Philippine Daily Inquirer
July 19, 2003, p.9
After four years in the university, I came out convinced that the hardest part about learning is not dragging yourself to school (although this could be a problem if you have a class at 7 a.m.), or dealing with anxiety while cramming for exams (I got the hang of it to the point that it became an exhilarating experience to finish a test). It is not even writing those long papers in a hurry, for it led to the discovery that beating deadlines actually stimulates my creative juices.
The most difficult part was accepting the reality that no matter how much studying you do, no matter how much Glutaphos you take or coffee you drink, you can never know everything.
I was a junior journalism student when I met Prof. Albina Fernandez. She fit my image of a woman who had aged gracefully, garbed in her color-coordinated clothes, shoes and bags. Her long black hair, streaked with some gray strands, was always neatly tied in a bun.
Monday and Thursday afternoons, I literally had to drag my feet way up the fourth floor of the decrepit Palma Hill at the University of the Philippines in Diliman for my required Rizal course, a.k.a. Philippine Institutions 100 or PI 100. For those who consider it as another course to flunk, “PI” also stands for that vulgar Filipino cuss word.
Our first few meetings with Professor Fernandez were a big disappointment for me. I would often sneer behind her back because I was hoping we could talk more about Rizal instead of gossiping about some dumb actor who got elected into a high government post. Unlike others who detested this general education course, I had looked forward to studying Rizal. At the tender age of 12, I had vowed to marry a man like him if I could not have the real thing.
With that kind of passion for our national hero, one can just imagine my disappointment when instead of talking about Rizal, our teacher kept discussing superstructures and Hegel and Feuerbach. She explained that she wanted to focus on how Rizal turned out to be the man he was and not the number of women he had seduced.
Too bad, I thought, then I won’t be able to show off my knowledge about some intriguing aspects of his life. I instantly hated our professor’s guts. She knew too much and expected us to know as much too. She never missed the opportunity to make us sound silly every time we answered her questions.
But as the semester wore on, I started to look forward to our discussions. She constantly reminded us not to pretend to know something when in fact we only heard a fraction of it, or worse, to get involved in issues of which we have very little understanding. The university was teeming with people like this. They talked about Karl Marx and even quoted him, when in fact they hadn’t even read the “Communist Manifesto.” Outside the campus we knew a handful of leaders and politicians who presented the same false facade of knowing everything. And look where they brought us.
I used to think that a great teacher was someone who could make me understand new ideas. Professor Femandez fit that description but what made her even more exceptional was her uncanny ability to make us appreciate learning. She instilled in us the need to rise above idiocy, to wash away traces of (and I am quoting her now) “below sea-level consciousness.”
“The greatest tragedy in this world is that you are dead without you knowing it,” she often told us. The fact is that we go through life blaming other people for our failures, for remaining poor and for all the crises we face. And for some of us, ignorance is a trouble-free attitude.
A year after graduation, as I join the throng of twen undergoing our own crises and disappointments, the drive to learn and make a difference has remained, despite the not-so-pleasant working condition and the unreasonably small pay I am getting. I stubbornly insist on working in the media, continuing to believe in the nobility of the profession.
No matter how idealistic and na?ve it seems, I still dream of the day when we will be able to take control of our lives; when all of us will be able to choose sensibly whom to believe and what to believe in; when believing in a single truth will not be as important as accepting the difference in others.
School started again last June amid typhoons, a SARS scare and the perennial problem of having a tight budget. Knowledge isn’t free, especially in our country. One has to buy books and pay thousands of pesos for a semester of study at a good university even if it is state-owned like UP.
Perhaps more than anything else, the question of whether our schools and teachers instill the right attitude toward learning is worth serious pondering.
Myla Hayo Torres, 21, works at the news desk of a television network. She stays up nights monitoring the news and sleeps during daytime.