Teach by example

Senator Manny Pacquiao seems to have forgotten this adage when he said on March 7 that he was considering filing a bill that would seek to include a subject on patriotism in schools.
First off, teachers in both public and private schools already do their part in teaching children about being proud of their country. From a professional educator’s perspective, teaching it in the classroom is never enough, especially when everything around us smacks of belittling our own.
Isn’t that why stories about Rizal, Bonifacio, Aguinaldo, guerrillas of World War II are taught over and over again? Aren’t these heroes the personification of patriotism? Patriotism is doing what’s right for the country, not just during war but in peace time too, shunning corruption and other unsavory practices like lying, stealing, cheating.
Which then begs the question: do our elected leaders understand what patriotism is?
The Teachers’ Dignity Coalition immediately released a statement asking government officials to examine themselves first and see whether their actions are worthy of emulation. The TDC’s national chair, Benjo Basas, found it ironic that a politician is mulling this over when the administration’s current priorities, as well as its stance on issues, appear to be unpopular among the people. As an example, he cited the efforts to change the Constitution and the “defeatist policy” on the West Philippine Sea.
Comments on social media are more scathing. In one of my feeds, I read, “Binebenta na ng pamahalaan ang kaluluwa ng Pilipinas sa Tsina tapos gusto nyo maging patriotic ang mga bata (The government is already selling our soul to China, and you want children to be patriotic)?”
Growing up, my generation learned about colonial mentality. Is it gone? Have we removed this type of thinking among our youth? I doubt it.
For one, our billboards are still replete with whitening products – as if being fair is better, as if being the morena Filipino is not enough. Parents like me often take these at face value. Many of us are quite aware of it, but the awareness remains at the back of our minds. We never consciously address the issue with our children.
When Shobe was around 3 years old, she told me, “Nanay, Achi is prettier than me.”
Me: What makes you say that?
Shobe: Because she’s maputi (fair).
Me: Shobe, we’re all pretty. Achi is maputi and pretty; you are dark and pretty; I am spotted and pretty! (Thank goodness for all my freckles and a very large sun spot on my cheek.)
I have always known how insidious advertising is. But somehow there is a disconnect. I would not have been conscious of my children’s perception of their own worth had Shobe not said this at such a young age.
Neither would I have consciously brought this up in conversation. Now, even as they are older, I still drive home the point: that whatever color we are born with is perfect just the way it is. This way, they know their worth does not depend on their looks.
In turn, I am happy to note that last Christmas season, when a group of children from a public school had a joint Christmas party with children at my daughters’ school, Shobe was the first to defend them.
A classmate, who had just started his first year in our school, remarked, “I don’t like them [the children from the public school], they’re new and brown.”
Shobe to the rescue: “What?!?! You’re sooo racist!!! You’re new and you’re brown. Just like them!”
This is just the tip of the iceberg.
How about the issues besetting the Philippines? How are we helping our children understand them? Not all parents would agree to extreme measures like bringing children to rallies, which my husband and I do. But at the very least, do we talk to them about the issues? I understand that these issues are often controversial. There is a need to separate political bickering from real issues.
In my family, we talk about the extrajudicial killings. For my children, we have simplified it a bit. The issue on the table is not about Duterte’s war on drugs. We talk to the girls about the value of life regardless of what that person has done. When we have no more respect for life, when we no longer value the life of another human being, then we might as well not have hope for humanity.
This conversation does not deal with the pros and the cons of any political person – it is simply about life and every person’s right to live.
It does not always have to be this complicated. Simple acts of patriotism can also teach children about it. How many of us fail to stand up when the National Anthem is played at a movie house? When the family does stand, how many of us do not demand that other patrons stand as well?
When Achi was 5 years old, we went to the first showing of a movie at 10 a.m. on a weekday. It was just my husband, Achi and me, plus a couple two rows below us.
Because there was no one else there, Achi’s voice was loud and clear in those two seconds between the announcer asking us to stand and the music playing: “Nanay, they’re not standing.”
The couple was embarrassed enough to hear a child reprimand them, and they stood up. These days, as embarrassing as it is to call out other patrons, I do ask them to stand up. I also ask random people to stand at attention when we are near a school or government edifice that happens to be playing the National Anthem loud enough to be heard on the street.
Go to museums. Approach a shrine and read the caption. These are also simple things to do to help our children appreciate our own history and culture.
My children are both very familiar with Jose Rizal from school. When Achi was four, we went to Fort Del Pilar in Baguio to attend a reunion of graduates of the Philippine Military Academy. She ran up to a statue and said, “Nanay, Jose Rizal!”
When she looked up, she recognized that it was a different face and asked me to read the historical marker at the bottom. I did. Whew! The historical marker was very long and felt longer because of the noonday sun blasting my head.
As I read, I simplified words on the fly for my 4-year-old to understand. But I slogged through it. It was important to take this opportunity while she was interested to teach her about a person in history. At that time, I wasn’t sure if her love for history would stay or not. Better be safe and read the caption for her and hope that she retains something.
Try to look for a museum and stop over a bit when on vacation anywhere in the Philippines. When we do this often enough, even when we don’t finish going through the entire museum, our children absorb this practice and would want to go to museums wherever they are.
In the Philippines, they learn a little bit more about the stories of our country. They gain a little more pride for our country, each and every time they enter one. This practice is not a one-time-big-time deal.
It is the habit of being proud of our country – and wanting to do good for it – that is transferred to our children. Patriotism cannot be lectured to students, or even legislated by Congress. It has to be lived.