With this MLE turn, now we make the road while walking: our task at Nakem and at the UH Ilokano Program until 2015

Introduction: We Make the Road

The poet Antonio Machado the liberation educationist Paulo Freire loves to quote talks of the road we must make, one that does not exist prior to our journey. “Caminante,” he admonishes the traveler, “son tus hellas el camino, y nada mas; caminante, no hay camino, se hay camino al andar.” (“Wanderer, your footsteps are the road, and nothing more; wanderer, there is no road, the road is made by walking.”)1

Indeed, this is true for us at Nakem Conferences advocating for cultural citizenship, cultural nationalism and pluralism, education to social justice and democracy, and diversity. There never was anyone ready to point out to us where the road to this advocacy is to be found. The reason is simple: there was no road to point.

The whole history of Philippine basic education—and equally worse, Philippine higher education—is a history of struggle for the recognition of, and respect for, our cultural and linguistic rights as a people from the peripheries of a land appropriated by the hegemonic center for reasons that are never ours. Up until today, it is a struggle fraught with the vagaries of education regimes that run the gamut from the faddish to the imitative—from what is the newest theory from the West to what we can do to follow the Western educators and validate, in our local settings, what they are talking about. It has been an educational set-up that has left us with a tacit knowledge: if it were not from the West it does not have any validity, meaning, and relevance.

These education regimes, intricately linked with political leadership, have all but made our educational goals something arbitrary, at the whim and caprice of those in power, and at the mercy of those who should know better than anyone on the street. Because of this, the future of our people has always been unstable and uncertain and vague such that those who could come up with the most fanciful set of experiments under the guise of employability for our graduates and their capacity to speak English would be the one to gain the upper hand in directing our educational system. Add this up: those who could come up with an education concept that valorizes nationalism without elaborating what that is are also given easy access to the educational resources even if such a concept is based on the entitlement and valorization of a single language at the expense of the other languages of the country. In sum, what we have seen so far is that we have deprived our people of their right to be educated in their own language. These education regimes, I must say, have forgotten as well that technicism2—this penchant for what oen can do in keeping with the technical requisites of the globalized world—is not what education makes.

As Ilokano educators, we have this to say: we have lent our names and supported these education regimes and this technicism that these regimes spawned.

As Ilokano educators, we are a terrible lot, proud of our pathetically small and self-serving achievements, like our near-native ability to speak academic English and our competence to speak Tagalog like a pro, and yet unable to speak, with confidence and pride and intellectual rigor in the language of our own people. We must say this now in the spirit of public admission of our social sin of omission: that many of us Ilokano academics today have been reduced to illiterates in our language.

We are unable to read in Ilokano with dolce and delight.

We are unable to read our literature with critical ability.

We are unable to write and make permanent our reflections about life in the language of our people so that in this permanency, the future generations will have a way to access our thoughts.

We are equally unable to speak our own language—we now refuse to speak it because it reminds us that we will remain promdi3 and backward if we do so.

And as Ilokano educators, we have not allowed our Ilokano language to speak us.

Because we are English-speaking educators, period.

Because we are Tagalog-speaking educators, period.

Because we wish forever to be known that we are educators capable of using the languages of wider communication in this homeland that is now more of land than home, literally. Our soul and heart are missing in action in this land, we dare say.

(To be continued)