Towards a National Democratic Teacher’s Movement

Jose Maria Sison

March 30, 1968

To speak before the fellow teachers and future teachers is always a welcome opportunity for one involved in what has come to be called the Second Propaganda Movement, a movement that takes after the first efforts of the anticolonial patriots to establish a national democratic regime.

We are in the midst of renewed efforts to push forward the national democratic revolution to its completion and fulfillment in accordance with the terms and requirements of our exploited masses in the present era.

The first propagandists like Rizal, Del Pilar and Lopez Jaena were the first teachers of the nation. Beyond the walls of the churches and clerical schools, they tried to spread enlightenment among their own people. Being good teachers in their own time, they learned at the later stages of their movement that the first reformist demands that they had made had to be transformed into revolutionary and separatist demands. Thus the sense of nationhood ultimately gave form and direction to their movement for public enlightenment.

The propagandists that followed, like Bonifacio and Jacinto, combined their ideas of independent nationhood and freedom with revolutionary practice and directed their movement against the colonial enemy. They drew their wisdom from social practice and from familiarity with the problems of the masses and tested their knowledge in the struggle against the enemy.

The mobilization of the Philippine revolution was a process of converting political ideas into a material force against the colonial power structure whose oppressiveness had stimulated national democratic enlightenment.

The process of awakening the masses from centuries of frustrations and suffering was basically a process of education. To be more precise, it was a process of re-education. The colonial system had held the mind of the indio through a system of “brainwashing” performed mainly by a theocracy under conditions of feudal stress and with the pedagogic principles of the rod and rote.

Against colonial mis-education, a national democratic re-education movement had to be waged under the extreme dangers of being called “Communists” and “subversive” that today national democrats are harassed and restricted in their present movement of enlightenment.

A whole system of thought and prejudices induced by the colonialists was based on the material foundation of a feudal society. For this system of thought regimentation to persist and prevail, there had to be a system of educational institutions and processes, which were increasingly parasitic as their teachings became more and more irrelevant to the actual needs of the masses of the people. There were the Church and its catechetical and higher schools which were limited by the scope opportunity that could be provided by a feudal mode of production. The literacy achieved by a feudal mode of production. The literacy achieved by a few was needed chiefly for religious purposes—for reading prayers, novenas and hagiographies. Higher courses were available to the children of the principalia so that they may be endowed with enough apologetics, Latinized pedantry and fluency in the Hispanic language that would set them apart form the native masses. The colonial feudal system was merely in need of a thin buffer line between the foreign elite and the colonized peasantry. As an all-encompassing instrument, comparable in scope to the mass media of today, the pulpit and the confessional box were used to keep the masses of the people in a feudal grip.

As rebels of their own time, the first propagandists disputed the system of thought control that put up mental blocks rather than taught scientific knowledge. The intellectual rebellion sought new content and new methods of education that suited the needs of the people. The Noli and the Fili and the essays of Dr. Rizal exposed principally the mis-education and brutalization of the Filipino masses, dispelled misconceptions about the supposedly natural indolence of the indio and advocated a system of public education free from the control of the friars. It was through the prism of liberalism that the first propagandists perceived the people’s needs and aspirations. The most progressive educational outlook and methods that they were able to grasp at the time was of a liberal frame which concurred with their own middle class aspirations in the historical period of old type colonialism and feudalism. Unable to merge themselves right away with the masses in a practical revolutionary way, they were under extreme dangers from the Padre Damasos and Padre Salvis and so they sought the freer atmosphere of Europe.

It was men like Andres Bonifacio and Emilio Jacinto, men closer to the Filipino masses, who would bring the national democratic movement to a higher stage that sought the realization of national freedom through revolutionary struggle. It was the higher stage of combining the concepts of sovereignty and freedom with revolutionary practice, necessitated by popular demand and by the intransigence of the oppressor. It was the higher stage of using both the sword and the pen in confrontation with an enemy that had long been using his sword and pen.

The revolution of 1896 continued to issue pamphlets and manifestos and hold mass meetings to arouse the masses. Under the aegis of a revolutionary government, they set up the Academia Literaria as the spearhead of formal educational system.

The national democratic objectives and the educational plans of the Philippine revolution of 1896 were to be frustrated, however, by the successful aggression against Filipino sovereignty perpetrated by US imperialism. Using the gun to defeat the Filipino revolutionaries, they subsequently used to pen that wrote the slogan of “benevolent assimilation.” A public school system was deliberately wet up by the Thomasites and the alien soldiers who turned teachers, not so much to endow the local people unilaterally with the boons of science and democracy, but to convert the Philippines into an Asian outpost in America’s “manifest destiny” of achieving world hegemony.

There are the simple-minded among us who restrict educational history to a static comparison of the Spanish record and the US record in setting up public schools. To cultivate a promperialist mentality, they deliberately discount the plans of the Philippine revolutionary government to set up a public school system as a necessary instrument for citizenship training and progress. They obscure the fact that the imperialist conquest of the Philippines was not so much directed against a colonial power that was already losing out to the forces of national liberation but mainly against the national sovereignty of the Filipino people; and whatever educational system the US imperialists would establish would have to serve and “justify” the purposes of their imperialism.

For the thought-control of a colonized people, US imperialism is not exclusively reliant on a system of churches and cleric-run schools. On the other hand, it is mainly reliant on a widespread educational system and on the modern mass media to achieve its capitalist purposes. Concretely, in a country like the Philippines which has come to be semicolonial and semifeudal, US imperialism has its own system of thought-control and it also compromises with the old paraphernalia of colonial thought-control. Here, feudal culture and education have served as the base for the superimposition of imperialist culture and education. The integration of feudal and imperialist culture and education is best demonstrated by sectarian schools run by foreign clerics who defend both feudal and imperialist values; these are schools that serve the native oligarchy and their children—an extension of the privileged schooling of the stalwarts of the colonial principalia.

It is not enough to have schools and to have literacy. What is even more important is that these must be made to serve the purposes of the nation and the masses. It is not enough to have the bottle; it is more important to determine its content. If the Philippine revolution had triumphed, we would have had the bottle and we would have also determined its content.

US imperialism is fond of making the condescending assertion that it taught us self-government and democracy. That is a big lie that actually denies the value of the revolutionary efforts of our people. When the US imperialists came, it was precisely to suppress the revolutionary national democratic regime that had been made possible by the struggle of the masses.

US monopoly-capitalism, it its functions of exporting surplus products and surplus capital, has been compelled to train a more extensive local bureaucracy and technocracy in the Philippines unlike the old colonial system which was bases on a lower form of social development and which needed a thinner layer educated puppets. The illusion of free exchange is maintained under imperialism, say free trade relations in raw materials from the colony and finished products from the capitalist metropolis or free wage contracts between capitalists and workers within a society. This structure or relations requires a more extensive local bureaucracy and technocracy.

In our educational system today, students are indoctrinated in the concepts and methods of an imperialist culture and feudal culture. The typical student in the present educational system at every level has a sophisticated split personality that suffers from a double constriction of outlook. A docile feudal mentality is mixed up with the avaricious mechanical mentality of the bourgeoisie so typical of career men in every field.

The national democratic movement, as a movement for re-educating those who have been mis-educated, is now twice difficult. If the First Propaganda Movement had to contend with a clerical structure of thinking, the Second Propaganda Movement still has to contend with it and, in addition, with an imperialist-oriented system of education. And yet we are already in the era of the global triumph of national democratic and socialist revolutions.

Asserting the true purposes of education, asserting its national and social purposes, is now a challenge that all of us must face. This is no longer just the time for stating hypocritically that we are already free and independent as a nation. This is now the era when the underpinnings of the semicolonial and semifeudal Philippine society and also the underpinnings of the master state in the “free world,” US imperialism, are disintegrating.

Revolutionary forces here and abroad are arising so rapidly to replace the old with the new. The toiling masses and the intelligentsia in our country are definitely clamoring for a national democratic revolution to free them from foreign and feudal domination. The movement of events in this nation and in the whole world is so rapid. We who presume to be teachers must be constantly alert students or else our schools will become isolated purveyors of outmoded thoughts and illusions. If the teacher fails to update the content and quality of his teaching, he will surely fail to prepare his students for a fruitful and practical struggle. The surge of the national democratic revolution will certainly expose their ineptitude and inadequacies. The teacher who doggedly allows himself to be bound by traditional relations, methods and illusions becomes an instrument of reaction. It is now our duty to re-examine and repudiate the structure of thinking that exploiting nations and exploiting classes have built into our educational system.

All teachers and future teachers who place themselves on the side of truth, justice and progress should band themselves into the Second Propaganda Movement and become a definite force in the national democratic movement. They should reject every kind of nonsense taught in school; grasp the theory resolutely in concrete Philippine conditions. It is not enough for them to consider their walled-in classrooms as the incubators of revolutionary movement. It is also necessary for them to exert without delay efforts to convert the entire country into a huge classroom for revolution. In the Second Propaganda Movement, teachers and future teachers should join the workers, peasants, the urban petty bourgeoisie and other revolutionary elements in their mass activities of self-education.