The Manila Times : Educators, please educate

12 March 2022

By Antonio Contreras | The Manila Times

ONE of the most serious accusations hurled against me by a colleague in the teaching profession, made behind my back, is that I am an embarrassment to my profession, and that peers and former students are ashamed of me.

I had to examine and back-read all my posts, trying to look for anything that would turn me into a troll, or a peddler of fake news. Even in my most critical moment, I do not curse, become personal, and hit below the belt.

They accuse me of peddling lies against Vice President Maria Leonor Robredo, and I dare anyone who says so to do better than rely on hearsay, social media posts, biased vetting and denials to match my personal knowledge about her.

If there are people who truly embarrass the teaching profession, it will be those who abandon decorum in social media, and behave like trolls when they heap abusive language on those who have different presidential preferences. These are teachers who readily insult and demean the intellectual capacities of people just because they would vote for a particular candidate. These are persons who are supposed to teach their students critical thinking, and yet debauch this by turning criticism into a harangue and reducing it to insults, instead of resorting to substantive discourse.

There are also teachers who expect their students to back with evidence any claim they make in their term papers, theses or dissertations. They expect rigor, and they would fail anyone who would submit unsubstantiated claims. They inculcate among their students the ethos of a healthy skepticism and the constant thirst for inquiry. Yet, on matters such as martial law, they would abandon these in favor of a total submission to dominant narratives that are convenient for their politics. As people whose entire career rests on constant revision to improve, be it a text or a practice, they frown on revising history even if it means making it fairer, more complete and balanced.

There are teachers who impress on their students the science behind social research methods, which include surveys. And yet, they readily join those who dismiss pre-election surveys unfavorable to their candidates, even those conducted in a scientific way, as unreliable.

Teachers are supposed to teach the skill of being objective, of examining all sides, and considering all pieces of evidence before one can make a conclusion or reach a decision and make a recommendation, or act.

As educators, we teachers train our students to think critically, to go beyond the obvious and the visible, and not to accept simplistic dualisms and single dimensions, and to always examine the gray areas and the multidimensional. And yet, many teachers, lost in the throes of their partisan blinders, would turn into diehard supporters and loyalists of certain candidates.

We have people who impose rigid standards on their students, but would be star-struck in deep awe at mediocre performances in debates and interviews of their preferred candidates. These are people who will berate their thesis advisees for sloppy work, will recommend either a major revision or reject a manuscript they peer-reviewed which they find wanting, and will vote against the tenure of a junior colleague who performs below par. And yet, they become like fans that swoon over the mediocrity of a candidate they like.

Modern pedagogy now focuses on transformative learning where one begins first by understanding the prior learning of a student, and then equipping that student the capacity to ask their own questions and design a plan on how to answer those questions. Content is now less the focus, and the shift is on process. Teachers are no longer the master lecturers acting like sages on the stage, but as enablers of the learning process or as guides on the side.

In this learning environment, teachers are not supposed to be judgmental, and should exert extra effort to understand the states of mind of people and where they are coming from. They are not supposed to impose their preferred questions, options, methods and answers to students.

Unfortunately, we see teachers who become toxically judgmental when it comes to the political opinions of people who disagree with them. There is little appetite to engage where these opinions are coming from, even as there is a rush to judge not only the mental but even the moral and ethical character of these persons. Worse are teachers who turn social media into an open space to malign and gossip about not just other people, but even their colleagues in the profession.

It is cringe-inducing to see teachers speak ill of colleagues, even if they are not named, in the presence of and sometimes with their current and former students. Lost in their partisan disdain toward anyone who does not wear their political color, they heap insults on peers, effectively demonstrating to their students the lack of respect they show for divergent voices. In turn, they reinforce the unhealthy, toxic environment that we now inhabit.

Some teachers defend their actions as righteous anger. Someone even told me I deserve to be shamed, wrongly accusing me of being a Duterte enabler and a Marcos loyalist. I shudder at the thought of letting the education of our future generations rest on these people.

It is going to be hard to educate when those tasked to enable learning are acting like trolls in social media. It is going to be difficult to celebrate critical thinking when teachers turn into loyal bearers of preferred narratives and candidates. Those guilty would say that they are critical thinkers and that is why they prefer a particular candidate. And there we can already rest our case about how far partisanship has eroded the profession. It is easy to confuse critical thinking with the act of criticizing. And we have a big problem when teachers and educators are the ones confused and don't know the difference.