Wednesday, October 17, 2007


Dr. Jovy Miroy alerted me to the work of Judy Ick who (if I understood Jovy correctly) says that a certain way of speaking was promoted in the Philippines through theater, especially when the Americans were still hanging around. I have yet to get hold of her article but hearing that I had one of my "oo nga" moments.

The Ateneo called it eloquentia and was embodied in the likes of Henry Lee Irwin and is embodied in Reuter and Pagsi. Reading through The Guidon of old, theater was very much part of the life of the community. Students were also made to recite speeches in Latin and Greek. Debate was already very much alive back then.

Eloquentia was the sister of sapientia and these two were the cornerstone of Ateneo education.

In the 1970s, eloquentia and sapientia were replaced (by among others, Ben Nebres who gave a canonical speech questioning the thrust of forming Christian gentlemen) by persons-for-others, faith that does justice and all those other slogans we know so well today.

I think that debate is one of the last hold-outs from the past, but even then, the debate today is much different from the debate of yesteryear. I have a sense that the debate of the past was more play (there was even a balagtasan before!) and less competition.

Theater is still around but except for Sibol, plays emphasize the cadence of Shakespeare less than before. And of course, Latin and Greek were gone by the mid- 1960s.

Now, more than ever, I realize that the emphasis on eloquentia was formation and one could even say, leadership formation. One thinks of the Ateneo leaders of this country: Raul Manglapus, Dick Gordon, Tito Guingona. Orators and leaders.

Of course oration was also a way of creating distinction by providing instruction in a language that was not common leading to speeches where people end up saying, ang galing niya magsalita. (Note that the complement is best said in Tagalog. In English you usually say, "That was a good speech" rather than "You spoke well". In tagalog, it is the person, not the speech that is emphasized).

Jovy alerted me to the work of Ick because I was telling him that society today is not a knowledge society. It is a communication society where the people who get ahead (or are the very least included) are not those who know much or who have much substance but people who communicate well, who give a good performance.

I know so many people who get ahead because they have a certain manner of speaking (usually described as confident) even if the things they did of which they were asked to speak were hollow. In a communication society, it is not substance that matters but the manner of speaking. (To be fair, Saint-Exupery points this out near the beginning of The Little Prince).

The Ick reflections make me wonder if we teach our students how to communicate nowadays. I don't know of any college teacher who requires students to give speeches (or sermons) or perform plays or read their poems to the class. There is still an emphasis on writing but I don't know to what extent we teach that well either.

We could argue that the kind of communication taught before is elitist, which is true, but we are not even good at forming students to communicate to their fellow Filipinos (and so many of them cannot even write or speak, much less think in Filipino).

I think one of the last hold-outs is Sibol and you can see it in the quality of students from Sibol. I have had the privilege of teaching the likes of Nic Chua, Boyet Dy, Pao Abarcar and working with Luis Abad who is one of the best political speakers I know. Or you get teachers like Bobby Guevara or Henry Totanes.

Debate people get that training too and they seem to be able to build for themselves steep trajectories.

If society today rewards good communication, then we must train our students to be good people, good thinkers, good professionals who are good communicators. Maybe that is the best thing that education can do for our students.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Why Money Alone Does Not Make You Rich

The reason why we distinguish the nouveau riche from the rich is because it is not just money that makes the rich rich. Being rich is an entire manner of being that money cannot buy. Such a manner of being can only be acquired through upbringing, “good breeding”, so to speak which only comes with constant exposure from a very young age.

The nouveau riche give away their being nouveau in many ways. In their manner of speaking and degree of (dis)comfort with the language of the rich. In their degree of (dis)comfort (and the discomfort they generate) in the presence of “good” company. In their clothes which cannot replicate the understated wealth of the truly rich. In their manner of spending with their tendency to display their happiness at their newly acquired wealth. The truly rich tend to be frugal.

The children of the nouveau rich have a better chance of truly assimilating the culture of the rich as their parents invest their newly acquired economic capital into access for their children to “good” schools and “good” company.

A corollary to all of the above is that it is possible not to be financially wealthy and yet still acquire the manner of being of the rich. A child who enters a “good school” (especially in the early years) through a scholarship for example (or because their parents invest almost everything they have in a child's education), may develop a taste for “the finer things in life”: poetry, travel (abroad), “good” books, classical music, theater, art and all the other things that are signs of cultural distinction.

Next Post: Friday, 12 October 2007. Practical Mastery
I am running out of things to post! :-)