There is a popular saying that reads, “history is written by the victors.” The stories of the past depend on who the storytellers are, making history a complex subject to teach. Historians have endless arguments in putting together and interpreting the stories of the past to our people. One classic example is the case of Gen. Antonio Luna’s life and assassination. Renowned historian and professor Ambeth Ocampo noted in one of his Inquirer columns, an article published in an American newspaper. It described Luna very negatively, only to find out that the news source was none other than Pedro Paterno. Everybody knows he was never a fan of Luna.
In this case, there is already a bias in retelling history. In elementary, history was taught in snippets and surface-level anecdotes. Gen. Luna was never highlighted as a valiant hero in the past. But recently, because of the retelling of his story in the movie Heneral Luna (based on the work of UP historian Vivencio R. Jose), Filipinos saw a different angle to the life and death of Gen. Antonio Luna.
This fine example can be applied to another issue being tackled in the Senate. Recently, Sen. Bam Aquino called for a Senate hearing on Teaching Martial Law to students. With a shoddy textbook at hand, Aquino noted the discrepancies in the retelling of the Marcos Era, which missed out on the atrocities of Martial Law. Aquino was concerned that this gap was leading to the lack of critical thinking of students especially when exposed to online content.
The Department of Education (DepEd) was invited to the hearing, which was represented by Sec. Leonor Briones herself, a Martial Law victim as well, and former UP Dean of Education Dina S. Ocampo, now Undersecretary for Curriculum and Instruction of DepEd.
Some important points arose from this hearing and here are four key points worth noting:
- Curriculum vs. Textbook
At the time when the basic education curriculum was revised to the K to 12 system, topics on human rights were inserted in various grades. As early as second grade, students are taught about children’s rights, which are very much related to human rights when they discuss it in sixth Grade and in Senior High School. The curricula follow a spiral progression, meaning that the topics are revisited every level and the discussions go deeper as they move up in the education ladder. The topic on Martial Law begins in sixth grade and is further explored in the higher levels.
As to how these are created in the textbooks however, is a different matter altogether. DepEd has the responsibility and power to form and revise the basic education curriculum. A group of expert teachers and professors are formed and consulted upon in creating the K to 12 curriculum for history. It does not however, control fully the history books or textbooks created and sold to private schools and institutions.
It may appear that different textbooks have different narrations of certain events in history. In the textbook used by Sen. Aquino as an example, there was a lack of Martial Law history in the textbook. And with this dilemma, should DepEd fully take the blame?
- Analysis Not Spoon-feeding
Teaching history is also dependent on another, more influential factor aside from the textbook – the teachers. They are at the core of every lesson taught. For subjects like Araling Panlipunan (AP), the teachers are the ones who facilitate the learning of the students. In some (if not most) cases, it is the teacher whom students believe more when compared to the textbook. They are even perceived to be more credible influencers compared to their parents.
When it comes to teaching history, a critical process in the facilitation of this subject is critical thinking. Critical thinking plays an important role in understanding history. Often, teachers take a route where they impose their own views and biases in teaching history. A sixth grade AP teacher for example, may teach Martial Law in a more negative light if he or his parents experienced the atrocities of Martial Law. The opposite may also happen when a pro-Marcos teacher teaches Martial Law in a more positive light.
Such actions cannot be easily regulated or monitored as these happen in the four walls of the classroom. The generation of knowledge and perceptions are built between the teacher and his or her students. Especially for teachers who are exceptional communicators, students may have a strong buy-in of their teacher’s political views.
But when does one draw the line between teaching history and political views?
- Maintain Objectivity
One fervent reminder for history teachers is to maintain objectivity in teaching history. It is difficult sometimes to separate personal views from the actual turn of events, as it may become an emotional topic to discuss. Case in point is Martial Law. And as a nation, we are very divided in terms of dealing with this part of history. Some people view this as a legacy of Marcos, a time of economic growth, and peace and order in the country. Some people view this as a dark and dirty past of our country, a time of death, corruption, and abuse of human rights.
For such a delicate topic, objectivity should remain. There are multiple sides to every story and that is one important aspect that teachers should teach students. The role of the teacher is not to impose their own views but to facilitate the generation of views from the students themselves. The role of teaching is not to create your own clones but rather to help students form their own views on this issue. This is what critical thinking is supposed to do.
Whether they favor Marcos or Martial Law after the lessons or not, the reasons behind their perception is what matters most. This is important in determining why our country is so divided on this issue. Critical thinking is a very important 21st century skill, and this is best formed in subjects like history, where the correct answer is not always 1+1=2. It is about equipping students to be ready and able in discussing and debating these kinds of issues in various forums.
- Beyond What is Written
In a TV interview, Sec. Briones was right when she said that the formation of views on Martial Law is not solely dependent on the textbook. There are many other factors and activities that surround the child as he or she forms a view on politics. There are plays, videos, news reports, and online posts that help form their own view. Their parents are also huge influencers in how they view politics. Even religious institutions play an important role on how students think and feel on certain issues.
The Department of Education may be able to do something about it. Actually, it is not only DepEd’s responsibility. Based on Republic Act 10368, there is the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission (HRVVMC) which is spearheaded by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), the National Historical Commission (NHC) and with DepEd, Commission on Higher Education (CHED), National Commission for the Culture and the Arts (NCCA), and the UP Library as members.
It might be appropriate for the HRVVMC to revisit certain aspects of their programs to ensure that their side of the story is represented in history textbooks. But it is equally important not to lose the balance in narrating both sides of history, both for the winners and losers. DepEd, on the other hand, may be the agency to ensure that Martial Law is discussed fairly and objectively in the curriculum.
In the end, all of us are responsible for the formation of our children. We, as a community, are the biggest influencers that will shape the hearts and minds of our children.
This post is supported by a writing grant from the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ)