One unforgettable image from reading Greek and Roman classics is that of Aeneas, a member of the royal line of Troy carrying his old father, Anchises, out of the burning city of Troy towards a place that would become Rome. Aeneas would then be connected to the legend as the founder of Roman greatness. This is the stuff that inspired a nation to achieve greatness: Aeneas carrying his father. It may seem weird, but not inappropriate, that we could regard teachers as the Romans regarded Aeneas: founders of national greatness on whose shoulders a nation is built. But first, the challenges.
As teachers you must have joined the alarmed voices that reverberated throughout the internet during the Christmas holidays when the growth of Chat GPT’s use by senior HS and college students in their reports and other written output was discussed by AI experts. The foremost US public intellectual, Dr. Noam Chomsky, remarked: “Those who use Chat GPT are those who want to get a degree but are not interested in getting an education.” He was referring to critical thinking and reading which are essential competencies for intellectual growth.
It’s the same alarmed feeling that we got when we read about the World Bank’s report on the 90% learning poverty rate of Filipino students and the 5% who are not in school. Learning poverty refers to the ability of a 10-year old child to read and understand the idea of a simple passage. Learning cannot proceed without knowing how to read because reading is the portal to learning and knowing.
For teachers who face students daily in the classroom or through an online platform, the 2022 World Bank report on learning poverty saddened us. For after all, according to our own national statistics, just a year earlier, in 2021, our national literacy rate stood at 99.27%
So we ask, “How can we be learning poor when we have a very high literacy rate? Does this also mean that many college students are among those who cannot read?”
Both the World Bank and our national statistics are correct if viewed from the comment of Dr. Chomsky. We have students who are interested in a diploma but not interested in learning or who are interested to learn but were/are not properly taught. And so, when their reading skills were or are tested, they can hardly understand the text before them.
We are facing a very serious threat to the future of our nation and our well-being because the various responsibilities needed to sustain our nation’s growth cannot be passed on to those who are not educated properly. Or adequately. Business investments cannot thrive when our labor force does not know how to read. Our country’s economy is more reliant on services than on manufacturing. And services—in various fields such as financial, health, educational, legal, hospitality, marketing, telecommunications, etc.—require a well- educated work force. To many of us in education, this is a national crisis that is slowly unfolding.
As a school which counts justice as one of its advocacies, we cannot merely stand by and pat ourselves for doing our job well in our MC campuses Our sense of justice—or equal opportunity for all—disturbs us enough to wish to do something. In addition to economic and social injustice, we now have to help in eradicating educational injustice.
On our institutional Teachers’ Day, it may be a good time to remind us of the big task ahead for the whole teaching profession in the country. And it may be an opportune time now to inspire our students, especially those in high school and the freshmen in college, to see teaching as a profession that has a direct role in nation-building and in the formation of a person. It is a good time as any to pass on the vision of the many Maryknoll Sisters who “served” their Filipino students.
The many Maryknoll Sisters who lived part of their lives in service in the Philippines, as well as Sister Miriam Thomas herself, would ask through their conversations in class, “Don’t you want to be a healer?” And they did not mean the medical profession, but the teaching profession. Or they would promote the Child Study Department by reminding the Knollers, “Parenthood is fundamentally being a good teacher at home, so to be a good parent, consider a degree in Child Study.” So the Knollers taught other people’s children as they taught theirs. To this day, whenever I attend seminars and celebrations, I am reminded that many think of Miriam College in terms of child development and female leadership formation.
The Chair of the English Department in the 60’s, Sister Rosemary (the private teacher of the Kennedy clan) advised 30% of those entering the Department to enroll in 18 credit units in the Education Department so that even with a Bachelor of Arts degree these English majors would be able to teach in any high school department in the Philippines Many enrolled at then Maryknoll College without any plan to enter into the field of education. But somehow, the Sisters, through their inspiring influence and their direct actions shepherded as many students as they could to “go out and teach.”
And there is the founder of the Maryknoll Sisters’ congregation: Mary Joseph Rogers. She attended Smith College, the same college that the late US First Lady Barbara Bush went to. Smith College is one of the Seven Sisters, seven elite US colleges for women: Radcliffe (now part of Harvard), Vassar, Wellesley (where Hillary Clinton got her undergraduate degree), Barnard (now part of Columbia University), among them. More than a hundred years ago, Mary Rogers inspired many young women to go “fields afar” to teach and help build young nations, the Philippines included. The point of this information on Mother Mary Joseph’s “elite” education is to underline the fact that 100 years ago, women brought up in privilege left family comfort to serve. And that “call to serve” has been passed on to us to be further passed on to our students.
As teachers we can tell our students to seriously consider taking part in addressing this current national human development challenge by inspiring them—who are fortunate and blessed not to be in the 90% learning poverty group—to become healers / teachers and to prepare the future builders of the nation. The remuneration is beyond material. But what greater source of joy and fulfillment can there be than the words of the Greatest Teacher: “Blessed are you, for I was naked (without protection), and you clothe me; I was hungry (for knowledge) and you fed me.”