My bestfriend, Fe, had shared a comment from a visiting American before who met her whole family.  He was asking why everyone seemes to be so into getting an education in this (the Philippines) country.  Of course the guy had no idea that even a college diploma was not guaranteed to get you a job, and even with a Master’s Degree tucked under your belt, it still depended on which school gave you that diploma.

It still amazes me how this country gives so many opportunities for people to succeed, where a college degree/diploma is a good but not a necessary badge for one to be successful.  We always hear about success stories from the college or high school dropouts who are now running their respective companies.  Still, we have Bill Gates and the like who went through the usual route — who burned their night lamps reading their books and going through all the other motions to start them off.

In the Philippines, your fate in the job market was largely determined by which school you graduated from.  University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila University (a jesuit run school), De La Salle University (competitor to Ateneo, run by the La Salle Brothers) bested all other universities.  It didn’t matter that you graduated with honors.  Pitted against graduates of these giants, other resumes were simply overlooked as underqualified.

The bias was not without basis.  These schools pride themselves in academic excellence and intellectual diversity, producing graduates who were academically superior to the rest of the lot.  For starters, their graduates spoke and wrote better English.  They came from more affluent families who had access to a wide array of enrichment from piano lessons to foreign languages or the advantage of actually having gone abroad for a vacation at some point in their young life. 

Seeking an education was pre-ordained.  From the time a toddler could talk, he or she was taught the ABCs with the hope of preparing the child to embark on years of education that would prepare him for college and a stable life later on.  College in the Manila is not an option for those who can afford it, it was but part and parcel of living.  Just like growing up.

I’m taking the pains to explain this facet of Filipino thinking because that trait of being so into education is a trait that is not totally absent here in the US, but is sometimes amiss in a huge segment of their high school population.  I dread to think how the high school population would drop drastically if public education wasn’t mandatory.  Here in the US, if you didn’t send your children to public school, you got in trouble with the state.  They have the truancy police going after the children who are not in class — which, of course, doesn’t stop the children from cutting and hiding inside the premises of their school. 

My stepson is now 15 years old and a freshman in one of the high schools where people would give an arm and a leg to get in.  He is there, however, by virtue of the fact that we live in the school zone, so the state cannot say no to him.  Even before he hit middle school, he was already mulling about the jobs which would not require a high school diploma.  Now that he is a freshman and struggling through the change in curriculum and the onset of the expectation that he will no longer be spoonfed in school, we would’ve hoped that he would have a renewed sense of ambition.

Alan always says that as a parent, there is only so much he can do.  With his son with a mind of his own, it is no longer that easy to impress upon him life’s important lessons.  There is a constant tug of war in terms of negotiating between what he wants and what can or cannot be.  As a stepparent, my prerogatives are even less flexible if not nonexistent.  I want to help the 15 year old but I cannot help someone who does not want to be helped, or who doesn’t want to have me dipping into his business.

I wish he could see the necessity of a good education — not for us, but for his own future, and the future of the people who would one day depend on him. 



Gusto mo?

Even before I came here to the US, one thing that I was told was innate in American culture was that to be invited into another’s home didn’t mean you were being asked to have dinner with the family even if your visit coincided with supper time.  And very unlike what has been customary for us to share whatever we are eating by offering it to others as a matter of courtesy (Making “alok” with the customary “Gusto mo?” ), I have come to discover that the same thing was not exactly the practice here.  (This, I came to realize was true because that is how the 15 year old is..)

So I find it rather interesting that there are colleagues of mine in the office who would ask about what I was eating if they found it interesting.  There is an interest to partake, but rarely an interest to share.  It’s not really selfishness per se, but I guess a cultural trait ingrained in the American way of life.  What’s mine is mine.