Wednesday, March 9, 2011

"Flaws" and "Perspectives" in Philippine History

Window or Balcony? It does look like a window, but historians at that time would be reminded of balcony as the balusters in the Aguinaldo window resemble European-style balconies.
I was reading Definitely Filipino today and the article of Philippine History and its Flaws by Marc Neil D. Valenciano got my attention.

Apparently, Mr. Valenciano is upset at why alleged errors in Philippine history have not been corrected by the Department of Education. Errors he presented in his paper included the use of H. Otley Beyer's Wave Migration Theory as the basis for the peopling of the Philippines, the declaration Dr. Jose Rizal as national hero of the Philippines, the true nature of prehistoric beliefs held by Filipinos, even the question whether Aguinaldo proclaimed independence from a balcony or a window.

Mr. Valenciano makes it seem complicated when in fact, these flaws he is trying to point out are not really flaws but rather "perspectives". One case he finds complicated is which theory should be the basis of the peopling of the Philippines. He decries the DepEd's refusal to drop the Wave Migration Theory for the Out-of-Taiwan Theory by Peter Bellwood or Willhelm Solheim's Island Origin Theory as well as F. Landa Jocano's Local Origin Theory. While the Wave Migration Theory is indeed "old", being old does not disprove its assertions. It just so happens that new researches have been done on the topic that are contrary to theory in the issue, but nevertheless, all of these new researches are theories themselves. None are right or wrong. Therefore, the should be no debate as to which one should be presented in the textbooks. They all have to be presented to the readers and let them decide which to adhere to.

Is there really one theory about the peopling of the Philippines? Or do we present all theories and let the readers judge?
You see, history is written by how a historian sees it. Therefore, one historian's version of history would not be the same as that of another. Take the case of Sonia Zaide and Teodoro Agoncillo. I've read both books thoroughly during college and I could conclude that they are entirely two different versions of history. Zaide is more on facts and figures, heavy on names, places and dates. Being a devout Christian, her work focuses on Philippine history as a work of God -- that the events in our country for the past thousands of years is part of our destiny of becoming the predominantly Christian country in Asia. Agoncillo meanwhile focuses on the struggle of the common people. He dwells a lot on Philippine Revolution, particularly on the drama involved in the struggle between Bonifacio and Agoncillo.

Therefore, don't be surprised if Agoncillo romanticizes the rivalry between Bonifacio and Aguinaldo almost like Paquito Diaz and Fernando Poe Jr. in films. Don't be surprised too if Zaide praises American colonization as though it was God-given rain to a country in drought. Students and teachers of Philippine history therefore should also consider the differences in perspectives, instead of making conclusions on which is true history or not. In fact, one should not be making conclusions at all since history is not some scientific formula to be solved but a trail of events to be summarized. What historians and teachers should point out are the enduring understandings that students need to learn about events in Philippine history.

For example, instead of arguing whether the declaration of independence was made from a balcony or window of the Aguinaldo house, what we should be asking students is "Did we really achieve freedom after the declaration of independence?" or "What lessons should be worth taking note in our declaration of independence?" While of course, names, places and dates are important in history, they are still trivial compared to the lasting understandings that they hold. Therefore, emphasis should be made on these greater things instead of debating about useless "flaws".

The challenge that lies in teaching History and Social Studies these days is to make it fun and engaging for today's modern youth. Renowned Pastor Ed Lapiz once said that the best way to teach history is by storytelling. It's good, but we all know that today's youth get sleepy in the midst of even a wonderful story. The method of telling the story must evolve. That's why teachers of today are highly encouraged to tell the story in new and creative ways that would make students not just listen but interact, think and express their opinions about the country's story. In a world connected by social media, teachers have a new tool at retelling the account. Video conferences with historians and eyewitnesses, writing text and video blogs about students' opinion about a historical event, film viewing and review on the Internet, online forums and discussions -- these are just some of the ways teachers can use to impart to a savvy generation centuries-old Philippine history. In this way, we are not only teaching students the history of their land, but encouraging them to record and react on their own history as well.

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