By Dr. Pablito A. Dela Rama, Director, School of Agro-Industrial and Technical Education

(Message delivered during the Candle Lighting and Pinning Ceremony of the College of Education.)

“Empower me – spirit of the Living God!”

In the book, Silliman University 1901-1976, authors Dr. Edilberto Tiempo, Dr. Crispin Maslog and Dr. T. Valentino Sitoy wrote of a report to the Board of Trustees on August 16, 1975 by University Church Pastor, Rev. Harry Pak who said that “. . . authentic education involves more than academic excellence but concerns the nurturing of the whole person . . . of integrating the classroom learning with questions about life, particularly as these questions deal with life’s meaning, ethical and moral choices on personal and social levels”.

Today, to give prominence to your rite of passage as future teachers, you have indeed, picked up the challenge of Dr. Harry Pak in your theme by focusing on a question of life, on empowerment in life – the ethical and moral choices we make on personal and social levels.

For what does “empower me” mean to you? Does your empowerment begin and end ONLY with you? Or is your appeal for empowerment to the Living God begin with each one of you so that as individuals who have chosen a career in the service of teaching, you can empower others – and even create and nurture a chain of empowered many others?

In that report for Silliman University, Dr. Pak defined it well: empowering others is integrating classroom learning with questions of life’s meaning – an education he calls “authentic education”!

One question about life in the Philippines that comes to mind right now is the news last Saturday, July 7, 2012, on the reality that the brain drain in our country has more than doubled in the last twelve years – based on the data from the Bureau of Labor and Employment Statistics that Filipinos trained and educated in Science and Technology have increased from just 9,877 in 1998 to 24,502 in 2009 to add to our already many OFWs. That statistical reality has also affected our country, making us always a developing nation far enough from financial stability that should have been a concern in our economic literacy.

When we ask ourselves or our friends for answers, the usual is: “There’s no job for me in our country!” But then, with job generation a major function of government, who elected into office the people who govern us? As people who sacrifice much for our education, where did our political science, our voter literacy go? Or having been educated, why haven’t we become entrepreneurs in our chosen fields of study? On the other hand, many review and tutorial centers have now become a fact of our daily life. With the sprouting of these after-care educational centers, don’t we feel insulted . . . embarrassed enough to question ourselves about how we do teach and put meaning into the lives of our students, our pupils? Or having passed your education degree yourselves but subsequently failed your licensure exam, haven’t you wondered why, when the same brain you engage in your schooling is the very same brain you used to answer your board exam?

In another dimension in life, doesn’t the upsurge of dengue in our country that the Department of Health says is due to poor hygiene and cleanliness, make you wonder how the basic lessons in Health & Physical Education are taught and learned by you? Or when it rains and floods and landslides follow, why can’t we look into our own habits of littering even along our streets’ drainage systems to find solutions ourselves? Or the practice of illegal logging or the burning of trees to make charcoal – the fuel in the Fipinos’ favorite lechon – to seek some relief from such devastating calamities? Surely, there is much disconnect in our learning: in the way our habits control our heads, in the way our brains work against us rather than with us and for us.

On the other hand – whether in print or broadcast – the testimony even of professionals in positions of authority, has become the common channel for information about consumer products. And even with the caution of the absence of therapeutic value, the message keeps on coming. In your Research and Statistics, is the testimonial a valid source of data to make you believe in the product, enough to buy it?

Among the service professions, you must have noticed that education is not only an unpopular choice; it is also not a well-compensated career in spite of the inherent difficulties in doing the job of knowledge production in an area of man’s anatomy – the human brain – that is not visible or tangible at the very moment when knowledge is born because there is convergence between your teaching and your students’ learning.

You may have also observed that in other service professions like doctoring, the doctor is surrounded by help within his workplace, his clinic or the hospital. In the classroom, when a student is extraordinarily curious with rapid-fire questions, can the teacher run for help to the faculty room? Or can he expect assistance from the teacher next door? Asking for intellectual help now becomes a matter of intellectual pride – so the help is never or seldom sought for. When you are discussing complex parts of a mathematical puzzle, and a student exhibits too much kinesthetic intelligence because of the influence of media, from whom can you ask for instant assistance?

Teaching generally happens within the confines of a classroom – a task and responsibility that demands much intellectual independence. Teaching is thus a lonely, stand-alone service profession where much depends on how we value our own learning: self-directed as we recharge, renew, and accommodate new knowledge to help our students make the essential connections to make information become data for knowledge to expand to be worthy of assimilation. And because a teacher cannot control how the brains of his students work, it does not come as a surprise when students fail in board exams although you have helped him pass in the subject where you taught him.

And so to empower yourselves, a question begs to be asked: when published data show that too much video among your students impair their ability to receive, retain, and retrieve what they have learned, how do you validate that research conclusion to help your students? What do you do to help them cope with their attention problems so that they get engaged in authentic learning? As man is a bundle of IQ and EQ, how do you approach this question about life’s meaning? When all-round media has been identified as the source for the development of narcissistic attitudes common in children and adults, how do you help them give less focus on their persons to become more focused on their studies?

At this point, it is best to reflect on man’s ability to empower himself.

In 1959, American management guru, Peter Ferdinand Drucker, coined the term “knowledge work” to affirm and confirm that indeed, we now have entered the third wave of human socio-economic development. Charles Savage, in his 1996 book, Fifth Generation Management, pointed out that in the first wave, the Agricultural Age, wealth was defined as ownership of land. In the second wave, the Industrial Age, wealth referred to the ownership of capital. Today, in this Knowledge Age, wealth is based not only on what one knows but also on how one uses such knowledge to create and improve goods and services.

Teaching is one such service. And the pattern of the Filipinos’ voting literacy – happening together with a massive brain drain to become an OFW – are much relevant questions about our own questions of life’s meaning, about how we carry on an authentic education for others.

Between 1959 and today then, has been more than five decades since Peter Drucker awakened us to Knowledge Work, now our chosen careers. Together with that awakening and enlightenment in this Knowledge Age is Daniel Goleman’s groundbreaking 1995 bestseller, Emotional Intelligence, or Why EQ Matters More Than IQ!

Let us then empower ourselves, master the art and science of pedagogy that begins within ourselves, in our brains – the seat of our own learning. What our brain is capable of maybe invisible to the eyes of others – our teachers or even our parents; but if we are honest with ourselves, then the Living God will do the rest!

A not-so-popular poet once wrote these meaningful lines: What you are, is God’s gift to you;/ What you make of yourself, is your gift to God.

What are the components of such gift?

God’s generosity has given each of us a brain – the seat of our learning, the seat where our own power emanates… for each of us has the gift of imagination, the gift of creativity, the gift of intuition, the gift of discovery, the gift of memory, the gift of belief, the gift of wisdom. With these seven gifts, God has also given us much power – and therefore much responsibility and accountability for our actions and our decisions.

With Dr. Harry Pak, how then does a Sillimanian empower himself so that he can empower others to create a chain reaction of empowered many others?

Because you have chosen to teach, how do you engage your students in answering their many questions to life’s meaning so that our country and the world made smaller by technology can also attain authentic education? How do you return back to God such gift of “Empower me – spirit of the Living God”?

Surrounded as you are by many and varied questions of life in your daily living, how do you plan to return back such gift? In each of your hearts and minds, only you can give your answer back to God!