Burying the humanities and the social sciences

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ANTONIO P. CONTRERAS

THERE is one burial that I have to protest.

There is a slow, but certainly deliberate, effort to bury the humanities and the social sciences.

I am referring to the alarming global trend, which found its dramatic manifestation when the University Council of UP Diliman voted to reduce its General Education, or GE courses, to a minimum of 21 units, almost more than half of its current level at 45 units.

The impact of this will not be on the students who are taking up academic programs in the arts, humanities and the social sciences Majors in these programs are assured of getting the kind of education that will not only prepare them for their academic disciplines, but will also equip them with the soul and the temperament to become humans, and not just builders of roads and bridges, inventors of machines, and discoverers of new animal and plant species.


The impact of this will be felt by students taking up courses in the hard sciences, mathematics, engineering, and other technology-related courses, as well as in applied social sciences such as management and economics.
These academic disciplines have already been considered as the core of national development. They nurture the students who are believed to have direct roles to play in the more concrete activities related to economic development.

The humanities and the social sciences have always been considered as secondary in any development agenda, even if ironically development is in fact a social process. After all, we are talking about the development of human societies, and not just the advancement of their technical knowledge.

The focus on measurable indicators of excellence have preoccupied many universities, and the reason and logic of university performance is now measured in world rankings that put a lot of premium on refereed and abstracted publications, and recently, on industry-university collaborations. Thus, deans of humanities and social science colleges are now forced to deal with questions asking them how many poems will be the equivalent of a patent, not only as a theoretical exercise, but are now dealing with these as real challenges to the very existence of their units and faculties.

In many universities abroad, programs in the humanities and the social sciences are abolished, or downgraded. Social science departments, like those in sociology and political science, shift away from more interpretivist and qualitative orientations and take on a more quantitative bias, to im-press on university administration that they are worth keeping.

In the Philippines, there has always been a structured bias against the humanities and the social sciences. Promotion and performance evaluation templates have always been crafted from the perspective of the natural and physical sciences, to which the humanities and social sciences should restructure and adapt. Humanists and social scientists are forced to enter the world of science and technology, and engage in creative works or otherwise embed themselves in S and T re-search agenda where their knowledge become mere appendages.

This approach naturally privi-leges economics and policy sciences, to the detriment of those social scientists who would like to study soap operas and political culture, and to the creative artists who would like to write those soap operas and engage in culture studies.

It is in being dismissed as irrelevant that the humanists and the social scientists find themselves in the margins of academia.

It is in the GE requirements where they found a sanctuary. The GE is a protected shell whose courses all students, regardless of discipline, have no choice but to take. It is a place where Shakespeare is taught, and where indigenous Filipino worldviews are mainstreamed in students’ minds, and where critical thinking is strengthened. This is to ensure that those who will be building society’s bridges have a sturdy bridge to their own consciousness as persons and as part of a society, with a culture and a history.

And it is that oasis, that refuge for the marginalized disciplines, that has been diminished by that vote taken by the University Council of UP Diliman,

And this is not an isolated case. It was in fact a powerful blow, albeit symbolically, to the already marginalized position of the humanities and the social sciences in the academic discourse in our country. What makes it an unkind cut is that it is UP which did it, the university that projects itself as the bellwether of intellectualism in the country.

I am afraid that UP’s vote may become contagious and will infect other schools.

Supporters of the 21-unit GE argue that this is what we need to become globally competitive. Be-sides, they also believe that the senior high school curriculum already takes care of the humanities and the social sciences.
One has to examine the curriculum for the senior high school to realize that this is wishful thinking.

And one has to ask whether it is morally right to barter our humanity and turn our universities into vocational and technical institutes just to become globally respectable.

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7 Comments

  1. Severo L. Brillantes on

    You protest the burying of the humanities and the social sciences, when you were deafeningly silent when the culprit which is the K to 12 education program was being implemented by Luistro? Petitions against that oppressive and anti-democratic education program has been filed before the Supreme Court with the end in view of declaring it to be unconstitutional, but did we hear you say anything in support of them?

  2. The country could have used the old system with a few modifications and followed Singapore:

    Singapore:

    6 years of primary
    4-6 years of secondary
    2 years of junior college or 2-3 years of technical school
    4 years of university

    Philippines:

    6 years of primary
    4-6 years of secondary (make Grades 6-7 part of high school)
    2 years of junior college (use the GE) or 2-3 years of technical school
    4 years of university (expand the 2-2.5 years of majors to 3, then add one 1 year for board review, thesis, and/or OJT with minimal tuition)

  3. While I feel that the K to 12 program has its advantages, it does not seem to be well thought out.
    I think the former DepEd Secretary took on a largely high profile political role that he dropped the ball on the actual implementation of the program.
    Even in the UAAP alone, I cannot understand why juniors players are not playing another two or three years in the high school division and “graduating” into the seniors/collegiate ranks. The PMA and probably the PNPA likewise have not reassessed their curriculum yet.
    Then the ROTC program is being considered for senior high? Courses on humanities, history the arts and even languages should better exercise the brain than being shouted upon by tinhorn dictators(who normally overstay in college too) under the sun during Saturdays and/or Sundays when reading a book will benefit the student more.

  4. Alangilan M. Go on

    If only we could try to seriously teach/include in the humanities and social sciences subjects unadulterated
    Scripture lessons, true conscience formation will not be difficult to achieve.

    Proverbs 9:10 “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

    Psalm 111:10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all …
    The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise …

    • It is next to impossible to teach the Bible to UP students. A lot of them do not believe in God. Thinking that they belong to an intellectual elite, they believe THEY are God.

  5. With all due respect, there are so many UP graduates in government but we are still the laggard of Asia.

  6. Macqueline Palalay on

    I could not agree more to such a well-put argument, Mr./Prof. Contreras.

    Many of the social and political ills of the world are due to ill-equipped bureaucrats, technocrats, and demagouges lacking ethical, moral, and well-balanced critical-thinking and analyses–which abound in the humanities and social sciences. For the University of the Philippines to have reduced its General Education requirements to more than 50%, is truly unthinkable. Not a wise move.

    If anything, they should have increased requiring more studies and exposure to such courses to produce more world- and life-wise products–of our student youth: not just clueless, unethical techie nerds in politics, medicine, sciences, business, etc. Consequently, they turn out to be conscienceless, tunnel-visioned crooks and sociopaths. More specifically, alas, our country is infested with so many of them–already.