August 27, 2012
One hundred and sixty teachers and professors from the prestigious Ateneo de Manila University had signed a manifesto for their support to the House Bill 4244 popularly known as the Reproductive Health Bill. That has to be a record of sorts. Wasn’t it just mere 14 professors way back in the year 2008? Some of the Catholic bishops couldn’t help but swing their heads in gasp to what has been cooking in an institution run by them whose contribution to Philippine Catholicism is incontestable. My surprise rather came about on why the surprise for our overseers (that’s what the word bishop etymologically means). Had our bishops perhaps overlooked this?
This matter in effect had garnered delight for the pro-RH camp, and horror for the anti-RH camp. But both camps could be deceived by these first impressions if no one wouldn’t be wiser. The professors, in their own ingenuity, had signed the manifesto showcasing that they had no intention of dragging the school’s name with them. I believe it’s their way of declaring that there are brains inside the school that think apart from the heads, that they are not in a sense spoon-fed to an institution that feeds their stomachs but cannot relieve them of their stomach-aches. However, I don’t believe they never imagined of the consequences. Professors knew the equations aright and were certain that their move will affect the school’s name and reputation, and it can even endanger their work as teachers. A school according to student’s experience is often better known and remembered on the teachers, not on the entity running or supporting it, which may stay absent and nonchalant in a student’s life.
I understand why the bishops are gravely concerned. Being a Catholic school in its origins, Ateneo should be found living up to its nature – otherwise it should be another school of another nature. This time they pry on the teachers, not merely because their growing numbers amazes even us, but also in consideration to the competent role the teachers have. The school’s nature can be molded by them who make it a school. As far as I remember the bishops hardly budge when 14 Ateneo instructors signed a similar declaration four years ago. The bishops’ gesture then was laudable anyway: pointing out which is which, which is personal freedom and malicious catalysis; yet that could be critical if left unchecked. I thought the church personnel in charge had stealthily handled over the Ateneo case, until it was my turn to spill my cup of cocoa on the keyboard for the overwhelming 160 professors who signed the manifesto. Fourteen is small and easy to dismiss like fourteen dry leaves in the sidewalk, or fourteen pieces of banderitas in a line. But fourteen professors are no leaves and banderitas meant only for a season and then to rot. Teachers are not only teachers in a sense of the word. They are life-long advisers, idols, models, heroes, parents, epitomes, penguins, monsters and anything you want to call them except that they aren’t. They are the closest persons to the students, next to their pen and papers (especially in major exams), and students are so much influenced by them deeply and subtly. Many great persons in history are indebted to their mentors.
The next thing you’ll know, the internet is teeming with word-war from both camps. The Catholic camp hurl their tirades to the professors, even making a petition to reclaim the university back to the Catholic turf. The other camp choose to catapult their spites to the bishops, to the CBCP or to the Catholic Church for being so fascistic in considering the dismissal of these teachers. Needless to say, the other camp should ponder why the bishops have the option in the first place. It is because Ateneo is a private school owned by the Jesuits whose life work is for the Church, its bulwarks hauled in by Catholic incentives, motivation and ends. Incidentally, teachers who work here do not always possess the view and the mind of those who wear the alb. But since these teachers work in a Catholic institution, the concerned faithful must start asking these teachers: Why teach in a Catholic school?
If in any case, anyone might answer: “Well, we sought the pay and we are compelled by the duty to impart the academic knowledge”, or others might re-iterate with smug confidence, “We were hired.”, yet these answers are adequately in sync to the mere question: “Why teach in a school?”. Notice the word ‘Catholic’ adds weight and demands more insightful reason in answering the question. The pay might be convincing, or the fervor to teach, or the prestige of the school, but these were distinct factors and may exist independently and may motivate also differently. Being hired also entails the crucible to accept and decline, and if the answer is yes, is the reason for compulsion worth it for Ateneo? Regardless of through application or through being sought after by headhunters, why did they choose to settle and build names for their own sake there in Ateneo? We expect Ateneo teachers to be truly authentically living their professions and vocations in the utmost fulfillment since they will be co-builders for powered lives that shall be forever grateful to them. So what’s more to life in Ateneo that all those who teach therein endear? At least in the faculty, there has to be a commonality in the diversity of expertise among the professors which should not give room to lip service. There has to be a common joy, a common mark, a common spirit of sense that motivates the professors to train students to excellence in the shade of a canopy planted with a cross on top. And the excellence of the Ateneo, even from the time of Rizal, might be motivated in the school’s nature of reaching for its Catholic aspirations and purpose, which is the benevolence and greatness of God for humanity’s good, because it is in fact a Catholic school. After all, the Jesuits helped Rizal to try gripping on the rough rope of Catholicism until the very end.
Since the Church owns such schools, the Church has to set guidelines on how they should be run, and even the educators are subject to these guidelines. Hence the late Pope Pius XI instructs that “For the mere fact that a school gives some religious instruction (often extremely stinted), does not bring it into accord with the rights of the Church and of the Christian family, or make it a fit place for Catholic students. To be this, it is necessary that all the teaching and the whole organization of the school, and its teachers, syllabus and text-books in every branch, be regulated by the Christian spirit, under the direction and maternal supervision of the Church…” (Divini Illus Magistri par 80, emphasis and underscoring mine). The Church knew what rightly belongs to hers, such as Christian education and she must supervise and regulate even the prescriptions of the every branch of science, even imposing the necessity of the Church’s guidelines to the school’s teachers. This is the Church’s right since the Holy Spirit is with the Church. Therefore, Catholic school teachers are not persons who can do away with this demand. Though they have their own beliefs, their own convictions, their own point-of-views on their support and approval for the RH Bill, teachers are not to implant these to their students with coercion much more if it is against the Church’s standard of truth. That is why it is legit for Archbishop Palma to comment: “If we are a Catholic school, we should not teach anything contrary to the official teaching of the church.” Signing a manifesto for one’ s own personal point of view is one thing. Teaching it to others as if it should also be gripped and be believed as stiffly as you do is another. The former caresses freedom of conscience and freedom of expression and keeps it. The latter does not hail academic freedom, but to willful excess and abuse of one’s duty as a teacher. And every excess and abuse is not free, but enslaving.
The bishop’s call for probation seems to be irregular, but will serve the best for both pro-RH and anti-RH camps. Imagine the numbers really accounted for and not just uncertain statistics where doctors are quack! The upsurge of professors supporting the bill, in the eyes of an anti-RH Catholic, is such a distressful tarnation for a clergy-run school, yet the occasion has helped to make the princes of the Church turn their eyes to that fateful part of their domain. Dialogue will be organized among clerics and professors, so to open up channels for a better keeping in touch and feel. I hope in that by this gesture of our beloved bishops, it will make the professors feel how it is to be Catholic again (or to be strikingly respectful of the beliefs of Catholic Christians if they are not Catholic), the voices of the shepherds heard audibly among them. The concerned faithful, myself included, will be watching and prayerful.
My questions remains fresh and ready to be asked to the pro-RH professors of Ateneo de Manila: Why teach in a Catholic school? I ask not this with suspicion, neither scorn nor with any intent of blame, but with a respectful and optimistic approach that expects benign answers. What’s the difference between teaching in a Catholic school and in any other school? What’s something special and distinguishable with it? As professionals who fervently hopes praise and excellence in your work, what is that very essence worthy of praise and excellence that is found around these corridors and alleys? What motivates you to fulfill your duties in the place each day? How does that palpably clings to you when you are identified teaching in a Catholic school, a school which bedrock is ages-old, which framework and experience is as old as the most fragile books yet remained undaunted even by the taunts of the times? (even by your own tauntings) What motivated you to build your fate, careers and lives upon this bedrock? I believe somehow you found meaning here.
As the Prince of Paradox puts it: “The Catholic Church is the only thing that frees a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age.” In the things that often load down professors and students alike at the academic road, I hope that there’s something worth it more than academic knowledge and the pursuit for the pay.
POSTED BY ADMIN: NICHOLAI LUCEÑOS,CFD OCTOBER 17, 2012.