Philippine Star - Trillanes on education

by Isagani Cruz 

14 March 2013

For Antonio Trillanes IV, running for re-election as a Senator, the most urgent problem facing our schools today is bullying. He was a co-author (with Edgardo Angara, Miriam Defensor Santiago, Juan Edgardo Angara, and others) of the Anti-Bullying Bill, which passed in the House but was left hanging in the Senate.

If he is reelected, Trillanes will refile the bill as his first legislative act. He says, “The anti-bullying bill is my first priority, because it is very important for the proper psychological upbringing of kids and the bill per se is not contentious and does not require additional funding.”

Trillanes describes the bill this way: “This proposed legislation shall require each school district in the country to develop a policy that prohibits the harassment, intimidation, or bullying of any student.”

A news report in The Philippine STAR in December mentions that, “In addition to the disciplinary sanctions imposed upon a perpetrator of bullying or retaliation, the bill proposes that the perpetrator ‘shall also be required to undergo a rehabilitation program which shall be administered by the institution concerned.’ The parents of the said perpetrator shall be encouraged by the said institution to join the rehabilitation program.”

I single out this feature of the bill about parents, because this is one aspect of education that has not been widely appreciated in our country. In advanced countries, parents have a huge say on how their children are educated. Often, parents approve the curriculum, choose the textbooks, and evaluate the teachers.

In schools in the USA, for example, parents regularly join teachers in elementary school classrooms, serving not as teacher aides but as co-teachers. In fact, parents in America are expected to take leaves occasionally from their jobs just to be with their children in the classroom. Americans know that their Number One priority is the education of their children, not advancement in their careers.

In the Philippines, unfortunately, educators have taken the phrase “in loco parentis” literally. They take it to mean that teachers replace parents, rather than merely support them. They limit their encounters with parents only to parent-teacher conferences or meetings of the parent-teacher-community associations. Rarely do parents sit in faculty meetings or teachers visit children in their homes.

Parents themselves are to blame for the situation in our country. Despite research findings that children learn better from their parents than from their teachers, parents depend too much on educators to formulate learning standards. They trust strangers to bring up their children. They do not realize that education is too important to be left to educators.

Bullying occurs on campuses because parents are not around. Of course, there are parents that take it upon themselves to pounce on bullies, but they are exceptions. (It is understandable though not forgivable, of course, for parents to lose their temper when they see their children being bullied.)

What the anti-bullying bill correctly sees as a solution to bullying is rehabilitating not just the child, but the child’s parents. Numerous studies have shown that children bullied by their parents tend to become bullies themselves. Children growing up in homes where violence is usual (with wife-beaters, husband-beaters, marital quarrels, corporal punishment, and so on) tend to think that violence is the norm, rather than the aberration.

An anti-bullying bill, however, addresses the symptoms rather than the causes of the problem. We have too many parents that do not deserve to be parents. When we argued about the RH bill, we tended to focus on the act of making children, not on the act of bringing them up. It is one thing not to have children we do not want. It is quite another thing to decide what to do with children once they are already there, whether we want them or not.

One way to get parents to continue lifelong learning is to get them back into the schools, not as students, but as co-teachers. By seeing how teachers (who have had the benefit of formally studying child psychology) behave towards children, parents will learn how to treat their own children at home.

Too often, to use a term from music, parenting is played by ear. It is the rare parent that reads up on child psychology. Since it is unrealistic to think that we can go into households and educate parents by force, we can simply get parents into schoolrooms, give them a chance to see how to raise a child using research-based methods, and make them accountable for their children’s formal education.

Home study, where parents rather than teachers educate children, has become acceptable in some countries. In fact, it is even provided for in the K to 12 reform. To me, however, home study is too extreme a solution to the lack of trust in schools. Bringing parents and teachers together in the classroom and giving them joint responsibility in teaching children is a more reasonable way to ensure that education helps rather than hinders growing up.

Teachers may know more than parents about child psychology, but parents are directly responsible for their own children. If we want to stop bullying, let us start by getting the parents on campus. We will be solving not just the problem of bullying, but all sorts of other problems as well.