Backtracking towards a Transformative Rizal Curriculum, pp. 9 of 11

Philippine history education does nothing to repair our current concept of citizenship, so harmful to democracy. Stemming from the so-called “nationalist” school of Philippine historiography from the 1970s (Schumacher, 2008), the official historical narrative gives the impression that the nation emerged “as a matter of course—the way for instance a seed eventually becomes a tree” (Dumol & Camposano, 2018, p. 18). It ignores the concrete economic, social, and cultural conditions that made a national identity possible among individuals of diverse ethnicities (Dumol & Camposano, 2018). Treating the nation as a historical and cultural given (Dumol & Camposano, 2018) that existed even before Spanish colonization, the narrative reduces Philippine history to the simplistic story of an already united Filipino people reclaiming an independence that had been seized by foreign oppressors. The climax of this narrative is the 1898 Philippine Revolution, through which the Philippines gains her independence from Spain. Ironically, Rizal, who had died two years before and had opposed revolution, has been claimed as its inspiration, diminishing him in Philippine history as the mascot for the Philippine Revolution.

The national narrative holds consequences for Filipino identity and citizenship and, ultimately, for the nation. John N. Schumacher (2008), one of the most prominent historians of the Philippines, criticizes “nationalist” history thus: “Reconstructing a Filipino past . . . on false pretenses can do nothing to build a sense of national identity, much less offer guidance for the present or future” (p. 13). With the narrative’s primordial representation of the nation, the Philippines becomes a static entity, denying modern Filipino citizens any active role in its formation. Furthermore, the narrative encourages us to build an identity on a series of revolts and rebellions, a legacy that is difficult to live out as modern citizenship. Philippine history education, therefore, promotes a notion of citizenship that is sterile and inactive, leaving patron-client relations to continue festering in Philippine democracy.

Returning to Professor Dumol’s Rizal curriculum, the course’s primary form of counterhegemonic action is to challenge the current historical narrative. In doing so, it provides fresh soil in which new ideas of Filipino nationhood and citizenship may grow.

As demonstrated by my personal experience, the course questioned the narrative on three points: First, by continually situating Rizal’s contributions in the nineteenth-century colonial context, the curriculum taught us that the nation is a work in progress that citizens at every age have the responsibility to mold. Second, by allowing us to reflect on the Noli’s social cancer, the curriculum forced us to reconsider the national narrative’s viewpoint that foreign oppressors were the Filipinos’ sole obstacle to independence. We were encouraged instead to contemplate our own defects as a people so that we could amend our understanding of Filipino citizenship to building ties with compatriots and working towards the common good. Third, the course clarified Rizal’s political thought and effectively overturned his reputation as the inspiration behind the Philippine Revolution. For Professor Dumol’s students, Rizal, as national hero of the Philippines, became a paragon of civic virtue rather than a symbol of revolution. 

By challenging these points in our national narrative, Professor Dumol’s Rizal curriculum cultivates in Filipinos a deeper notion of nationhood and citizenship through which a new social vision may materialize: a society where individuals have learned to love the common good above their ties to an immediate few. My own experience has proven the transformation this curriculum is capable of producing. By promoting this social vision, the course labors to dismantle the feudalistic conditions that allow relations of power and exploitation to prevail in the Philippines. Ultimately, it encourages the building of a civil society upon which a functioning democracy may be erected.

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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