as well. We can teach them the technical stuff. But for employees to solve problems or to learn new things, they have to know what questions to ask. And we can’t teach them how to ask good questions—how to think. The ability to ask the right questions is the single most important skill.

Education in the Philippines has plenty of catching up to do when it comes to improving the questioning skills of the students. To accomplish that, however, requires a massive shift in cultural priorities. We can start asking a few questions, and you can add more of yours (now here is a chance to practice those questioning skills): Would teachers be willing to give up some of their authoritarianism in a possibly risky exchange for more discussion in class? Will students get used to that setup? In a culture used to having parents who reward children getting grades over the roof, how can we explain the real significance of those grades? How can we ensure that students don’t leave our classrooms with stuff they may have forgotten before exiting the door? Does God exist, and how do we treat those who believe otherwise?

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#12: A Review of Recent Cases of Philippine School Violence

Have you just intuited that our schools are becoming the breeding grounds of strife nowadays?

First, we review the case of the Colegio de San Agustin student Jaime Garcia. His name became famous because some CSA students bullied him, then he retaliated by stabbing one of the bullies with a ballpoint pen. Then the father of the stabbed bully, Allan Bantiles, allegedly slapped Jaime and even allegedly pointed a gun at him:

We remember the Math teacher who forced her students to eat paper and also threw a chair toward someone who had the sense to defy her order:

There are even instances of students getting the upper hand against teachers. Here is one such case of students robbing their teacher:

We also recall the alleged child molestation by a PE teacher:

Even a school paper of a renowned university has suddenly grown fangs on this attack against other two prestigious universities:

There are also two school bomb scares just this last week:

And just hours ago, a stabbing took place at Adamson University.

Men, women, children, elderly, rich, poor, even school buildings – no one is safe.

At least credit me for having a curious memory for oddities. George Santayana said: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” I know you may have heard this for a hundred times already in your lifetime. (But you don’t remember hearing it, so you’ll just repeat hearing it, thus proving the truth of Santayana’s proposition. A more orderly world would have no need for a quote like this.)

Let me emphasize, however, that I am in no way generalizing about the rampant violence that has happened in our school campuses nowadays. After all, there are tens of thousands of schools all over the country. There is no way we can cover all the violence that’s happening in the schools. The increased coverage of violent acts taking place inside campus can be attributed to just that – increased coverage. But it’s tempting to wonder: Couldn’t it be that it has always been this way inside the majority of educational institutions in the Philippines, and we’re starting to get vigilant only recently, when deaths and bizarre activities began emerging in rapid-fire pace?

However, I am quite generous in examining the succession of violent in-campus activities. Perhaps they just clustered together by chance, or as I mentioned, perhaps it’s just increased media coverage of the usual stuff.

Copycats Galore

Or perhaps this explanation can also apply. Robert Cialdini, a psychology professor from the Arizona State University, describes a probable explanation for the one-after-another occurrence of detestable acts inside our schools. In his book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, he explains the occurrence of copycat events, or events that follow the publicizing of a similar event. He cites David Phillips’ research on copycat suicides:

(1) Copycat events take place only on places where the events are publicized: “He found that within two months after every front-page suicide story, an average of fifty-eight more people than usual killed themselves. In a sense, each suicide story killed fifty-eight people who otherwise would have gone on living.”

(2) Copycat events are done in a similar manner as the publicized events: “Thus when the newspaper detailed the suicide of a young person, it was young drivers who then piled their cars into trees, poles, and embankments with fatal results; but when the news story concerned an older person’s suicide, older drivers died in such crashes”

According to Cialdini, these two insights add up: “Upon learning of another’s suicide, an uncomfortably large number of people decide that suicide is an appropriate action for themselves as well.”

That insight may apply to acts of school violence. Although we can’t ascertain how many such acts took place during the whole of September and the first two weeks of October, imitation of prior publicized acts of school violence can be a trigger, if we are to follow Cialdini’s logic.

It’s like this: more trouble begets more coverage, and more coverage may beget more trouble. It’s a vicious circle that may engulf the educational establishment if left unchecked. At least the increased exposure should make us aware of what’s really happening in our schools, given that inside schools, pupils are away from their families and are practically left to fend off for themselves.

A Note to Teachers

Teachers, meanwhile should ask themselves these questions:

Isn’t it violence – to the mind, if not to the body – if they let their students out to the world without sufficient life skills? Have our schools taught us literacy, numeracy, critical thinking,and rapid adaptation to speedily changing circumstances? Have our schools strengthened our willpower to stand alone in the midst of tempting opportunities to follow the crowd’s blatant wrongs and innocent imbecilities, a steel heart that never worships power for its own sake, and a zest for lifelong learning and not learning that ends when school ends?

Isn’t it violence to make schools function like businesses while posing perils to their educational functions?

Isn’t it violence to scream at students when reasoned discussion is a better tack? Isn’t it violence to force-feed students with facts that they’re likely to forget after a long time, and to stress students over them?

Isn’t it violence to judge students, with no regard to the future, when their potentials haven’t fully blossomed yet? This year’s Nobel laureate for Medicine and Physiology, Sir John Gurdon (who shared the prize with Shinya Yamanaka for seminal work on stem cells) recalled what his Biology teacher told him before: “I believe Gurdon has ideas about becoming a scientist; on his present showing this is quite ridiculous; if he can’t learn simple biological facts he would have no chance of doing the work of a specialist, and it would be a sheer waste of time, both on his part and of those who would have to teach him.”

And I’d consider it violence too when students have to say “Good morning” every day, like busted records, when the mornings out there are mostly no good.

Shakespeare once said, “‘Tis the mind that makes the body rich”. It’s just reasonable to assume that turbulence in mind and viciousness of the body go hand-in-hand. If you corrupt the mind, you corrupt the body, and pandemonium’s going to result if you do that to participants in a crowded classroom.

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#9: The Perils of the “Just This Once” Mentality

As the great Henry David Thoreau said before: “Let us consider the way in which we spend our lives.” Let us take a pause from grueling discussions of the cybercrime law and look into our own lives.

Clayton Christensen, a professor at Harvard Business School and an expert of “disruptive innovation”, wrote an essay named “How Will You Measure Your Life?” (an expanded version can be bought as a book). In that essay, he mentions one of the episodes that changed his life, for better or for worse.

When he was studying at Oxford, he was a player for his varsity basketball team. His team breezed through the season without any losses, and then a few games later, the championship game arrived. The problem is Christensen vowed that he “had made a personal commitment to God at age 16 that I would never play ball on Sunday”. He continues his account of that episode:

So I went to the coach and explained my problem. He was incredulous. My teammates were, too, because I was the starting center. Every one of the guys on the team came to me and said, “You’ve got to play. Can’t you break the rule just this one time?”

I’m a deeply religious man, so I went away and prayed about what I should do. I got a very clear feeling that I shouldn’t break my commitment—so I didn’t play in the championship game.

In what ways could you have done something contrary to your principles but didn’t? Or – more commonly, what did you do that was contrary to your principles because this “just this one time” itch is tickling you – er, nagging you – on your mind? And why?

Marginal Benefits

Many of the actions that we do against our self-determined principles have marginal benefits.

Suppose you get a higher score when you cheat in an exam – you gain.

Suppose you committed a crucial mistake in a game, for example in a basketball game where you saw yourself step out of bounds but no one else saw it – you and your team gains.

Suppose a colleague invited you to falsify an expense sheet so that you can nick off a little more cash – you and your colleague gains.

Suppose you put off doing any work you have – your mind gains some short-term relief from the harsh reality of the work.

All of them are pesky “one-time” deals. On some moments we decide to to do something against our well-entrenched principles – just once. We figured out that setting our principles aside may be worth it, this one time, because we gain.

However, as Christensen shows us, all such gains are devilish bargains.

Every action against one’s own principles, whether because of your quest for some gain or because of peer pressure, ultimately makes it more likely that our mind is going to justify similar actions in the future, even if the initial action comes with a bond of “just once”.

Suppose you cheated in a test once and you found the experience of getting a higher grade a euphoric buzz. But that may also give you the impression “hey, cheating in a test isn’t so bad after all”, and from then on this voice will always seep into your ears for every test you take. This turns worse once social proof blends into the mix; if you become compelled to break your own principles because there is social pressure around you, you may begin feeling that it’s OK. After all, everyone’s doing that, too, so you can enjoy their company.

It’s always best to delineate your principles during a time where you are beginning to solidify your own values – preferably during adolescence, where you get greater social exposure and you increase your knowledge about the world. That is also a time when you can still think about your values mostly on your own before you do paid work, grind, and absorb the work culture. You may also assimilate some peer culture elements from your schoolmates, but reflect on them crucially; you wouldn’t want to adopt something under the pretext of something as unreliable as peer pressure.

Not Ever, Not at All, Never

Then be sure not to break the most crucial principles you have laid out for yourself. Along the way, you can refine them or even change them, but don’t cling to them only with the intention of letting them go because of an additional few units of comfort.

Holding on to “not playing ball on a Sunday” is particularly fickle, but it’s wise that Christensen held on to it; it showed that he is capable of staying sturdy. That can come handy in the midst of more tempting, higher-stakes ethically ambiguous situations.

He knew his own values, and you should, too.

If you cheated in today’s forgettable test, no matter how trivial it is, think of the graver acts you may commit in the future once you set your brain to “OK-ing” successive acts of dishonesty.

If you deliberately kept mum about your out-of-bounds step in a basketball game that you won, then think of the regret that may pile up once your brain starts “OK-ing” the notion that your career can be composed of such progressively serious chicaneries. You may see yourself as a competent player, but an opportunistic one who was an athlete first and a person second.

If you agreed with your colleague that you’ll both falsify an expense sheet, then pretty soon, as both of you get higher up in the corporate rank, your brain may be “OK-ing” baser ideas such as misrepresenting ideas to the public, deceiving your business partners, and ultimately ruining a company. Think Enron. Think Worldcom.

And are you going to procrastinate “just this once”? Then you’ll probably find yourself “OK-ing” future procrastinating; that sets off a lifetime of delays, until that one decisive delay that you’ll regret to your heels.

You can think of many similar cases from your experience

Christensen tells us: “The lesson I learned from this is that it’s easier to hold to your principles 100% of the time than it is to hold to them 98% of the time. If you give in to “just this once,” based on a marginal cost analysis, as some of my former classmates have done, you’ll regret where you end up.”

Think of every small act as a gateway act. Small acts of goodness lead to big acts of goodness. Small acts of wickedness work similarly. Every single act can be a small step on the stairway to heaven or an implicit pact with the devil.

Forgo the hunt for little pleasures obtained from the bending your own principles, even only for a bit. (But here is a question I want to leave open: How would you treat people who force you to forsake your own principles in exchange for convenience of whatever sort?)


P.S. Reviews of excerpts, such as above, will be a staple of this blog. Developing a point of view about an excerpt can turn into a blog post in a few hours. Moreover, they can lead to the reading of whole works where the excerpts came from.

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