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.


rowie said...

I also wonder how well we teach our students to write critically. I know that this is part of their English classes, and I don't doubt that their English teachers teach them well, but at the same time I also wonder why students don't always apply what they learn in those classes (as manifested in the scores of essays I check that are written like stream-of-consciousness blog posts).

I'm teaching one class on Critical Thinking at another school this sem. It's heartening to see how just a few weeks of the class help students to become better writers, readers, and thinkers. Again, I hope that the lessons aren't confined to the classroom and that they actually shape the way that they write, read, and think outside of the classroom.

Problem is, we don't always encourage critical thinking, even though we are a university. Many times students are just told what to think, rather than shown how to think and encouraged to think for themselves.

rowie said...

Hey Land,

Have you read this book:

(or rather, the article reviewed in this article)?