Freedom and Education

When I was a college freshman, UP was in its second year of running the RGEP or the Revitalized General Education Program. What did this mean for us? It entitled us to choose the GE courses we wanted to take for as long as we cover the required number of units. Gone were the days wherein students would be required to take the same basic humanities, math and science classes. It seemed very appealing yet I remember the process of having to choose subjects – it was a very daunting experience for me as a college freshman. There were so many classes to choose from and I couldn’t make sense of the numbers attached to them. I painstakingly read some of the descriptions yet in the end, the choices I made were based more on schedule convenience.

On Identity and Values Formation

Coming from a small and somewhat homogenized learning environment in high school, UP was such a big, scary and exciting place for me. It was a place to get lost – quite literally and figuratively. Memories of my freshman year flooded my mind when we started to discuss Existentialism in my MA class. The prevailing idea that lingered in my mind was:

“Man exists in a world that is indifferent, which, while maybe not antagonistic, is devoid of meaning. In this world, he alone is responsible for his self-definition.”

As I thought about this, I realized that I did spend a lot of time reflecting and reevaluating my personal values while I was in college. Though the university lacked the kind of explicit character formation found in typical Catholic schools, I found myself getting more in touch with my values and humanity. It made me develop a better value system. And this leads me to think about a discussion I had with a colleague of mine who taught in non-sectarian schools here and abroad: Are Catholic schools (or any school that adheres to a certain religion) better when it comes to values formation? If you’re part of a non-sectarian school, how do you teach or impart values? What kind of foundation / philosophy do you base the principles involved in teaching values? Should we even be teaching values explicitly in the curriculum?

Is Religion Inadequate?

As we know, we live in a pluralist society. People now question if the values imparted by several religious sectors allow their members to respect and recognize views that differ from theirs. Even the Dalai Lama has been quoted that with today’s reality, “religion is no longer adequate.” From an article in The Huffington Post, he says:

“The difference between ethics and religion is like the difference between water and tea. Ethics without religious content is water, a critical requirement for health and survival. Ethics grounded in religion is tea, a nutritious and aromatic blend of water, tea leaves, spices, sugar and, in Tibet, a pinch of salt.

“But however the tea is prepared, the primary ingredient is always water,” he says. “While we can live without tea, we can’t live without water. Likewise, we are born free of religion, but we are not born free of the need for compassion.”

Many people seem to think that schools run by religious institutions have an advantage when it comes to character formation. Can we really say that students who came from such institutions are more “moral” than others?

Faith and Reason

In any religion, there are basic tenets that a follower must accept. Because certain truths and beliefs have been laid out, one may wonder how much room for questioning is allowed. For some people I have spoken to, they feel that adhering to a certain type of religion prevents them from thinking freely and rationally. Though I have no qualms (at this point) about my personal religious beliefs, I understand where they are coming from. I’ve encountered many schools that ban A LOT of books, shows, ideas, etc. For people who don’t believe in the same doctrine, you wonder and maybe at some point, feel sorry for these students since they are deprived of such things.

Thinking “Freely”

I asked one of my friends who describes himself as an agnostic which school he would consider sending his kids. Surprisingly, he said he would send his kids to a Catholic school. Why? He thinks that up to a certain age, a child would have a difficult time discerning about his choices and beliefs.

This got me thinking about making choices, defining one’s values and forming one’s identity – which period in our lives can we say that we are mature enough to make individual choices and fully grasp the consequences of our actions? Or did I only experience feeling overwhelmed in college because I wasn’t used to such an environment wherein so much options and choices were available?

Education can be a double-edged sword. At some point, it could be an instrument for liberating one’s mind and developing one’s individuality, yet at the same time it could also enslave minds and promote conformity. Though we may have a strong adherence to certain beliefs and religions, it is still important to question and not accept everything blindly. As Professor Randy David says:

“We tend to read books and essays that confirm our unexamined pre-existing beliefs. The only way to counter this is to develop a capacity for self-reflection. This comes from the habit of observing our selves, our way of seeing and not seeing. One begins by learning to take the point of view of others with whom we disagree.”

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