[OPINION] Teachers should not be bullies, enemies of free speech

Roma Estrada
[OPINION] Teachers should not be bullies, enemies of free speech
'The past days have revealed many instances of teachers sharing fake news, curtailing free speech, and expressing anti-poor sentiments'


While doctors are savings lives, teachers should be harnessing critical thinking online, especially now that more people are interacting on social media given the lockdown. And to do that, teachers should also be champions of information and free speech.  

But it seems like the opposite is happening, as the past days have revealed many instances of teachers sharing fake news, curtailing free speech, and expressing anti-poor sentiments. 

On April 5, Joshua Molo, the 20-year-old editor-in-chief of UE’s The Dawn, was threatened with cyberlibel by his former high school teachers following their heated debate on Facebook on the plight of the poor during the lockdown. Jun Ainne Francisco, the teacher who got Molo blotterred, actually frequented the National Schools Press Conference (NSPC), the biggest competition for journalism for both private and public elementary and secondary schools in the Philippines. (READ: Campus journos ‘defend press freedom’ during NSPC 2018 awarding ceremonies)

Another teacher who frequented such conferences justified, on the Facebook page of ACT Teachers Philippines, the warrantless arrest of a fellow teacher in General Santos City for airing out grievances about the slow distribution of relief goods by the local government.

Why would journalism teachers – the ones supposedly upholding press freedom and freedom of expression – act against their students and fellow teachers for expressing their views? What kind of training is being given during the NSPC? Shouldn’t the conference consider reevaluating its competition-centered approach and go back to the basics of journalism, which definitely has nothing to do with keeping mum amid state repression?  

Worse, this behavior is not limited to journalism teachers.

On April 7, a teacher posted an old photo of people rallying in the streets, thinking it was taken during the duration of the “enhanced community quarantine.” Facebook user Wynona Villa then called out her mistake, but instead of taking down her post, the teacher replied: “Whatever wlng pinagkaiba s social media yn” and “Ano ang fake news s mga galit s president? Baka isa k s knla nak. Post ko to pde mong iunfollow if u want.” When Villa insisted on explaining the dangers of posting false information, the teacher accused her of disrespect.   

Moreover, this teacher also tagged the protesters in the photo as “#mgaAnayngbayan.”

How some teachers still hang on to this false sense of authority says a lot about the local education system: that it still observes a feudal approach, and that teachers are still averse to criticism. Until teachers learn that dissent isn’t equal to disrespect, they will not be able to accept this dissent, much less welcome it. 

There is one instance, though, that has been the most alarming by far: when Genaro Gojo Cruz – a teacher from De La Salle University, a children’s book writer, and a known supporter of the Duterte administration – posted an open letter to the Filipino poor on April 7. The letter primarily preached about how the poor should spend “taxpayers’ money,” pertaining to the current social amelioration program of the government. “Magkaroon po sana kayo ng pangarap,” he wrote. 

Garnering over a thousand reactions, Cruz’ open letter posed a danger of peddling anti-poor perspectives especially among students, teachers, and readers. As a teacher, he betrayed his duty to inform and be informed by implying that only employees pay taxes, as if the basic necessities purchased by the poor are spared from tax. As a writer, he refused to be the voice of reason. He willingly embraced a narrative that creates further divisions among people. He chose to betray the social class he claims to have come from.  

Looking at these educators’ blunders takes us back to Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970): “The educator has the duty of not being neutral,” to initiate speech when there is an order for silence, and to encourage others to do the same, because dissent itself is duty in the face of repressive authority. The educator has the duty to empower the disempowered.  

But many of us teachers are disempowered ourselves – overworked and mired in debt with our low salaries. We receive limited relevant training, materials, and other forms of support from the Department of Education, Commission on Higher Education, and our respective workplaces. Despite these, we seldom exercise collective dissent. (READ: [OPINION] Glorified but ignored: How to truly honor our teachers)

To heed our duty, we have to free ourselves from backward perspectives. But we cannot fulfill such through silence and submission. And we certainly cannot do it alone. 

As mentioned earlier, a teacher named Juliet Espinosa was illegally arrested in General Santos City. She was charged with inciting to sedition for speaking up for people dying of hunger due to government neglect. 

Clearly, they had the audacity to charge her because free speech is not as free as we think, because its exercise remains rare especially among our ranks. 

Let’s hold hands and turn that around. During this pandemic, let’s be doctors to those who’ve fallen into blind submission, a dangerous contagion that has targeted the mind. – Rappler.com

Roma Estrada has been teaching for a decade. 


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