3rd best essay winner: Shania Ashley Masucol Dejarme, Misamis Oriental

How and in what ways Filipinos can decolonize knowledge?

An Academic Revolution

There is a tension that exists in the social science lessons we learn in school. Teachers would tell us to be proud of our culture, but they remind us of the heavy chains to our colonized past. Years of torment, genocide, and abuse under colonial masters are buffered with discussions of their contributions as if to say our ancestors’ suffering is justified and that our current situation is the best we could hope to achieve. Filipinos love the idea of progress, so much so that it is the consistent battle cry of any ideological war in our land. However, wars can only be won with principles and strategy. In this essay, I’ll discuss why progress matters to Filipinos and how it can be achieved through a postcolonial education system.

The Philippines is an excellent example of what it means to be a postcolonial state. Here, corruption paralyzes any meager step towards progress. In international spaces, our state leaders are always hedging towards stronger states. Oftentimes, citizens are told that economic development is inevitably at the cost of environmental damage, harms towards indigenous groups and marginalized communities, and urban congestion. A realist would look at our situation and confirm that it is indeed the fate of weaker states to suffer in this dog eat dog world. But realism does not care for nuances, and in this case, it will not consider the impact of colonization upon our status quo. For example, in the reality of the precolonial Filipino, the idea of a predetermined hierarchy of bodies did not exist. However, this was the idea carried by our colonizers. Epistemologically, relations were never equal between the colonizer and colonized. Thus, the structures they designed in the past, and that we still utilize today served their purpose. Christianity promised that suffering on Earth will be rewarded in heaven. Schools prepared students to become cogs in the capitalist machine.

Diplomacy meant that resources determined who led and who followed who. Progress is an endeavor that requires self-reflexivity from thinkers and doers and followers, the academicians, politicians, and citizens. Progress, to me, is a world where the Philippines is no longer exploited for its natural resources or people. It is a world where the worth of brown bodies is an inherent quality not enhanced or marred by the capital it possesses. To desire progress is to concede that Filipinos need to examine the structures and norms we inherited from our colonizers and assess their value. To discard remnants of a past that affirms the international system’s imposed hierarchy upon us.

As a student, my world is still relatively limited; however, that does not take away the necessity to untangle colonialism from history books as they exist today. First, there needs to be an acknowledgment that an academic revolution is necessary. There needs to be self-reflexivity from stakeholders and a commitment to a postcolonial epistemology. Thiong’o’s work with the African education system serves as the inspiration. It is about questioning who controls knowledge production, who consumes knowledge, and how this status quo reinforces colonial mindsets. The Spaniards were hesitant to make education widely accessible because knowledge is power. When they finally allowed Filipinos to study, it was limited to elite groups whose interests aligned with their colonizers rather than their fellow countrymen. Thus, the second component is to highlight marginalized voices. Postcolonial education cannot exist without the equitable representation of women, queer folk, ethnic, cultural, economic and religious minorities.  When history lessons no longer treat these people as an afterthought, that is when we’ve made significant progress. Moreover, in the frontlines of competition for political spaces, learners and teachers must always push back against the mainstream. Bourdieu’s sociology teaches us that there are power relations in the field of the academe and even beyond its borders. It is up to us to reject this spatialization and attempt to change the status quo.

Undoubtedly, if my realist or neoliberal professors were to read this essay, they would highlight its absurd assumption that the world can change. That individuals would be willing to put in the effort of reorienting themselves for the benefit of the next generation. Ideas perpetuated by the subaltern could replace those structures and norms. Nevertheless, nothing is ever permanent. The freedom of the pre-colonial people ended. Imperialism ended. Wars we thought would rage forever ended. This silver lining is not remiss from academicians. It is high time to resolve the tension of our postcolonial education system.

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