education in the Philippines

[New School] When will schools stop telling us to reflect on the pandemic over and over?

Mikaela de Castro
[New School] When will schools stop telling us to reflect on the pandemic over and over?
'I’m tired of academizing my personal feelings and miserable experiences'

If I had a peso for each time I used the magic words, “amidst the pandemic” or “during these hard times,” in my school essays or speeches, I’d be really rich. 

Last year, when I was a college freshman, I took the mandatory National Service Training Program (NSTP). Upon ending the subject, we were given a survey to help us reflect on how NSTP had changed us into better people, what we got out of this pandemic, how we’d apply the lessons, etc. I’d already rehearsed the buzzwords to use in my head, like “healing,” “development,” and the like. 

Similarly, grade schoolers have been following a cycle of drawing palms open underneath Planet Earth with a “Save the Earth” slogan for years. My sister is in Grade 5 now and they still do the same thing. She has drawn about six Earths and four Reduce, Reuse, Recycle signs for different subjects during online classes. 

Spreading awareness through these activities is well-intentioned. They’re good advocacies and practices for sure, but at this point, everyone knows them already. It works not in healing the world, but in being evasive towards the root problem. This doesn’t simply end in school though, because there are so many guilt-trippy public-service announcements that, for example, pin the problem of plastic consumption on us instead of looking at the macro-level perpetrators of it. 

I’m not clamoring that we should jumpstart our kids to be like Greta Thunberg or have them draft environmental petitions. But what happens now always comes off as blaming the individual when we should dwell on larger culprits.

And as we try to dwell on these larger culprits, we always have to tone down our disappointment and criticisms in our essays. I end up thinking, “Do I sound too Marxist?” “I’ll just scratch this part out because this someone is a DDS.” Some of us also check our professors’ political alignments, seeing which candidate has their vote, so we know how not to get on their bad side and how to fake it ’til we make it in their subject. 

I’m tired of academizing my personal feelings and miserable experiences, all while attempting to make them meaningful for the sake of getting a higher grade. What lies beyond our well-written essays are scripted feelings that resist the ripples of censorship. 

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On one hand, self-reflection is the most human thing to do, but it shouldn’t be limited to a performative gig. The pandemic is not just a cautionary tale. On the other hand, even though the pandemic should not be treated as a test, we can’t deny that some people have really been testing us. 

Following the statement of vice-presidential candidate Sara Duterte, whose goal is to mandate mandatory military service to all Filipino men and women reaching the age of 18, older generations had a lot to say on Facebook and TikTok: 

Mabuti i-apply iyang mandatory Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC), katulad ng sa South Korea, para mabawasan na rin ang mga kabaklaan dito.” 

Dapat lang para hindi puro tamad and pasaway ang kabataan.” 

Their sentiments are no surprise to us. Older generations have long been attached to narratives of discipline and patriotism. When my school publication released a photography series on students who talked about their tiredness and frustrations with online classes, it gained tremendous support for its relevance and relatability — but had a handful of gaslighting bashers, too. Some comments by older folks were invalidating, as they compared the present with their harder struggles during their time, and how our generation had it easy because we just had to adjust to the circumstances of a fast world. 

Despite our generation’s fatigue and tiredness being constantly invalidated, studies claim that children today have more anxiety compared to psychiatric patients in the ’50s. But because we didn’t go to war, our battles are watered down.

Every time we express our frustration, we’re hushed by internet trolls or blatantly ignorant folks who say we’re still too young to know what’s happening on-ground, that we’re better off as law-abiding citizens who don’t give the government a hard time. 

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Self-reflection should not be a requirement

Defusing our personalities in our papers to get that uno has never felt so wrong. 

What we can’t put out in our papers is how many cups of coffees we drink per day, the number of hours we sleep, how we don’t eat anymore and just enter the Zoom room. What we put in these papers instead is our “healing journey with God,” and “what the pandemic taught us” — not the cracks in our system, but how this situation is an opportunity to fix ourselves. 

But I did not get stronger because of the pandemic. I am not miserable because I don’t pray that much. I am not a happier, “new year, new me,” because of quarantine. Quite frankly, like everyone else, I’d be happier if the pandemic had never happened at all. 

Before anyone comes at me with pitchforks, know that self-reflection isn’t bad and it shouldn’t stop. As an essayist who relies on, and sometimes monetizes, her emotions and experiences to write content, self-reflection is my lifeblood. But would I like to be reflective only to pass, to impress, to be more faithful? 

I’m not advocating that we should stop giving thanks or praise and write swear words in our reflective papers. If we’re required to ponder upon our “growth” this pandemic — for academic purposes — we should also be allowed to deconstruct the structures that should be held accountable for this mess, without being fearful of the grade or outcome we’d get in return.

It’s fine to reflect on a crisis and have personal dilemmas. But that reflection shouldn’t be limited to individualistic and blissful ideas. Also, students shouldn’t only be tasked to let out their feelings and treat their papers as therapists for a good grade, then be expected to pipe those emotions back down when confronted with real-life issues and injustices.

We don’t need to be inspirational all of the time. We should be allowed to be vulnerable. We should be allowed to be enraged. We should be allowed to put our feelings into action, beyond paper. –

Mikaela de Castro is a second-year AB Asian Studies major and journalist from the University of Santo Tomas, and is the Blogs editor of TomasinoWeb. The former Rappler intern has an affinity for the color pink, culture, media, academia, and the smell of paperbacks.

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