Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Including the excluded

This is my column today.

One of the most difficult challenges in the world today is how to be more “inclusive.”

Put another way, the challenge that face many among us, particularly those who have the means or the power to build all sorts of walls around them, is how to be more accepting of diversity issues and in the process include the excluded.

Sociology might tell us that we have a collectivist culture; that we tend to do things in groups rather than as individuals. Unfortunately, this also seems to apply in the way we tend to exclude others “who are not like us” using the flimsiest excuse or reason.

As it is, our social structures already provide more than enough demographical divisions that are sadly often used as walls to insulate or isolate people, or put them into specific hierarchical classifications. It is as if some people are made of better stuff than others.

There’s economic status, of course. Let’s face it, despite all that gobbledygook about how everyone is supposed to be equal in the eyes of God and insofar as the law is concerned, we all know that that’s not really the case most of the time. There are certain entitlements that the rich have access to and they do try to ensure that these perks are kept to people within their circle. Has anyone else noticed the proliferation of clubs and venues that are “for members only?” Suddenly, it seems everyone has gotten into the act of being exclusivist in this country.

Why, even my own professional organization has jumped into the bandwagon and has established some kind of “fellowship” within our ranks. Some of my colleagues now brandish special letters after their name—letters that are supposed to denote membership in a higher order, as if having additional letters after a name adds IQ points or increases qualification. It’s reflective of this exclusivist phenomenon now plaguing the world.

There are many possible explanations for this but I suspect that one of the top reasons would be the desire to uphold some exalted status that I presume is best achieved when membership to a group is kept to a minimum and when admission is made stringent and difficult. In some cases, the admission requirements are made impossibly difficult that lives are often wasted such as in the case of Greek letter organizations.

Academe is in a better position to enlighten people and to promote a more democratic, more inclusive and therefore more empowering social environment. Unfortunately, the academic community happens to be even more blatant and more elitist when it comes to preserving its various enclaves and promoting exclusivity. It’s one of those major ironies in this world that the very institutions that are tasked with the social mandate of pushing equality and enlightenment and in tearing down the walls that promote prejudice are the ones that are notorious for practices that perpetuate these. Given the major advances in andragogy (i.e. the science of learning) such as recognition of higher-level intelligences, one would expect that academe would have already broken its ivory towers and pedagogical enclaves. Not so.

It is within this context that we discuss the recent argument over the plan of Southwestern University in Cebu City to confer an honorary doctorate degree on human kinetics on Emmanuel “Manny Pacman” Pacquiao. The justification being proffered by the officials of the Southwestern University is that Pacquiao deserves the honorary degree on account of the immense honor he has brought to the country as a boxing champion of global renown.

A number of academics immediately became purple-faced. One noted academic was so livid he was reduced to spewing hysterical protestations.

The idea is so repulsive to many academics because of the old paradigm that says academic degrees must emanate from—and only from—scholarly pursuits. It’s the old paradigm that views learning as a purely cognitive process illustrated in hackneyed metaphors that denote pain and extreme difficulty such as “burning the midnight candle.”

To these people, the only measures of academic qualification come from reading textbooks and being able to regurgitate theories and frameworks.

Someone actually said that Pacquiao’s accomplishments, while outstanding, are not within the purview of scientific triumph. This argument smacks of narrow-mindedness of legendary proportions. Do universities and colleges have sports programs purely for entertainment purposes then? Last I heard, human kinetics was a valid science! It’s been quite some time since kinesthetic intelligence was recognized as a higher form of intelligence. If achievements in athletics, in particular, exemplary feats such as those achieved by Manny Pacquiao, do not qualify as valid or scientific accomplishments, then the Education Department should exclude physical education subjects from the curricula.

I continue to have reservations about promoting boxing as a competitive sport without the necessary safety equipment, but I do not—cannot—question the fact that boxing is a sport that requires higher intelligence. I can understand how ordinary people tend to see it simply as an advanced form of fisticuffs, but academics should know better. The kind of mental calculations and the level of analytical thinking that goes into each punch cannot be undermined.

The other argument has to do with Pacquiao’s age. There’s this outmoded paradigm that certain honorifics should recognize a lifetime body of works or achievements. This is the reason why many are awarded National Artists posthumously, which, if we come to think about it, is such an utter waste. While this is still some wisdom in honoring the memory of the dead, surely it is better to show appreciation while the person is still alive to savor and bask in it. This is probably why Lea Salonga won’t be receiving the title of National Artist anytime soon despite the fact that no other artist, living or dead, comes close to what she has accomplished.

I think all these are just excuses to preserve the status quo. Some people are simply uncomfortable with breaking traditions, particularly when doing so requires that they stretch staid rules and break conventions. It’s really just intellectual snobbishness and elitism perpetuated by people who think of themselves as superior.

3 comments:

Ormocanon said...

"One noted academic was so livid he was reduced to spewing hysterical protestations.

The idea is so repulsive to many academics because of the old paradigm that says academic degrees must emanate from—and only from—scholarly pursuits. It’s the old paradigm that views learning as a purely cognitive process illustrated in hackneyed metaphors that denote pain and extreme difficulty such as “burning the midnight candle.”

To these people, the only measures of academic qualification come from reading textbooks and being able to regurgitate theories and frameworks.
"--Bong Austero


Based on the negative reactions of these so called "Academics", I wonder what academic sand they've been burying their collective heads in, that they cannot equate Manny Pacquiao's achievements in the context of the science of human kinetics.

Antonio Pe Yang III said...

As a practicing martial artist, I do consider Pacqiao to be a literal "work of art."

That is, the way he and his trainer have toned his body to a degree of fitness and form thatconsidered extraordinary even in the realm of professional boxing.

Martial arts is as its title implies - a study of military/combat arts that is nonetheless one of the most sincere expressions of the human body - the latter is the art aspect.

ormocanon said...

Oops. The phrase "...they cannot equate Manny Pacquiao's achievements in the context of the science of human kinetics." should have read, "...they cannot equate Manny Pacquiao's achievements with excellence in the context of the science of human kinetics."
Sorry for the typo.