Sunday, March 18, 2012

Scratches and Sketches: On Academic Responsibilities and Student Leadership

(Er, I am not really sure whether I shall be meddling with student issues, but I will since I feel the agitating urge to do so, as the UPLB situation gets worse as we speak. No, no comments yet on criminal activities. I would rather focus on issues concerning student institutions. Here is Terry Ridon's take on the issue. This is a working draft, publicized without much shame.)

So, there's an open letter from MOVE UP suggesting measures to the Central Electoral Board of UPLB, so that what they call crises in student representation may be prevented, despite the perversion of the process being committed by the Board itself. Let me focus on their first, er, "point," suggesting the "inclusion of academic requirement, a residency requirement, and a load requirement," citing the cases of the former USC Chairperson and former Student Regent way back in 2009 as examples why such requirements are necessary. Well, it is either naivete or stupidity, if not arrogance or both or all, (maybe, add deliberate show of ignorance to appear innocent) to conclude that the two aforementioned cases of student leaders "disenfranchised" thousands of UP students; and to exclude that the ferocity of the then-Velasco administration serves as a factor in pushing student leaders against the wall, to work, maybe, beyond double time just to execute education campaigns in both the national and the local level.

All these seemingly directionless efforts of writing an open letter brandishing a facade of good will despite UPLB's call to proclaim Ynik Ante as the rightful USC chairperson. These efforts seem directed at deviating from the real issue of the admin's intervention. Notice that the letter started with Good day, which foretells the rest of the content: total, er, pardon the french, bullcrap. Why? Well, the day is far from good when the supposed Editor in Chief of the official student publication of UPLB students would rather spend time writing for another publication, instead of informing, if not mobilizing, the students to help, if not fight for, UPLB Perspective. Worse, the article that used the recent murder to advance political agenda implied something re: the USC issue, distorting data and citing Joyce Divino, the second-placer, as the USC chairperson-elect instead of Ynik Ante. Worse, the names listed as members of the Executive Committee of MOVE UP seem like, more or less, the same names that appeared on the editorial box of UPLB Perspective AY 2011-2012 (with Calayag as "Contributor"), in one of their very very rare releases. Worse, the article and the letter are both silent on the pressing issue, i.e., the CEB's deprivation of the students' right to determine the students they deem as leaders.

Now, I do not know how exactly [P] really is, but it is clear that these people have neither moral ascendancy nor leadership credibility to suggest what needs to be done as they themselves failed to live up to their mandates as leaders, as supposed vanguards of the flagship campus publication in Southern Tagalog. By the way, do feel free to correct me if I am wrong. I am speaking from an outsider's point of view. And, I may have speculations or ideas as regards how [P] is, but I do not think I am in the position to speak for the current editorial board, but I am hoping that the UPLB students be informed soon of how their student publication is. This hope, which I assume is also the hope of thousands of UPLB students have fallen on deaf ears for a year already. I hope the next editorial board conducts some sort of investigation.

If the case of UPLB Perspective 2011-2012 is not disenfranchising enough, if the case of Mr. Ernest Francis Calagayag's negligence, his term's not returning of bond fees among other delinquencies [read about the alleged criminal case of bribery filed by the Office of the Student Regent against Bukluran, an 'informal' alliance of UP political parties of which Calayag of MOVE UP is a member?] not as an enrolled student but as a student leader is not disenfranchising enough, I do not know what it is. Assuming but not conceding that the two aforementioned cases of "delinquency" that MOVE UP brought up are committed out of neglecting academic responsibilities, what more of the negligence of Mr. Samuel Pasia (EIC of Perspective) and Mr. Calayag, both who, as it seems, have been delinquent in their respective roles as student leaders of the publication and of the council? If memory serves me right, there was one Council of Student Leaders meeting when February Fair matters should have been discussed and Mr. Calayag was too busy with his academics to pay his constituents a visit. Would we want "student leaders" who would rather put their constituents' interests at stake just to, er, gain the units for their enrolled subjects? or, for whatever their reasons or excuses for not performing their respective roles are.

Speaking of subjects and numerical grades, it has been pointed out a number of times that grades are subjective. I myself have been in conflict with a professor, not because I am delinquent, but because we come from differing, if not opposing, frameworks. And such shall, of course, to some extent affect numerical grades. Now, if a professor happens to be an administrator too, then matters become more complicated, as you know, cases of power tripping are not, really, rare. Breeding student leaders who would rather be more concerned and conscious of their grades than of social praxis would inevitably be faced, in one in/direct way or another, with conflicts of interests, and upon facing such conflicts, these grade conscious students would, I believe, rather betray the objective interests of the education sector, rather than getting in trouble with the powers-that-be since these authorities give them the, say, privilege of being students eligible for a position that would decorate their curriculum vitae with more rainbows.

Grades, passing, exemplary or failing is not really all that matters. Quoting Freire at length, "It is only when the oppressed find the oppressor out and become involved in the organized struggle for their liberation that the oppressed begin to believe in themselves. This discovery cannot be purely intellectual but must involve action; nor can it be limited to mere activism, but must include serious reflection: only then will it be a praxis." I do not know what MOVE UP's multiperspective activism is all about, but putting premium on numerical grades, something determined by how you abide by the "rules" seems more of giving in to the system they claim to change rather than overhauling it.

As regards the brand of student leadership they and their kin seem to advocate, it seems to put emphasis on the purely intellectual, though any claim to being intellectual may, of course, be contested. Simply put, assuming that parroting the Professor's standpoint verges on the intellectual, upon being faced with a decision when one has to choose whether to sacrifice one's status as a student for the sake of serving the people or to retain a good working relationship with the bureaucracy to serve personal interests of graduating at the soonest time possible with the highest academic honors possible, the "student leader" with numerical grades as priority would have second thoughts, faced with a decision-making dilemma where one has to choose between the stakeholders and the colors of intellectual capital and related investments; the "student leader" shall take academic incentives, as if a bribe, to compromise student interests. Yes, their suggestion, since time immemorial, is just a "minimum grade requirement," but, again, consider the subjectivity of attributing a number to gauge academic performance. One can even get a failing mark just because, and there are, even, tenured professors who have the reputation of using a dart board to determine academic performance.

Thus, in the event that academics and leadership compete for attention, such a "student leader," who claims to be a student first before being a leader, will, needless to say, predictably put academic requirements on top priority, which actually, obviously, shows a vacillating commitment to one's responsibilities as servant leader. The rhetoric of being a student first before being a leader, being an iskolar para sa bayan (the laughable and identity-crisis-ridden iskolar ng bayan para sa bayan, included) justifies future delinquency, by, say, garnering excessive absences in USC meetings as in Lamentillo's case, for instance; by, say, working in silence as if the underdog to settle the case of missing bond fees as in Calayag's case, for another instance. Simply because they are students first, who have this and that schedule of a group meeting or other whatever-their-meetings-that-are-more-important-than-their-sworn-duty-to-serve-their-constituents-from-whom-their-mandate-came-from.

In general, student leaders who are students first before being leaders would perform their responsibilities as leaders during their free time, during breaks when they are most comfortable, so that they remain law-abiding citizens, where law means as superficial as not overstaying as a student, subscribing even to authorities who intervene with student institutions, subscribing to anyone who would bless them with "academic" incentives which are sometimes incentives gained if one agrees with the system at all times and attacks anyone who begs to differ.

In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire already showed how "education suffers from narration sickness," with his banking definition of education and the object-subject relationship in the classroom setting where students are mere repositories of knowledge. As Prof. Lanuza, in "Demythologizing the Fetish of Academic Excellence," has already criticized and discussed these effects of neoliberal education to this perverted thinking of so-called "student leaders" whose mantra is, as repeated in this entry, student-first-leader-next," such fetish for grades, trains these budding "student leaders" to be trapos and gradually turns them into potential reactionaries against anything that promises however radical a change.

I'll end by quoting what I believe is the heart of Lanuza's essay: "This naiveté leads to the creation of what Giroux aptly calls as the “pedagogy of the depressed” in which students are subtly programed to believe that getting better grades and mastering the skills are the be-all and end-all of education, and where teachers are reduced to mere bodies without organs of the teaching–war machines diligently preparing students to live the in nucleus of Christopher Lasch’s “heartless world”."

And let me add his recent status update: "Getting a grade of 1.0 makes you intelligent but not Intellectual. Intelligence works within the framework of limited but clearly stated goals, and may be quick to shear away questions of thought that do not seem to help in reaching them. An intellectual, on the other hand, is critical and creative. Whereas intelligent students seek to grasp, manipulate, re-order, adjust, intellectuals examine, ponder, wonders, theorize, criticize, imagine. Intellectuals usually get DQs, MRR, and LOA. Intelligent students get the awards during graduation. They are docile slaves of the system that gives plentiful rewards to the grade-droolers." Let me point out that Lanuza has never been my professor, thus, this, erm, "parroting" does not really have anything to do with incentives of some sort, like those minus point two fives for perfect attendance. Just as linking Chomsky's take on the purpose of education and suggesting that student leaders against student delinquency stop their delinquency as student leaders (indeed a delinquency resembling "noynoying while in office)" would not bless me with any grade incentive. How sad. Anyway, it has been a lengthy entry that has been revised a couple of times today and it is perhaps my turn to say: Good day.

PS Making the day better is UP and Ateneo's fall from the world's list of top universities. [news]

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