Andrew Gonzalez, F.S.C.

This chapter concerns how values may be incorporated and imparted through language education in the Philippine context.

Under our Bilingual Education Policy formulated in 1974 and substantially repeated in 987, education in the Philippines is conducted in two languages, Filipino (our national language) and English.

The domains of each language are delineated, with English reserved as the `non-exclusive' language for mathematics and science in the curriculum, for home technology and work experience (temporarily), and with Filipino for all other subjects.

Since content subjects in the humanities have been treated by Dr. Bienvenido Lumbera, focusing upon literature, I shall confine myself to what is called Communication Arts in Filipino and in English, under the Secondary Education Development Program.


Before World War II, an American chemical engineer turned linguist and anthropologist in the Boston area, Benjamin Lee Whorf, proposed the intriguing idea that the grammar of a language, its structure, affects the way we perceive reality. Earlier, in the 1920s, one of the great linguists of the United States, perhaps the greatest so far, Edward Sapir, propounded something similar based on his study of the way American Indian languages affected the community's thinking and perceptions of reality. Whorf took up the idea more explicitly by saying that the categories of a language, arranged in its grammatical system, influenced the thinking of the speaker using that language. The hypothesis, known in scholarly circles as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, has never been proven.

Experimental studies have, however, been conducted on children of different linguistic backgrounds to see if the students' performance in certain cognitive tasks was reinforced or weakened by the explicit grammatical categories of their mother tongues. While it was found that certain Navajo Indian children proved superior in spatial thinking in non-verbal tests (the Navajo language has special figure-based counters), in the Boston area, among students of high socio-economic status families the same superior performance in testing for spatial thinking was found. If nothing else, the studies showed that even if there were an initial superiority due to one language, there are enough compensating factors to make up for any disadvantages on the part of those who speak another language.

Actually, at present, hardly anyone subscribes to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis in its strong form. In its weak form, however, many would accept the fact that language sensitizes its speakers to certain realities that are important to the speakers of that language: for example, we have multiple words for rice because it is so important to our culture; in the same way Eskimos have multiple words for snow because of the importance of this object for their way of life.

A form of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis was in operation among the early American educators during our colonial history, since if one reads the reports of the period, many Americans felt that only through English could Filipinos learn the democratic values of government and adopt the practices of democracy. Similarly, some businessmen among the Americans felt that it was only through English could Filipinos be activated in the commercial fields and become productive beyond their traditional agricultural modes.

During the controversy on the teaching of Spanish in the 1950s, one of the arguments used by the pro-Spanish elements, especially among the Spanish religious orders and some of the bishops, was that the faith was somehow tied to Spanish, and that if Filipinos ceased to be knowledgeable in Spanish, the faith would somehow suffer since in the minds of these people, Catholicism was identified with Spanish and our Hispanic past.

Among modern theologians in our country, there is now an accepted assumption that the only way really to integrate Christianity into the warp and woof of the fabric of Filipino life is to stop using English for catechetical and religious instruction and instead to use Filipino or the local language. In this way, what the Jesuit psychologist Jaime Bulatao calls `split-level Christianity' can somehow be obviated and one's Christian values integrated with one's life so that one need not become merely a Sunday Catholic.

This explains also why the Spanish missionaries, defying the wishes of the Spanish Crown, insisted on learning the local languages and using these for preaching and teaching rather than Spanish. At present, this explains why sermons are more and more given in the local languages rather than in English or even Tagalog, or why even in sophisticated Manila homilies are preached in a code-switching variety of Filipino and English.

I have cited all these developments not to revive the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, but merely to call attention to a common-sense idea. If one wishes to touch the hearts of people, one does better in the language of the home more than in a foreign language that one associates only with official impersonal functions removed from daily life. Hence, if we wish really to impart values in a class, we would do better using the local, or at least an indigenous, language such as Filipino rather than English. This applies particularly to the daily Values Education period under the new secondary school curriculum and to the religion classes taught in private schools both Catholic and Protestant. I would make the same plea for our madrasah schools--not to use Arabic (since hardly anyone speaks Arabic) but to use the mother tongue of our Islamic cultural communities: Maranao, Maguindanao, Sama, Yakan and Tausug.


To focus on the actual language arts subjects, the purpose of the Filipino language arts classes is to teach the structure of Filipino among non-Tagalogs and among native Tagalogs the standardized variety of Filipino. The letter is still in the process of standardization and cultivation, of which one facet is intellectualization. Moreover, after this initial phase of teaching structure, all instruction in one's local language actually consists of learning to use this language effectively--in other words, for rhetorical purposes. Traditionally in the field of instruction this is called the language arts: listening, speaking, reading, and writing. At the same time, both for language use and ultimately for the knowledge and appreciation of culture, language lessons are interspersed with literary study especially at the secondary level. Literary study is both cultural and aesthetic in purpose: one learns more about the language's cultural matrix as well as the artistic merits of its literary craftsmanship and merit (what we call appreciation) through the study of language.

Ultimately, the purposes and activities for English as a second language in the Philippines are similar to the purposes and activities for Filipino. While the initial work in English language study is the learning of English as a code, English language study ultimately will involve the creative use of English for thinking and higher cognitive activities. This goes beyond its use for studying science and mathematics and for wider communication. At the advanced stage of ESL, one learns about the cultural underpinning of the language, especially when studying the literature of English outside of the Philippines as well as Philippine literature in English.

The initial purpose is then communication, but ultimately it should be cultural enrichment and aesthetic appreciation for both Filipino and English.

In all phases of instruction in language--from communication to rhetorical use, to cultural and scientific enrichment, and to aesthetic appreciation--there are values considerations which can be occasions for the human formation of our students.

In communication activities, one can teach the value of proper communication in human life and the virtues of openness and honesty; in group work the virtue of cooperation becomes necessary. In rhetorical activities, especially debate, one can teach respect for facts, the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, the avoidance of distorting truth, the rules of evidence on which to convict a person, the ill-effects of rumor-mongering and distortion through transmission, and critical thinking in general. These elements are prescribed in the DECS Values Education Program as spelled out in its 2988 policy document, Values Education for the Filipino.

In using language, one must use it well. St. James counsels us in his epistle: "Even so the tongue is indeed a little member and boasteth great things" (James 3:5). It can be an instrument for good or for ill--it can heal divisions but likewise can provoke war. In the processes of formative growth among our students, especially at the primary and secondary levels, James's caution for the use of words can become a standard for language use.

Finally, the study of literature, without becoming preachy and forcing students to find "moral lessons" everywhere, is an excellent vehicle for the build-up of a "taste" for literary craftsmanship and artistic creativity, as well as an excellent laboratory for the vicarious experience in life. So much of what we know about human nature is not given to us by psychology or sociology, but by literature through prose and poetry and the different literary genres one learns more about human behavior and human relations, especially relations between man and woman, from reading novels from all periods than from any courses on marriage and on psychology.

It is necessary to select the literary pieces well and to form a proper canon of literature, something that the SLATE (Secondary Language Program for Teachers) program under PNC has been attempting. Then let the literary selections speak for themselves without having to be explicitly moralistic. The human and aesthetic values will come through if the teacher knows how to handle a literary piece well in class.

Specific values may be taught by language use (through communication skills) and special varieties of language in specific areas (what the British linguists call registers, Business English, Technical English, Medical English, Computer English, and the emerging registers of Filipino in different fields). But beyond this language programming and its implementation become formative elements in the development of what DECS calls the "core values" of nationalism and pride in the Filipino, on the one hand, and in global understanding and cooperation, on the other hand.

The importance which the curriculum places on our national language and the creativity of the classes in Filipino have witness value in themselves. To the Filipino students they send a message, loud and clear, that our national language is important, that it is part of our identity and self-worth, a symbol of our national unity, a source of pride. To me this is one antidote to our "damaged culture" and a way of building up self-esteem for our nation and of carrying the process of internalizing nationalism one step further.

On the other hand, while we place a premium on a sense of self-worth and self-esteem and pride in things Filipino, especially our common language, we cannot afford to be parochial in our approach to global realities.

English thus becomes a means of gaining access to world knowledge, available temporarily only in the world's intellectualized languages, so that the Filipino becomes universal in his outlook while secure in his own identity. He needs a language of wider communication for cooperative work in this ASEAN part of the globe, and beyond as well. Not only should many Filipino learn English but other world languages such as Japanese, Chinese, French, German and, of course, Spanish.

There is no real conflict between Filipino and English, given the perspective I am describing, since most of humanity is bilingual if not trilingual. We should have what sociolinguists call additive, rather than substractive, bilingualism, just as English needed French, Latin and Greek to develop similarly.

Hence, without explicit focuse upon them, core values are served by the very nature of a bilingual program, with priority of course placed on the development of Filipino through standardization, cultivation, and intellectualization.

Ultimately, values are communicated in almost all fields of study and in almost all human activities. The focus should be on authenticity, to let these values emerge from these human endeavors and activities, rather than "forcing" them by explicit moralizing.

To best train our teachers for values education, then, is not to encourage them to become homilists and sermonizers (whose utterances are often vacuous and repetitious), but to teach them to appreciate the gift of language and its expressions and to let these speak to the student. A good reader, an assiduous literary student, will be exposed to these values almost by osmosis, and in the process, through both cognitive and attitudinal skills, build-up and internalize the vales desired for the future or our country.

De La Salle University