I’ve mentioned in earlier posts that I attend a small local college using my GI Bill. Being at least 30 years the senior of most of the oldest students, and 20 plus years older than many of the teachers has led to some interestingly edgy moments. The difference in our ages isn’t all there is to it; there are wide cultural distinctions between us, mostly as far as the way students and teachers are expected to interface, and me not unusually abiding by those expectations. Then of course, there’s my bluntly adversarial, know-it-all personality that causes me to challenge and question things that no Filipino student would ever think to dispute.
These days, for the most part, I have few problems getting along with my teachers and classmates, but in almost every class I still manage to have my “bad boy” moments where I forget myself. Like most Americans my age, I have strong opinions about nearly everything, and at times I’ll use the classroom as a forum to pontificate on them. This is not a problem as long as the instructor agrees with me, but there are times when that is not the case.
For me, when I come upon moments of disagreement – THAT is when I am most in my element. However, I’ve found that Filipinos in the Philippines, as compared to those living in the U.S., especially the ones I come in contact with here in “the province” as they say, don’t tend to enjoy debating issues. For the most part, people here are very non-confrontational, especially when it comes to debate, and I find that puzzling, this near universal unwillingness to contest and argue. Filipinos who have lived abroad, especially those who have resided in the USA, seem to quickly lose this confrontation avoidance, which is why I make the distinction above.
Yet, there have been moments where a teacher and I have been clearly at odds over a topic. I know this because he or she might make an observation, or forget that I am there and offer an opinion during class. I say, “forget I’m there,” because it seems to me that some teachers don’t tender opinions around me knowing that I might counter their assertions. There’s an American saying, certainly not one shared by most folks in this country, that “opinions are like assholes; everyone has one.” Not so over here – certainly the part about “everyone having an opinion” that is.
Just FINDING someone with an opinion, or rather finding someone willing to SHARE one is rare. So when I find a person daring enough to proffer one, especially a teacher, I try to couch my dissent as tactfully as possible and to make my case in a sentence or two so as not to confound them. Usually though, “the discussion” does not progress past that point, because normally the teacher will simply dismiss me by making a noncommittal remark such as “anyway” or “nonetheless” and continue on as if I don’t exist. Besides shunting away my “challenge,” I will usually receive a chilly look, and for sure then I’ll know that I’ve just annoyed someone. Oops.
By contrast, American students are encouraged, if not cajoled, to participate in classroom discussion, where on the other hand, Filipino students are quite content and are more often than not permitted to say nothing at all in class. I have NEVER run into the problem of not being able to get a word in edgewise in a classroom situation. In truth, If I am not careful I can very easily find myself dominating classroom discussions, so I have learned to keep my comments to myself until I’m sure they are welcomed by my instructors. On that note, many of them DO value my presence knowing that all they have to do is prompt me and I’ll pipe right up with something. Others though, as I mentioned already, are not so welcoming; either because I threaten their ultimate authority, or more likely, because they worry that I deter the other students into reticent silence.
Having said that, I don’t think that my occasional outspokenness is the only reason I threaten some of the teachers and intimidate my classmates. I’m sure that a primary source of this insecurity is the requirement to speak English in the classroom. The teachers speak almost perfect English, but many of the kids do not have absolute fluency. Being aware of this, and due to my understanding of an Asian’s need to sidestep embarrassment, I NEVER correct anyone’s English; besides, that would be extremely bad form. So, perhaps some of their reticence to speak their minds is in large part due to their lack of English speaking skills, but I believe that is only a partial explanation.
And that brings me to what is probably a primary reason for the paucity of public and classroom debate – and that is Filipino aversion to being shown up or proven wrong for all to see. For those involved in Western education, engaging in debate and dialogue is a hallmark of the process, and perhaps this is so in the larger Filipino Universities, but not out here at the grass roots level. Rather than risk looking foolish, I’ve noticed that the kids around me will accept unquestioningly what is put forth by teachers or by me, or more likely, they simply keep their true feelings and any questions they might have to themselves. It’s called ‘avoidance’ and the people over here, especially students, have it down to a science.
Lastly, and I hate to say this, but I think there is a large measure of laziness involved, most certainly on the part of the students, and conversely, on the part of educators who don’t push their pupils to expand their minds. Because to have an opinion, a person must be willing to do “hard” things like reading, listening, researching, and analyzing – all before they can at last formulate their very OWN outlooks on matters in the world. From what I’ve seen, many of the students that sit in my classes just don’t want to extend their intellect. In other words, they don’t want to THINK. I find that extremely unfortunate and sad.