The book-smart-honor-student – This is someone who is admired by many people in a society which equates success with the amount of knowledge one knows. In this society, people tend to believe that if one is capable of perfecting knowledge-based exams and winning general information quiz contests, then one is matalino (intelligent) because all those who are marunong (knowledgeable) are necessarily matalino, and all those who are matalino will be successful in the sense people generally use ‘success’ which really means raising themselves and all their relatives – who will tend to not help themselves – to a higher economic situation.
It is not uncommon to hear from a proud parent that a student is the pag-asa ng pamilya (hope of the family) and we have to ask “Do you mean to say that you expect your child to save you? Well, how about trying to save yourself?”
Older people will say , “Hindi ko na kaya kasi matanda na ako, hindi ako matalino, hindi ako nakapag-aral. ” (I can’t because I am old, I am not intelligent, I was not able to study) And still we have to reply, “E kasi kung tumigil ka kaya sa pag-tanga mo araw-araw at magsumikap. Maraming matanda diyan na umasenso kahit hindi naman sila nakapag-aral. Tamad ka lang. ” (Well, why don’t you stop being lazy and do something. There are old people who have flourished even if they do not have an education)
Inevitably someone will shout to us, “Wala ka na bang respeto sa Nakakatanda? Ano nalang ang iisipin nila? Na walang hiya ka!” (Do you not have respect for the elders? What will they think? You are shameless!)
It is also not uncommon to hear from exasperated citizens, “Marami namang matalino sa bayan natin, pero bakit hindi tayo umaasenso?” (There are a lot of intelligent people in our country but we still do not progress) Then in the same breathe we would hear, “Dayain mo ang tax mo para mas kaunti ang bawas. Makakatulong yan sa pamilya.” (Cheat on your taxes. It will help the family.)
Thus in this society knowledge is used for the improvement of family, of one’s own social group – Hindi naman namin kamag-anak yan. Hindi naman namin kababayan yan. Hindi naman namin kakilala yan. Anong pakialam namin sa kanya? (They are not our relatives, not our townsfolk, we do not know them. Why should we care?)
The book-smart-honor-student is a two-dimensional person, capable only of memorizing and repeating, but not of innovating and transcending. Such a student is praised by people who think their ‘wisdom’ is superior and so should be absolutely followed, handed down to the next generation in its unadulterated form.
And these people will turn the wheel of life, experience the same problems, experience the same failures, and they will keep on asking why society does not progress, and they will keep on failing to make a real difference, and they will keep on blaming others and will keep on saying ‘Ganyan talaga ang buhay. Wala na tayong magagawa.’ (Life is really like that. We can’t do anything.)
Indeed, those exasperated words make sense because these people tried their best, following the wisdom of the old, but repeatedly fail. And due to their limited understanding they will always think that failure is the fault of the recipient of their wisdom, whether it be a young person being molded to their liking or society itself; and they will never think that it is their wisdom which is at fault – like a dieter who comes to the conclusion that her thighs are simply stubbornly fat instead of thinking that perhaps diet is not enough without exercise.
These are the students who received the highest honors from their proud teachers then fail in their next pursuits. Let’s give them their grades as expected, and cheer for them as the highest honors are pinned on their white school uniforms and the shiniest medals are hung around their necks. Let’s cheer for them because those medals are likely the last honors they will ever receive while the makulit (mischevous), the pilosopo (smart-ass), and the nagmamarunong (trying to act smart) of each class will end up the actual successes, at least in the sense I’d like to understand success – the noble lawyers, the illustrious intellectuals, the idealists seeking progress.