Crossroads (Toward Philippine economic and social progress)
Philippine Star, 10 May 2017


For some time now, a controversy on the content of education in the University of the Philippines has been raging. It is, in a way, the battle of the ages on the nature of education.

The professional schools want to cut the amount of time spent on students to learn more “general education,” or GE, courses which are outside their field of specialized studies.

Around the early 2000s, the GE content was enlarged as requirements for the bachelor’s degrees. The current debate is the reaction.

The Hamlet question in education. There is always a contest between GE vs. qualified subjects for professional schools – engineering, science, agriculture, business and medicine.

GE does not only encompass humanities, arts, languages, communication and the social sciences such as history, politics and economics.

Courses that are essentially for majors in GE subjects as enumerated above also need to meld with the inclusion of some science and mathematics. General education is a two-way street.

Further, the educational equation needs to include the improvement of the body or the physical self. The physical self is as important in education, for we often think of mind and body as inseparables.

How then do we optimally combine the required coursework so that the limited, four-year period is able to produce the right balance between specialization and social-human context?

That is the educator’s ultimate Hamlet question.

To provide some guidelines to the issue facing UP, I decided to check on what one of the foremost universities in science and technology requires in respect to the issues of GE vs. specialized education. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) – which incidentally is also my alma mater –has one of the clearest statements on the importance of GE courses. From its general admission statements in its University catalogue:

MIT provides a substantial and varied program in the humanities, arts and social sciences (HASS) that forms an essential part of the education of every undergraduate. This program is intended to ensure that students develop a broad understanding of human society, its traditions and its institutions. The requirement enables students to deepen their knowledge in a variety of cultural and disciplinary areas and encourages the development of sensibilities and skills vital to an effective and satisfying life as an individual, a professional and a member of society.

A specific “communication requirement” for the degree, which is essentially imbedded in the HASS requirements, says:

The Communication Requirement makes the development of effective writing and speaking an integral part of undergraduate education at (MIT). The Communication Requirement ensures that all undergraduates receive substantial instruction and practice in general expository writing and speaking and the forms of discourse common to their professional fields.

The UP Board of Regents is likely to act on the GE issue soon, if it has not yet done so yet.

How I wish it would postpone acting on this petition and let the matter rest for the next six years at least. Within that time, some of the transitional consequences of the K-12 educational reform would have made some impact. By then, there would be more reason to review the remaining issues that might require fuller study.

Happy the man or woman.… I was really inspired to write on the subject of general education as I contemplated on issues about life and family, while visiting in Washington DC at my daughter’s place.

With my son Keith, I flew unexpectedly across the world to lend our presence and solace to a suddenly changed family. Jenny, my daughter, had lost her husband, Lee, a young man at 55 years. And thereafter, therefore, there will only be Jenny and her daughter (who is entering her teen years).

Both Jenny and Lee had impressive technical education. Jenny had an MA (Bristol, England) and Lee a PhD (UCLA), both in economics. Lee had mathematics as bachelor degree background and was a competitive gymnastics athlete. Both of them had good general education exposure in their early studies.

Though tightly attracted to New York’s life style, the trauma of 9-11 (the Al Queda destruction of New York’s Twin Towers) caused them to eschew their successful careers in Wall St. From that time on, they decided to go solo in their work, quitting their corporate jobs entirely.

They relocated to Silicon Valley in California, and after several years moved to DC where they found the cultural life and the more cosmopolitan environment suitable.

By what’s in their house, one gets to know them better (even if I knew my daughter’s sensitivities and abilities as parent).

In this house there are tomes of books. There is history, both ancient and modern; there is philosophy; there is literature in poetry, novels, drama and essays, and then,  there is art and plenty of music!

There are modern and ancient writers and thinkers, from the early ages to the present.

All these books are properly and suitably distributed across different shelves of the house – by the kitchen/ dining area, by the corridors, by the study and by the living area.

As one reaches the entertainment area, there is a wide collection of movies from Charlie Chaplin to the latest movie classics in many genres. Indicative that there is a child growing in the house is an endless number of videos to suit the young.

And then, there is the music. It flows from a computer managing the playlist, which could go on all day. As with the books, the range of their musical collection is extensive. There is a fair number of Frank Sinatra and a few crooners as well as contemporary singers. But the main strength is the wide collection of classical music from orchestral to instrumental to vocal and opera, from Bach to Mozart and Beethoven to Gershwin and Philip Glass.

Though I grieved for Jenny’s loss of Lee, I know that she and my granddaughter have the means and the equipment to survive the future. Lee loved poetry. One of his favorites is also apt description of his life’s journey. It comes from Horace, the Roman poet who lived almost contemporaneously just before Jesus Christ. John Dryden’s translation of it goes:

Happy the man, and happy he alone,/ He who can call today his own;/ He who, secure within, can say,/ Tomorrow do thy worst, for I have lived today./ Be fair or foul or rain or shine/ The joys I have possessed, in spite of fate, are mine./ Not heaven itself upon the past has power,/ But what has been, has been, and I have had my hour.