Backtracking towards a Transformative Rizal Curriculum, pp. 4 of 11

With the novels at the centre of the course, we were taught reading principles to interpret the text for Rizal’s political thought, guidelines such as to identify passages of social commentary or criticism and to view its characters as archetypes of society rather than as psychologically developed individuals. Assessment then consisted of analysis papers, for which we were to use the reading techniques we had learned in class to draw out Rizal’s thought from a chapter of our choice. Taking stock of all his ideas that had arisen throughout the novels (and throughout the semester), the summative assessment was to determine the final belief that he had come to and why this was his conclusion.

The Rizal curriculum as autobiography

My memories have evinced four potent elements of the course that jointly brought about my personal transformation.

  1. The course highlighted Rizal’s unique view that Filipinos, rather than foreign invaders, were themselves the greater obstacle to self-rule, providing an alternative view to the narrative learned in my Philippine history classes.

During our first session, Professor Dumol handed each of us a copy of Rizal’s dedication in the Noli, in which he states his intention to expose, through his novel, the social cancer of late nineteenth-century Philippines. Professor Dumol drew our attention to a single line: “. . . I will strive to reproduce [the Philippines’] condition faithfully, without discriminations” (Rizal, 1887/1912, author’s dedication). The phrase “without discriminations,” Professor Dumol explained to us, displayed Rizal’s unique thinking that the social cancer lay not only with our Spanish colonizers but also, and more significantly, with the Filipinos. For students who had undergone the Philippine basic education history curriculum, this was a novel, almost shocking, idea. We had learned for years from our history textbooks that we Filipinos were the victims of foreign colonizers who had taken away our independence. Furthermore, this narrative had taught us that the Philippine Revolution that had reclaimed our independence was inspired by Rizal’s writings. Why was this course now recasting the ideas of Rizal, the inspiration behind the Philippine Revolution, to subvert this narrative, the source of our Filipino identity?

As we would come to discover throughout the course, Rizal had a preoccupation with the defects and weaknesses of Filipinos, which distinguished him from his contemporaries. His fellow ilustrados, the class of enlightened Filipinos educated in Europe, were influenced by the prevalent philosophy of progress, which led them to wage their campaign against the friars in the Philippines, who they saw as the enemies of progress. In the earlier stages of his political thought, Rizal was not entirely free from this mainstream view, with friars cast as the villains in the Noli; but Professor Dumol’s reading would show us that, above all, the Noli displayed Rizal’s unique conviction that the mindset of the Filipinos was the greater obstacle to self-rule than Spanish colonization.

This major strand in Rizal’s thinking, we learned, was largely found in the minor characters who make up larger society in the Noli, a placement that regretfully results most often in its being overlooked in a Rizal education. Inhabiting a town or población, the highest socio-political organization during the Spanish colonial era, society in the Noli was highly stratified, with each class contributing to the collective social cancer: The rich were concerned only about themselves and their families, and did not bother to enlighten the uneducated. The strong and the powerful marginalized the weak and the powerless. The poor, for their part, were accused of silence and indifference. In addition to these ills, Rizal’s narration frequently revealed, in both rich and poor, a streak of cruelty and violence to fellow Filipinos of humbler status, as well as a general toleration of vice. With a complete disregard for the common good among individuals, there was an irreconcilable gap between the rich and the poor. It was a society where Filipinos were against Filipinos, the war of every man against every man.

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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