The Powerless Academic

I feel like a prostitute, used and not taken seriously, unimportant and powerless, paid for some passing need. This is how a few years in the academe has made me feel.

Thousands of Nursing students have attended my classes, and they have come in various shapes and forms: young, not so young, married, single, well-off, poor. They have one common goal: to leave this country as soon as possible.

Ask them why they took the course, and they are quick to tell you success stories of their relatives in other countries, and the dim tomorrow that awaits us in our own. These students are well-driven, and well-motivated. Charity begins at home. And so are apathy, resignation, and materialism. Any influence that I wield as an educator is very easily negated by the gospel of a world that is painfully real.

When I decided to move to teaching from a better paying job, I was in high spirits. I yearned to live and grow in the academe, where knowledge thrives, where the ideal is pursued, and where young people are taught how not to commit the same mistakes our fathers did. Today, I am afraid, I am reduced to being an accomplice to one sugarcoated mistake.

My students listen to my lectures, but seem too occupied to really get the message. Our nurses are leaving by the hour. Operating rooms are filled with novice nurses because the skilled ones have left. Women and children are dying in depressed communities where health care is poorly administered. Because nursing students pass through my classroom, blood is also in my hands. How can we build a country deserted by the best of her sons and daughters? I cannot take this sitting down, but I have also grown too weary to resist. I am just another powerless academic. For this, I grieve.

And I grieve even more when I meet students who were forced and brainwashed by their elders into taking up nursing. Many of them have come to me in tears. They tell me of their agony, the pain of killing a dream at its infancy. Such is the epidemic that plagues the homes of the Filipino middle-class today, a scandal that negates what the fathers of this nation lived and died for, a plague that would not spare my own home.

I gained a better insight into my students’ situation when a year ago, my nephew J-Jay informed us that he wanted to be a mathematician. It was a surprise. In this country where young people dream of becoming doctors, lawyers, actors, and presidents, we have someone who dreamt of being a mathematician.

Members of the family were proud of him, especially when he graduated on top of his class, and aced all aptitude tests in math. But many were worried about his future. “What will he become, a teaaaaacher?” they asked, apparently concerned about the prospect of J-Jay dying of starvation. Consequently, our relatives convinced him to take another course that is close to numbers, but farther from the sting of poverty. J-Jay chose Engineering. That was a good compromise—or so we thought.

But then Ate Hedy, my older sister, went home for a three-month vacation from New Zealand, where she works as a nurse. She prodded J-Jay to study nursing. “If you take nursing, you can leave this country, and bring your family there, too. You can buy the things you want,” she told him. At first, J-Jay was hesitant, “Sayang naman po ang galing ko sa Math, Tita,” he said matter of factly. But Ate Hedy’s “success” was one that J-Jay could not ignore completely.

I talked to Ate Hedy and told her we should not teach J-Jay wrong values. Her reply pierced my heart deeply: “I am just trying to enlighten him. Wala nang pag-asa ang Pilipinas! Wala nang mangyayari sa atin dito! Bakit, sa tingin mo, may pag-asa pa ba?!”.

And Ate Hedy was not content with J-Jay taking nursing. She also urged me to take my chances abroad, promising help.

The offer was sweet, but it left a bitter aftertaste. It’s grounded on the assumption that I was not happy, or might not continue to be happy, if I stayed in this land. Apparently, even in my loving family, I am a powerless academic.

I did not want to ruin Ate Hedy’s vacation and her balikbayan bliss, so I spared her a lengthy discourse about nationalism, responsible citizenship, and the price we have to pay for them. If she were in one of my classes, I would have bored her by my pleading to imagine our nation in a more kindly light. I am not sure though how my one and a half hours of talking about big concepts would change the way Ate Hedy looks at things.

I was even beginning to be unsure if I made sense to my students. No, I was not telling them not to take nursing. I was asking them to serve our countrymen, and not to give up on this nation. I was asking them to give back to this land, a land that they feel has not given them enough.

Rizal must be rolling violently in his grave. The youth is a source of hope no more. I’d rather draw strength from people who are decades wiser, those who never cease to believe in their power to make a difference. Dr. Nancy Balantac of MMSU is one of them. The lines in her face reveal her age, but the glow in her eyes shows a burning love of country that is as pure and intense as the love of a two-year old child for her mother.

Then there is philosopher Rizal Javier, a man of letters who I am fortunate to work with. His living is modest, but his universe is wide and meaningful.

My mom is another big inspiration, she allowed me to pursue this dreamy life. I hope she is proud of me. If only for her, I cannot sell out.

E. San Juan, one of the more magnanimous social thinkers our land has nurtured, told me a few years ago: “When you begin to feel powerless, Herdy, try to talk to people who have the same fervor as you do. Profound social change is brought about not by individuals, but by large, organized movements.”

And so I write this piece in the hope that like-minded citizens will come together to keep the flame of hope burning. Powerless academics unite! Let’s come together and share our own victories and failures. Let’s tell what keeps us going, ever refusing to concede defeat.

What keeps me going? There are some saving graces. One came in the form of an e-mail from Kadz, a former student, who wrote to say she had transferred to San Beda to major in philosophy. She said that if by making that difficult decision, she could be half as happy as I seem to be now, then it would be worth it. It’s not true that I was taken for granted, she assured me.

Meanwhile, J-Jay went on to take Engineering, and my Ate Hedy lovingly understands.

I am now able to sleep more soundly these days as I think of Kadz, J-jay, and other brave souls who took the path less taken. I pray that Bathala may shower them her most abundant blessings.

But I pray harder for Jeus, Danica, Archie, Bertrand, Byron, Mininio, and many others held hostage by either need or greed. I mourn for the death of the philosophers, mathematicians, artists, and dreamers in them, even as I celebrate the demise of the prostitute me. ##

Author: Herdy La. Yumul

A hesitant academic pimp, writer

11 thoughts on “The Powerless Academic”

  1. I read the hard copy version of “The Powerless Academic” last night at the MMSU dorm here in Laoag City (I picked up a copy of the Times from a newsstand at a street I cannot name – me, being new here).
    And my… I cannot remember the last time I was impressed by the written output of anyone in print. From one line to another, your article held me by the collars Mr. Yumul. I do write too for the local paper we have in my hometwon Tabuk (that’s in the chaotic province of Kalinga), so I guess it’s kinda automatic for me to patronize the Times too. The last time I bought one in Augst (I guess), you were not part of the Times yet. But now that you are, I have something something to look forward to, week after week.

  2. hay naku, ba’t ka pa aksi nagtuturo pag ang mga tinuro mo ay afte a year or so ay ililipad lang sa ibang bansa?
    why not try to establish your own school and one requirement would be a promise not to go abroad.
    or why not tell honorable “inotil” congressman to author a bill in the congress where he just sit and attach himself to the high ranking officials, stating that no one will go abroad except those who didn’t pass any board exam for three consecutive years and allowing high wage for the Philippine workers. haha, para may magawa naman siya di lang ang pupunta sa amin at magpropromise ng mga di naman niya kayang gawin.

  3. I knew one who luckily passed her nursing board examination and started volunteering herself as a nurse in a hospital. But just after a month, she quit. She seemed not happy and she once told me that she was only forced to take up nursing since her aunt is also a nurse in New York and promised a help. She also said that she would have taken a business course instead…
    She’s just one of the million victims who didn’t have the freedom and were driven by our country’s present situation and of the fact that there’s better opportunity abroad……

  4. .i for somehow can relate to this.i had been a victim of the-art-of-no-choice, yes i had been free of choosing my degree, BUT i had just given two (limited) options, it’s between Nursing and Accountancy. and i had decided to take up Accountancy since i consider myself a geek when it comes to mathematics.

    .however, if I’ll be given a chance then to be (totally) free of choosing what degree I’ll take, i might have been enrolled in BS MATHEMATICS.because i know in this degree i can be at my best; i can be happier with calculus more than “debit and credit” ; i can find satisfaction in a score of 50 over 100 more than a 100 over 100 score in accounting exams. because i love mathematics, even if most of my classmates(now)says it’s very boring and difficult.if only i had given the chance.

    .at that time i felt so isn’t always that “parents knows best”, it’s is better if parents listen to their children at situations like this.

    .i disagree to what Paulo Coelho has said, “you must not make your parents said even if it means sacrificing everything that makes you happy”, because sometimes you must think of yourself first, besides everything that will make you happy will also turn out as the happiness of your parents.
    😦 😦 😦

  5. Sir,

    How time flies. You always surprise your readers with the power of your masterpieces. Wish you all the best. You are in my prayers always. Thanks for mentoring me back then in college.

    1. Hi, noi. Thank you for visiting. It was an honor to be your mentor in Letran. While you now reap the fruits of your labor, much more are waiting for you to explore. Wishing you well in your continued journey through meaning. ciao.

  6. i should have taken nursing but the newly revised guidelines of CHS back in 2008 didn’t permits me. So i took up ECE. i decided on my own. i’m the only part of the family who took up Math-based course, my siblings were all science majors.
    I’m not good at math and I don’t like it. I took up EC E because I like Technology. and Technology sites are my porn sites. Right now, i’m not sure of my future. I’m planning to take Photography. or I would ask my parents for the best.

    anyway, relating to the Filipinos who leave the country for better salary. I have read one essay from a Korean who studied in the Philippines it says that one factor that why Philippines it’s poor is because we don’t love our own country. Korea 40 years ago, was very poor country, much poorer than the Philippines today, their leader inspired his countrymen to study very hard and t love their own country. Because of the love of their country, the Koreans who earns big money on the other country went home to work there even they receive very little salary: Doctors, engineers and teachers worked hard to build up Korea again. look at it now, Korea is now one of the richest country in the world.

    I’m crying for the Philippines for what’s happening today but I believe that Philippines shall rise again.

  7. My dearest friend Herdy, it has been a while since my last posting of your Riknakem. I do not consider you as a prostitute but a crusader who stand up for a vigorous campaign to promote a cause- to educate and to spread nationalism to the young generation- without asking for any collateral or monetary values in return. My mother was a crusader in the elementary grades too for thirty years, until she retired twenty two years ago. My mother is always proud whenever she hears of the outstanding achievement of her students in the local or overseas arena, I am sure you are too without any doubt. I think it is not about lack of nationalism or incompetent examples of Doc Jose Rizal but it is about opportunity, to follow where the grass is greener. We need to understand that Doc Rizal is a scion of a rich and well connected family during his era, but he opted to study overseas to nurture his knowledge and to have a first class education, back then. This is comparable to our graduates of any field, they want to work overseas because of “need”, they need it to improve their social status, they need to save enough capital to start a business back home, they need this because of non-ending cycle of lack of opportunity back home. We also need to understand that not all overseas worker made it, the luck of Juan is not the luck of Pedro, as what they say it. For now, it is really sad to see of the migration of needed talents from our country to foreign land but it is the reality that we just need to suck it up. I am not saying it is hopeless, but those who dares to go out should be given a hero’s respect.

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