Of pop quizzes and cringe-worthy apologies: The cost of not paying attention to history’s lessons

By Kay Fernandez, High School Teacher

As a teacher, I believe that the world is one giant classroom. And it would be a much better place if all the students paid attention to what’s happening in the class.

One of my favorite teaching moments happened around the time of the controversial Marcos Burial (in the Libingan ng mga Bayani). We were discussing poetry and somehow, we reached the topic of apologies. I told my students that a sincere apology generally has three parts:

“The first is acknowledgement. ‘I know I did something wrong.’ It is crucial for one to admit this. After all, how can we pardon an offence that never existed in the first place?”

“Second is willingness to change. ‘I won’t do it again.’ Saying sorry for something that you will eventually repeat is pointless, right?”

A room full of teenagers agreed.

“The last one is making amendments. You do not simply say ‘Okay I messed up, I regret it, soooo we good?’ A decent human being would at least offer to make it better.”

The nodding of heads intensified.

However, a brave kid bantered “But Teacher, isn’t it better to forgive even if the one who wronged you didn’t apologize?”

I replied, “You have a point. ‘Forgive and forget’ right? Well, it’s okay to forgive even in the absence of an apology but do not forget. Unpleasant experiences, no matter how difficult they seemed at the time, always bring lessons for us to remember and apply in the future. May it be a failed test, a ruined friendship, or something much more tragic like World War II, we can still benefit from them if we dig deeper into what went wrong. That way, we can avoid committing the same mistake. But if we choose to forget, how can we learn? And if we don’t learn, how can we make things better?”

Half the class solemnly stared at their teacher. Others slowly nodded their heads as they pensively stared at their empty desks.

“Therefore, my dear students, it is all right to forgive. But never…” I swept them a dramatic, knowing glance. “…forget.”

The Filipino people are said to be very forgiving. Most say that this is both a strength and a weakness. Personally, though, I believe that this is more of a liability in building the ideal society. A relatively young nation like ours should be as attentive and receptive as my class – okay, at least 75% of them – that day. We must be observant, objective, and critical.

Similarly, it helps to behave as a diligent student would – do your research! Every time elections come up, grand telenovela series (a.k.a. campaign commercials) bombard voters all around the archipelago. A lot of us tend to be swayed by appeals to emotion. “Awww. He’s Bicolano, too! He gets me. I’m gonna vote for him.” BAM, ethnocentricity. “Oh, it’s the dude on that funny noontime show! Woah, he’s giving that crying old widow some cash! I’ll make sure he gets a seat in the Senate.” Charity saves the day. We lazily rely on TV or social media to give us (oftentimes biased) details about the candidates. We laugh at their jokes. Our hearts melt with the stories of humble beginnings. We identify with their perseverance and catchy campaign taglines. But are these enough?

Maybe if we all try to do our homework as dutiful citizens of the country, we won’t have to cringe at another half-hearted, “I was only joking. Had I offended anyone, I am sorry.”

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