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Cause and effect

By John L. Silva

Illustrations by Eugene cubillo


Whenever I educate teachers arts and history appreciation, which in turn they will pass on to their students, I raise the following points to make the appreciation deeper and substantial.

Avoid dates and figuresv

March 16, 1521, the arrival of Ferdinand Magellan on our shores is what’s brandished and imbedded in students’ memory banks. And that’s all. Teachers cop out thinking that a date remembered is authoritative and intelligent enough. Not so. Teachers must explain why the Spice Trade and Evangelization had caused this arrival. These two historical events emanating from Europe need to also be explained further. Or else, the events become neat labels and not further understood.

In explaining labels such as “Spice Trade,” I employ the notion of causality—how one event leads to or causes another event. European gastronomy in the Middle Ages was further improved with the introduction of spices like peppers from the Far East resulting in the desire to acquire more, which in turn increased the peppers’ commercial value. Monarchs, bankers, and traders dispatched adventurers like Magellan to find and acquire peppers. The contact between natives of our islands and these adventurers were fated, and colonialism was born.

The misery later exacted by colonialism would eventually be overthrown as the yearning for independence became a worldwide phenomenon. History explained through causality has a greater chance of being imbedded in memory instead of random labeling.

Historical trivia laced with irony can spark interest on the subject.v1

There is a notation in Barcelona’s Maritime Museum that when Columbus’ ship first approached the islands in the Caribbean, the indigenous Taino natives were quite agitated. It seems the crew in the ship hadn’t bathed in months. As a result, the Tainos probably got a strong nauseating whiff of the conquistadores’ odor even with the ship several miles away. Using this trivia, I would then suggest to my teachers that Magellan’s incursion into Mactan was blocked by Lapu-Lapu and his men not just for homeland defense, but also to rid themselves of the foul smell emanating from those ships! Humorous it may be, yet issues such as the hygiene standards of the natives and that of the Europeans as well as the cultural clashes that ensued, which led to Magellan’s demise, enhances yet again historical understanding.

Personal anecdotes make history real. 

A dear friend of mine reveals how her great grandmother, at the age of 13, was plucked from a riverside by a ravenous friar and later bore a brood for him. This story was hush-hush for many years until my friend’s generation became more forthright on the matter. This once hidden and shameful past is now historically pertinent and a concrete example of what “friar abuse”—note the label—exacted.

Did a painting initiate our revolution?

Historical speculation need not be a distortion. Rather, we retrace events and suggest possibilities for causality. For example:  The setting is the 1884 celebration dinner in Madrid to honor Filipinos Juan Luna and Felix R. Hidalgo, who both won the top prizes at the prestigious Bellas Artes competition. Compatriots gathered including one Jose Rizal. He lived miserly given his restricted allowance so this dinner, champagne included, was a treat. At the dinner, Luna asked Rizal to do the toast and speech, and he obliged embarking on an impromptu, flowery, sentimental, and later politically charged oratory.

He would argue, probably fueled by drink and unbridled pride, that if Filipinos bested the Spanish in the arts, then why were they still lacking in political rights? It was an impertinent remark dutifully recorded by a journalist, sent to Manila, and published, which sealed Rizal’s designation as “subversivo,” underscored by an angry letter to him from his mother. Something clicked in Rizal, and his medical career from then on was compounded with a desire to be a writer and expose the ills in his homeland.

His two novels, Noli Me Tangere and the El Filibusterismo, would inspire the likes of Andres Bonifacio who formed the Katipunan, and later Emilio Aguinaldo who forged a republic. Rizal was later charged with subversion and executed, further inflaming the revolutionary cause. With causality, one could trace the awe and pride by the Filipino students over the prize-winning paintings, including Jose Rizal, which ignited a series of events destined to create a nation. Of course, many other factors contributed to the revolution, but that celebratory dinner cannot be overlooked. This manner of posing scenarios, not improbable, again creates a greater interest in history.

All the above pedagogical strategies won’t work if teachers do not make a point of reading, researching, and preparing to impart history in more stimulating ways other than exacting rote memorization of dates and figures and shallow “labels.”

Needless to say, a fair percentage of our teachers may have given up on their underpaid profession and have just become routine caretakers with no compunction to teach and inspire.  I remind teachers when I travel around the country of their very important role in the formation of intelligent and upright students. And if that commitment is gone in teachers, I tell them to seek work elsewhere where they would feel valued and appreciated. The country can no longer afford to continue raising mindless, brain-dead students bereft of who they are, despising themselves in their ignorance.

Over and above the teachers, the Department of Education should allot more time for elementary school students to learn Civics. Current time allotted to them is wholly inadequate to make them understand and appreciate arts, culture, and current events. There must be a realignment of time allocation or else these modifications are useless.


John L. Silva is executive director of the Ortigas Library Foundation. He is also on the board of Synergeia, an educational organization devoted to the development of better teachers and principals. He accompanies the Synergeia education teams around the country, teaching a module on arts and historical appreciation.