By Leloy Claudio The Philippine Star Updated March 02, 2012 12:00 AM
MANILA, Philippines – I said goodbye to my graduating students today. The farewell was visceral. Five year ago, I was in their shoes, excited about starting a career while anxious about leaving behind the comforts of university: 15 units, org time, college romance, perennial grade consciousness, blockmates, etc.
Graduation, as the cliché goes, is when you begin the hard transition into “the real world” — a concept I never really understood. In my mind, only MTV has defined this world adequately, fleshing it out in all its trashy grandiosity for 26 seasons. In that case, reality was actually fake, revealing the inherent flimsiness of the concept.
The idea of a post-graduation real world is offensive to academics. If the real world lies outside university halls, what do teachers do? Play? Act? Dissimulate?
The life of the mind may at times be solitary, and it may lead to bouts of depression, but it’s as real, if not more real, than Taylorized work. And when lived to the fullest, this life may even alter reality.
Common-sense reality refers to a specific lifestyle, rendered normal by a society that prices everything. The real world, especially for the upwardly mobile/wealthily immobile Atenistas I teach, is a nine-to-five job in a big corporation. This is a valid reality, and, though leftist, I am not crass enough to issue a blanket condemnation of this choice. But we should not conflate the choice of a moneymaking lifestyle with reality. For a lifestyle choice is precisely that: a choice, an option within an array of plural realities, each one of them wellsprings of lived complexity.
Marx — a false prophet of global redemption but a trenchant analyst of events — argued that work under capitalism is alienating. No matter how much your boss tells you to feel ownership for your brand, you will probably never own “your” brand, let alone the company. Moreover, seeking the bottom line every day of the week constitutes a kind of tunnel vision where profit precedes creativity and love. This is not to trivialize the need for material stability, only to point out that conventional notions of reality can be as fleeting as university life.
My heroes in academia have all experienced realities that demand real responses. Patricio “Jojo” Abinales continues to confront death in Muslim Mindanao — a place subjected to systematic violence by the Philippine government. Walden Bello rendered real the rapaciousness of the Marcos regime when he obtained classified documents from the World Bank. My mother Sylvia Estrada-Claudio comes home depressed because of what she witnesses as a feminist researcher: systematic rape, domestic violence, state denial of reproductive rights. All three are fiercely independent critics who tear down conventional wisdom better than moralizing op-ed rock stars on popular broadsheets. But, more importantly, they are real.
Two years ago, I began conducting doctoral research in Hacienda Luisita. I befriended farmers feeding families with wages of P200 a day. Others had witnessed the horror of the Hacienda Luisita massacre. I shared their grief. When I wept after my first visit, I felt closer to other socially engaged academics. To me, scholarship, when done right, involves sharing experiences like these to students.
The liberal arts university provides students opportunities to dream big and to pose grand questions. Unfortunately, the scale of a liberal arts education reinforces the notion that teachers place their students’ heads in the clouds. I hope I am guilty of this accusation.
If I got my students to think about a life outside their careers, if I was able to show them a different world and introduce them to people, places and ideas they would not have encountered otherwise, I would have achieved my goal as an educator. I’ve never wanted to force a reality on my students; I just wanted to show them differing ones: there are start-up companies, but there are also labor unions; there are flyovers that take people to work, but there also are poor people who sleep under them; there are women heroes who break the corporate glass ceiling, but there are also those who serve as volunteers in community health centers.
Dreaming can be real when you dream in solidarity with others, especially those who suffer.
I know that, after graduation, many of my students will be caught in their individual realities, and the world of my classroom will likely recede into fantasy. But I hope some of them visit me as I grow up and grow old in my cubicle. When they do, maybe we can dream together anew.
Leloy Claudio obtained a PhD in history from the University of Melbourne. He teaches political science at Ateneo de Manila.