Shuffling Souls Will Anger Them

(A critique of a teaching method prevalent in the Ateneo)

On the Index Card System as Threat to Intellectualism and Education

With the most sardonic nonchalance conceivable, the Inquisitor shuffles the souls of the wretches on her hand and randomly draws one. A sigh of miserable relief comes from the momentarily fortunate who were not called, but the one whom fate betrayed braces himself for the Holocaust that is about to happen. Then, like some shaman of a barbarically ritualized Cult, the Inquisitor slaughters the unfortunate wretch’s dignity as a tribute to the god of Shame.

The Spanish Inquisition, The Judgment Day, The Classroom: what’s the difference?

The Index Card System, a teaching method many teachers in the Ateneo use is dehumanizing, Orwellian, ineffective, alienating and it feeds the fires of Cultural Revolution. No, this is not just a complaining article, this is a warning.
This favorite method of teachers is dehumanizing because it reduces the students’ very being to index cards. In my opinion, it is worse than the dehumanization Marx says is caused by Capitalism, because at least dehumanized workers get wages. For a student, all he or she gets for the murder of his or her identity is an insult to the dignity (“insult” here is meant medically) and low grades. The very act of shuffling those index cards and choosing by random also literally makes their fate a game of chance, no different from the fate of the survivors (and victims) of Auschwitz.

Auschwitz, the classroom: what’s the difference?

Then there’s also something Orwellian about the method. Before I continue with this, I’ll explain what “Orwellian” means for those who don’t know. The word is derived from the name of British Novelist George Orwell, whose novel Nineteen Eighty-Four demonstrated the concept. In the novel, an autocratic government controls the people’s very thoughts by many methods, from the “Thought Police” who torture subversive thinkers to the concept of “doublethink,” which makes citizens believe and not believe at the same time a government-stated truth.
What makes the ICS Orwellian is the fact that it is used to teach. With it, you make your students accept a lesson’s truth not by careful explanation but with coercion, thus making fear the basis of their belief. This forces them to doublethink: “I think what ma’am is saying is wrong but I’ll believe it na lang because I’d get low grades if I don’t.”

Big Brother’s Oceania, the classroom: what’s the difference?
If these features of the ICS may seem “childish” to some teachers (adults think everything the youth does is childish), then let’s go to the realm of practicality. The ICS is ineffective in teaching your students and it poses the danger of alienating them from Education. It may even feed the fire for a Cultural Revolution.
Why do I say the ICS (or any authoritarian system for that matter) is ineffective when it’s “been done back then and it worked for you, the oldies?” Though I am tempted, I won’t go back to history and mention the blunders these immaculate and “well educated” oldies have done in the past. Instead, I’ll ask: When Marcos put the Philippines under his iron rule, did you learn from what he was trying to teach you? Regardless of whether his official motivations were sincerely declared or not, you did not believe them. And if you allow me to interpret your experience for you, I say that before any other reason, you rejected the truth he was imposing because it was coercive truth.
The victims of Martial law of all people should know that anything forced, no matter how beneficial, is still forced. You hated Imelda’s guts even though she tried to develop Philippine culture because the development was forced. Similarly, if you force us to study, force us to learn, we will hold whatever we learned, be they true or not, with a grudge.
The coercive, threatening nature of the ICS alienates the student from true learning, and it makes the process of education not only an unpleasant experience, but also a useless one. With the fear of not being able to answer when his or her card is chosen, the student’s mode of studying is reduced to memorization. He or she “memorizes” everything regardless of whether he or she understood what was memorized or not, because that is what the ICS demands: answer based on the assigned text. Then, after the dreaded experience passes, the student has all the justified reason to forget whatever he or she memorized. Instead of making the student learn, the ICS just gave the lesson a bad image.

The coercive nature of ICS also adds to the growing alienation of Juan dela Cruz to Intellectualism and Education. Education, in its most primal sense, should not be a different aspect from everyday life but a special part of it. A true educational experience is indistinguishable from everyday experience. But Formal Education (Education given institutionally and, well, formally) has already been reduced to “schooling,” a term I will associate with the most negative of connotations because of the imperative nature Modern living has given it. But the ICS with its coercion adds unpalatable aversion to the forced disinterest of the student, further distancing him from Education the institution is giving. If back then the average Filipino only jokingly makes fun of his or her discomfort with anything (or anyone) intellectual by expressing the concept of “nosebleed,” now he does this with a touch of irritation, because intellectualism has become unpleasant for him or her.
But if this gap between the Average Filipino and the intellectualism our Educational systems are trying to represent widen, the dangers of a Cultural Revolution like that of Maoist China are actually made more possible.
In the Cultural Revolution, the Proletariat Maoists, fed up with the elitist coercion the intelligentsia were imposing, waged war not only against the intellectuals but against intellectualism itself. They destroyed anything that hinted culture and, the Chinese culture being highly intellectualized, anything that hinted learning. Schools and books were burned and scholars and craftsmen were executed before mindlessly jeering mobs.
If coercive teaching methods like the ICS continue to give Education a negative image, then a Philippine Cultural Revolution might spark. The people, fed up with the Education system, might start uprisings, and “nosebleed,” today a term used casually, might just be as grave an accusation as treason. It might even be worse than the Maoist Cultural Revolution, because in our context the people really will hate Intellectualism while in China they only hated the intellectuals!
The Index Card System makes the classroom mirror the Spanish Inquisition’s persecuting nature, Nazi Auschwitz’s dehumanization and the Orwellian coercion of Big Brother’s Oceania. But if we allow it and other “terror-based” teaching methods to continue causing the alienation of Juan dela Cruz from Intellectualism and Education, we might provoke him to destroy his own culture.

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