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Saturday, October 11, 2008

"Discoursed": More Thoughts on Teaching

Michel Foucault came up with the notion of what is now called a "discursive formation" which means, as Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan simplified it, "a coherent group of assumptions and language practices that applies to one region of knowledge, or expresses the beliefs of a social group, or articulates rules and ideals regarding kinds of behavior."¹

The sets of ideas or statements that comprise a discursive formation are called "discourses." Thus, those involved in cultural and literary criticism can speak of different discourses in the various fields and sub-fields of knowledge, such as the discourse of politics (under whose rubric falls geopolitics, imperialism, nationalism, Republicanism, Democraticism, Socialism, human rights activism, etc.), the discourse of theology (which includes the discourses of Christianity, Catholicism, Protestantism, Evangelicalism,  Mormonism, Patternism, Premillenialism, etc.), or the discourse of education (Psychology, Psychoanalysis, Behaviorism, Structuralism, etc.), among many others.

Within this frame of interpretation, we are all regarded as "in discourse" or "discoursed": we  all  are governed by or move in one, two, or more discursive formations through the mediation of language.  I guess, another way of saying this is that we are products of our time (an oversimplification, of course).

And being voracious consumers and ardent purveyors of knowledge largely through language, we teachers are greatly discoursed.  Whether that means good or ill for ourselves or  for our students is hard to determine, for ideas have their way of branching out almost indiscriminately in the recesses of our minds and being expressed in oftentimes unpredictable or surprising speech acts and courses of action in our daily interaction with people.  Intentionality is then easily lost in this maze of learning where ideas are generated, exchanged, acquired, negotiated, appropriated, articulated, and even imposed.


I graduated from elementary school with the notion that Magellan was the hero and Lapu-lapu was the villain.  I recall that my history teacher in Grade 5 almost choked on her words as she emotionally read Pigafetta's "our mirror, our light, our comfort and our guide" log entry.  She then told us of her pigrimage to Magellan's cross in Cebu City, and how spiritually refreshing it had been.

A few years later, I would come across historical texts that went against the grain like those of  revisionist historians Renato & Letizia Constantino,² and I began to realize how wrong our well-meaning teacher had been in denigrating the proud freedom fighter who made his valiant stand against a condescending colonizer.

Nevertheless,  I have come to understand where she was coming from: she was speaking largely in accordance with a particular religious discourse.  It was up to me to unlearn whatever distortion of historical facts I may have imbibed, and to retain whatever truths I may have learned  from her.


At the time too, I could sing in my dreams ditties which our teachers from Grade 1 to 6 loved to inject in class oftentimes as "time killers."  Among these old-time songs are the following:

♦ "Alouete." We never understood what this word nor the phrase "jete plumare" meant, but we had fun improvising in the refrain where we would holler, "Eat dalit! Eat pansit!..." to the beat of our betel nut-chewing teacher. There was never a dull moment with this particular instructor who always had jokes to crack. I remember he often had a sheathed bolo hanging from his waist and, when not teaching in class, was  often found either cutting grass at the edge of our vast playground or chopping branches that grew too close to the roof of our school buildings.

♦"Clementine." Oh, this one tickled those of us who had crushes on the girls in class. I guess there were some fairy-like miner's daughters in our class back then, but I never found out who among them had  "number nine"  shoes.

♦"Red River Valley."  This song appealed to us not only because of the boy-girl romantic theme but also  because we had our indigenized version (Ilocano language) of it which, referring to a cowboy's life, starts with "Banbantay ken turod ti ayanmi, Kabalyo ken baka ti kakadwami..." [We live in mountains and hills with the horses and cows...]

♦"Oh the Monkeys have no Tails in Zamboanga"

Oh, the monkeys have no tails in Zamboanga,
Oh, the monkeys have no tails in Zamboanga,
Oh, the monkeys have no tails,
They were bitten off by whales,
Oh, the monkeys have no tails in Zamboanga

We sang these lines with gusto and with such naivete that we never thought it was a racial slur by American GIs watching with envy how Filipinos in Mindanao effortlessly raced up and down coconut trees.

♦"Three Little Niggers"

Three little niggers went out one night.
They want to go to heaven
On the tail of a kite.
The kite's tail was broken,
the niggers fell.

Instead of going to heaven,
they went to hell.

I wonder why our teachers back then never realized the rank racism articulated in this ditty? And I wonder if there are still teachers in the rural areas who uncritically spread stupid songs as this and that "Zamboanga" song?³


We also sang revolutionary songs like "Dongdong-ay si Dong-ilay," "Baleleng" and other favorites of the kakadua ("friends," a euphemism for the Reds), as well as the usual Tagalog/Filipino strains, like "Bahay Kubo," "Leron, Leron Sinta" "Telebong," or "Yoyoy Villame" (songs) like "Si Filemon, Si Filemon," and others).


We did not speak much Tagalog/Filipino in school and we had a dearth of good model-speakers in the language.  Our parents? We made fun of their mangled Tagalog punctuated with "yung k'wan" and "ano" ...   Although my mom's operatic voice got polished during her four years at the UP Conservatory of Music in the early '60s, her communication skill in the Filipino language apparently got no significant honing within the hallowed walls of the Diliman campus.


There is no question that my teachers in gradeschool were shaped by their own time as much as I -- all the more reason for us in the academe to be aware and be very critical of the discourses we have been immersed into.



¹Julie Rivkin & Michael Ryan, Literary Theory: An Anthology, 2nd ed. (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004), 54.

² Renato Constantino's essays, "The Miseducation of the Filipino" and "Veneration Without Understanding" were eye-openers, and the couple's The Philippines: The Continuing Past (Manila: Foundation for Nationalist Studies, 1978) was highly provocative.

³ Teachers who are interested in a broad understanding of the racialized ideology prevalent in the 20th century --  especially as it relates to the articulation (correlation) of race and gender as well as the mediation of the media in identity construction -- should read these two recently published books:

Kramer, Paul A. 2006. The Blood of Government: Race, Empire, the United States, and the Philippines. Philippine Ed. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press.

Halili, Servando A. Jr. 2006. Iconography of the New Empire: Race and Gender Images and the American Colonization of the Philippines. Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press.

Related article: "Thoughts on Teaching"


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Meian said...

Hi Sir Scott!
My mother hails from Zamboanga, and she used to repeat this song to me, among others. I suppose just as the Igorots have subverted the term that used to be derogatory, so the Chavacanos too. Or maybe they have just learned to shrug their shoulders and live with it. As Filipinos are wont to do with so many areas of our lives.

scott saboy said...

good day, Meian :) korek ka jan kapatid. and we here continue to deconstruct the identity clothed on us by historical accidents and colonial machinations. ingatz!