CHAPTER XVI


EDUCATION THROUGH THE ARTS:

THE GIFT OF TONGUES

NICANOR G. TIONGSON


In most living rooms in the Philippines, a visitor is bound to find an altar on which are enthroned, not only the plaster images of Christ and the Virgin Mary, but very significantly the photographs, usually framed in gold, of the family's children, proudly showing off graduation caps, hoods, and togas. Education undoubtedly continues to be held in high regard among Filipinos today, despite the fact that only a few select can afford education beyond the primary and secondary levels.

As it is in every household, so is it in the larger society. Many Filipinos is still hope in an educational system that disgorges graduates by the hundreds of thousands every October and March. All this because there is a prevalent notion that the diploma alone is the key to economic uplift and social mobility.

But if the present state of the nation is viewed as partly the product of the country's educational system, Filipinos have no recourse but to reevaluate the present educational thrust. For while our numerous schools, colleges and universities have produced innumerable graduates, massive unemployment persists and worsens. The national economy still must recuperate, while the national psyche remains confused and debilitated, continuously drugged by colonial and escapist values and attitudes perpetuated by the mass media.

EDUCATION AND DEMOCRACY

Clearly, this is not the education we want for our society. But what indeed should education be? What should our schools produce? What is a truly educated person?

The definition of education given by philosophers of education is as idealistic as it is unequivocal: the ultimate goal of education is the common good, and in democratic societies this is reflected in a society in which justice, equality and democratic practices prevail. In this view, education is expected to develop a citizenry of free men who are able to express their will, fight for their rights and be responsible for their actions. Moreover, it should nurture a citizenry of creative men able to respond to the needs of their society and to offer creative solutions to problems their society may face.

In other words, more than a citizenry of doers, the educational system must be able to produce thinkers and creative persons in order to preserve society and ensure progress. In this the importance of creativity cannot be underestimated, for men who are bound by conventional world-views and timeworn procedures are doomed to lead their society to a state of stagnation. It may be well to remind ourselves that the stunning discoveries in the history of civilization that brought progress and comfort to mankind--from the simple wheel to the complex flying machine--were made by men who explored and pushed their imagination beyond the limits of what was known, or even allowed, during their time.

Problems in Education

Can we say that our educational system encourages the development of such a citizenry? In a study published by the Center for Research and Communication,1 a panel of Philippine scholars2 presented an appraisal of the educational system in the Philippines today. It pinpoints several inadequacies in the areas of educational planning, structure, teaching and learning methodology, socio-economic aspects, educational financing and non-formal and informal education. This paper focuses on what I consider to be the most basic inadequacies of our educational system. The first is seeming misdirection of goal; the second, inadequate teaching and learning methodology; and third, undue bias for formal or schoolroom education.

First, to many Filipinos who want only more food on the table or clothes on their back, the primary goal of education has come to be training that will ensure employment after graduation. Hence, the proliferation of students in courses such as those in commerce, teaching, secretarial and vocational subjects that not only have the lowest tuition fees, but also are expected to enable one to land a job easily. In non-formal education dressmaking, hair science or beauty culture seem to be the favorites. In this concept of education, education itself becomes optional if a person already has a job. "Tutal kumikita na naman, bakit kailangan pang mag-aral."

Ironically, society can only absorb a limited number of these  graduates, so that in the end many find themselves among the increasing number of the "educated unemployed." More importantly, this pragmatic and short-sighted view misses the broader point of education--the development of the person, the maximization of his or her potential and capacity as a thinking and creative individual able to harness and shape his environment, and not the other way around.

The second point concerns the teaching and learning methodology prevalent in our school systems, which is best illustrated by the physical layout of a typical Filipino classroom: rows upon rows of students looking up at a teacher who stands on a platform, framed by blackboards crammed with information which students must copy word for word. This teaching and learning method is what Paolo Freire in his book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, refers to as the "banking" method. Here, the teacher is the supreme authority who dishes out "facts" and data, which the students accept as gospel truth, and return to their teacher undigested, in exams and classroom recitations.

Needless to say, this system can only develop data-oriented automatons predisposed to rote-memorization rather than to critical thinking, parrots who are as docile as they are passive and complacent. Small wonder that many Filipinos continue to accept the stereotypes of man as provider and woman as homemaker, and never question the rule of the traditional elite. Small wonder, too, that we fall easy prey to advertising messages that facilitate continued domination of our economy by foreign powers.

Thirdly and finally, there is an undue bias for formal or classroom education, a system tending to favor only those who can afford it. Because the poor cannot afford the tuition fees demanded by a sustained program requiring more and more cash outlay as one rises to higher levels, the gap between the educated and the non- or less educated continues to widen with serious socio-economic repercussions, such as the monopoly of vital information by those who are articulate in English; the cornering of economic opportunities by those armed with diplomas; and the manipulation of the illiterate by the "enlightened" who hold the reins of political power. The end result of all this is not only the turtle-pace of national progress and development, but a democracy without substance, a virtual aristocracy of the educated few.

But how can education respond to the needs of our society? How can it serve the imperatives of national progress and development? Clearly, these questions cannot be answered satisfactorily in one paper. But I would like to concentrate on the following options:

1) the development of the creative mind and imagination among the citizens, and

2) the use of the arts in this task.

THE CREATIVE MIND AND IMAGINATION

The first important component of the creative mind is a critical attitude that is perpetually inquisitive and questioning. It is not satisfied with what is, but examines the whys and wherefores of concepts and phenomena. It does not accept anything as absolute, but rather brings all "truths" to the table of discussion and debate. It defies authority; it destroys idols. It is an iconoclast, but not an anarchist or a nihilist, for even as it destroys maxims of the past and shibboleths of the present, the critical mind conjures up the dreams and ideals of a life better than that which exists. It slashes through limits  and conventions in its pursuit of the grail that is the greater good.

But the creative mind is not only critical. It is also imaginative, building paths in unchartered territories that burst through the frontiers of the here and now. It is a mind that discovers, invents and creates the tools, equipment, and vessels which seek to transport mankind to the reality of a better life. In short, it is the creative imagination which dynamizes mankind towards progress.

To this day, men with creative minds and imaginations remain a rare breed in our country, and not without reason. More than 400 years of colonization under Spain and America, and 20 years of devastating dictatorship have created a tremendous negative impact on our national psyche. Our relationships--whether political, economic, social or personal--are still largely authoritarian, our tastes disappointingly colonial, our attitudes are at best accommodating, at worst subservient. Indeed, ours is a culture of silence, a culture of a people without tongues.

Clearly, if we are to survive as a nation, economic and political rehabilitation have to go hand in hand with social and personal remolding. For blind acceptance of what is, as well as passivity and apathy, are the best allies of the foreign and local forces that subvert the interest of the greater majority of our people. For national survival, therefore, it is imperative that we break the culture of silence, and begin to develop a people who will not be afraid to express those ideas. For this we have to make our people--whether they are in the cities or hinterlands--aware of themselves as individuals, and as persons with much potential within themselves. Hopefully, once our people have become aware of their selves, they will seek naturally to express these newly-discovered selves. Self-awareness then is the sputum that will loosen tongues that have been tied and hardened by the traumas of our history.

The Role of the Arts

But how is this to be done? In this endeavor, the arts and their disciplines and principles, play a pivotal role. For it is the arts that can present our people with alternative and myriad ways of self-expression, nothing less than the gift of tongues.

To illustrate, let us cite the experience of one theater group which has evolved an effective way of releasing personal creativity. The Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) has been conducting Basic Integrated Theater Arts Workshops (BITAW) since 1973. The workshop starts with improvisational games meant to release a person's spontaneity and eliminate his inhibitions. These release games and exercises are meant to prepare the individual to "experience". In this context, "experiencing", as Viola Spolin, an exponent of improvisational theater, explains, is penetration of the environment and total organic involvement with it. This means involvement on three levels: intellectual, physical and intuitive. Of the three, the intuitive, which is most vital to the learning situation, now is often neglected. When response to experience takes place at this intuitive level, i.e., when a person functions beyond a constricted intellectual plane, he is totally open for learning, for the intuitive can only respond in immediacy--to the here and now. It comes bearing gifts in the moment of spontaneity when we are freed to involve ourselves in the moving-changing world around us.

In the integrated arts workshops, confrontation with the environment is further encouraged because the principles and elements of design are taught through games and examples of objects found in the environment, such as the lines and rhythm found in sea waves, the shape and color of leaves and fruits, the texture of sand and rocks. With stones, tin cans and wooden sticks, sounds and rhythms are created to express emotions and sentiments. Simple poems are composed describing the impact of an element in one's environment--like that of the scorching heat of the sun as one performs his daily chores, or of the cool water as one bathes in the river, or of the landlord who evokes awe as well as fear in his tenant farmer.

In creative dramatics, involvement with other persons is through "exposure" and research. A participant observes an interesting character in his community, learns something about the person, penetrates his/her mind and heart, examines the person's relationship with the other members of the community, and finally dramatizes the person's conflict or agreement with them. In this process, the participants come to investigate and discuss issues and problems in their community and, through the guidance of the workshop facilitator, perhaps to suggest solutions to some of these problems and issues. The process in effect draws out one's awareness of the self, his environment and his community.

The same techniques of employing the arts to foster better learning may be employed in the classroom. History, for example, does not have to be a boring recitation of who killed Magellan, when Rizal was born, whose was the first uprising against Spain, who was the president of the Philippine Commonwealth, how did Magsaysay die? Instead, the teachers can encourage their students to put up exhibits of objects and pictures of the Spanish Period, or to dramatize the Trial of Rizal or of Bonifacio. In the case of a play, discussion of the issues raised may be encouraged with the use of Boal's technique of Forum Theater, so that students may comment on the play and even restructure it according to what they believe should have happened. Similarly, arithmetic does not have to be abstract and traumatic. A recent play for children explains addition, subtraction and multiplication through children brightly costumed as animals singing and dancing the principles of arithmetic. Given the fact that students today are bombarded with visual excitement in television and film, a pedagogy that employs the arts, especially for its audio-visual impact and kinetic-participative aspect, is not only desirable but imperative.

But what is the point in employing games, creative exercises, and  the integrated disciplines of the arts in education? Clearly, these processes all provide opportunities for experiencing, and hence for learning. From personal or group or community experiences, insights and concepts are drawn out and clarified. In such learning processes, general principles or truths are never intoned ex cathedra or handed down by the teacher to the students. Rather they are deduced from what the learners experience, doing justice to the original meaning of education, i.e., ex ducere, to draw out. In this process, the "teacher" is more appropriately a "facilitator" who helps the learner draw concepts out of his experiences. The facilitator's only advantage over his students, perhaps, is the fact that he/she is more experienced and therefore richer in insights. Even then he/she does not assume the stance of an authority figure, but is one of the learners, for each new game, each new process is a new experience, and each new experience a source of new or additional knowledge for a true teacher.

Such workshops are always conducted in an informal, relaxed atmosphere, the better to encourage spontaneity. The participants, at the time when experiences and insights are synthesized, are seated on the floor in a circle. Each one is on equal footing with the rest, including their facilitator, in sharing and assessing insights.

A Nation of Creators

In conclusion, the objective of education through the arts is to develop not a country of professional artists, but rather a nation of creators--citizens who maximize the use of their creative imagination. Such a nation of persons will reject any form of fascistic control or authoritarian repression. A people with creative imagination will refuse to be herded like sheep: they will always speak their minds and stand up for the truth as they perceive it. They will never impose their own minds and wills on their fellowmen, for their inherent attitude of openness makes them respect the right of others to express their own truths.

Furthermore, a nation whose people are creators is a nation that could never stagnate or remain complacent with things as they are. It is a nation that will continue to question systems that have begun to harden and institutions that have begun to fossilize. It is a nation that will dare to question the validity of "modern medicine" and experiment with "unscientific" herbal healing. It will not be afraid to debunk such established concepts as the superiority of American-type democracy and free enterprise economy in favor of political and economic systems that protect the interests of Third World countries. It will produce Galileos, da Vincis and Einsteins who always will be unhappy with the way things are because they are obsessed by the dream of a better world for all men.

I close with a favorite anecdote which clearly shows how a people's creativity--in this case the Nicaraguans'--proved to be a successful antidote to foreign repression. When the U.S.A. suspended Nicaragua's credit to buy wheat, to pressure them into acceding to American demands which the Nicaraguans considered inimical to their interest, cultural workers promptly organized a corn festival on a national scale with an overwhelming response from their people. The Nicaraguans showed the strength and vast richness of their culture by inventing a bewildering variety of dishes, bread, pastries and drinks all made from corn. In this way they not only showed their culinary abilities, but ensured the legacy of their culture--a culture of resistance. It is said that the Nicaraguan Revolution was a revolution of poets. There can be no doubt about it, just as there can be no doubt that creativity is indeed the cornerstone of democracy and progress.

Cultural Center of the Philippines

Manila

NOTES

1. "The Educational System" in The Philippines at the Crossroads: Some Visions for the Nation (Manila: Center for Research and Communication, 1986), pp. 218-385.

2. Florangel Rosario Braid, Dieter Appelt, Jaime Valera, Ramon R. Tuazon and Evangeline Albert.