University of the Philippines (UP) Professor Gerry Lanuza recently caused an uproar on social media when he was accused of attacking UP summa cum laude biology graduate Tiffany Uy on his Facebook post as being merely a “puppy of her parents” after she was lauded for achieving the highest weighted grade average obtained in the school’s history since World II with her score 1.004.
After receiving his share of bashings from Netizens who thought he was suffering from a bad case of tall poppy syndrome, Lanuza has since clarified in a full article that his short Facebook post was not intended to put down or mock Uy’s achievements but rather, to raise what he thought was a concern – Philippine society’s obsession with grades and credentials.
While the timing of Lanuza’s Facebook post was quite suspect (he didn’t state the “real” intention of his post immediately after Uy’s defenders started posting their outrage) and a hint of arrogance can also be detected in his tone (he was unapologetic for causing useless anxiety – stating “it is not his problem”), we can’t ignore the fact that he has a point about the way some parents are pushing their kids, sometimes over the edge, just to get the perfect score or grade at school. To be fair, it’s not just a phenomenon unique to Filipinos. Asian parents in general have been known to push their kids too hard just to excel at school.
The problem is, it seems despite the number of students who excel with their grades in Philippine schools, we have yet to find a Filipino student who can inspire innovation or defy conventional wisdom in Philippine society. As I have pointed out in my previous articles in the past, despite the many brilliant students produced each year by Philippine universities, the country has yet to produce someone who can inspire “greatness”.
Where can we find the great Filipino inventor? Where is our own Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg? Where is the next Jose Rizal who is going to wake the majority of Filipinos from their long stupor? They are not in the Philippines because the society does not encourage individuals to stand out from the crowd and be unique. Everyone has to put their head down lest they get ostracized for being too “different” or in the local vernacular “walang pakisama”.
UP professor Lanuza forgot to mention that Philippine society also discourages individuals from expressing their dissenting opinion. I know this because I get accused of being a “paid hack” for criticizing Filipino politicians. It would be hard to find a teacher or professor who doesn’t limit freedom of expression in the class. As a matter of fact, students are taught to show deference to older people or people who are in authority and that can include the teachers or professors. Young kids are discouraged from questioning authority. This is precisely the reason why timid behavior is especially prevalent in Philippine society. This is also the reason why a lot of Filipinos are too sensitive to criticism and people who have differing opinions.
Filipinos’ obsession with grades and credentials is an issue that I have encountered as a political blogger so many times while engaging in discussions with people who cannot take my opinion seriously because they are what I call “credentialists” – people who tend to focus more on the person and not what the person is saying.
Lanuza prides himself in how he encourages his students to “protest, dissent and criticize” Philippine society. He wants the students to ask the hard questions. However, as his profile on social media seems to reveal, he has his own set of beliefs that have been known to produce sheep behavior. Lanuza is a proud communist. That’s quite ironic considering he is desperately trying to encourage his students to break out of the mold and to be different. This contradiction was evident in what he wrote, “Why do our schools foster fierce competition? Why define our schools as jungles rather than as crucibles for creating cooperation and collective solidarity?” He should realize that competition is part of the process of producing innovative and unique individuals. Without it, individuals will lack the motivation to strive harder to succeed.
Lanuza’s concern about parents dictating what course their children should take in university is valid, indeed. There must be hundreds of parents who forced their children to take up nursing just because it is in “demand”. At least it used to be. The parents should realize that even if their kids pass the marks or get good grades, if their kids are not passionate about their jobs, they will not be good employees and will not excel in their work. Worse, they will be unhappy with their lives.
My conclusion is, Lanuza and many others like him do not really understand that in the Philippines, students are told what to think and not how to think. He should not be surprised that the use of critical thinking is not so common in the country. Unfortunately, the issue he raised flew over most people’s head because of his approach – it was too authoritative. I do hope he will welcome this criticism.