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The meaning of education

By Leilani B. Mendez


As I cram for a topic in this article, a recent post by a CPA-Lawyer in the Philippines caught the attention of Filipino netizens. The post, a humblebrag about the firing of a coffee shop waiter who exhibited rudeness toward the lawyer and his friends, showcased the power dynamics at play in our society. The subtle boastfulness emanating from the post’s undertones is a glaring reflection of a society that often misinterprets the true essence of power. The method of sharing the incident through social media became the message—a message that reveals a disturbing reality where the ability to ruin someone’s life is wielded as a badge of honor. “There is nothing natural or admirable about possessing such power,” comments Jade Mark Capiñanes, a creative writer who retorted to the post by satirizing the writing style of the lawyer. I believe the incident calls for a deeper reflection on the meaning of education and the responsibilities it entails.


As I ponder the implications of this incident, my mind drifts towards Francisco F. Benitez’s essay, “What is An Educated Filipino?” In this seminal piece, Benitez attempts to define the characteristics of an educated Filipino, emphasizing the multifaceted nature of education. According to him, an educated individual possesses three key attributes: the ability to sustain oneself and enhance the prosperity of the community, a comprehensive understanding of global advancements, a strong bond with one’s cultural identity, community, and people, as well as cultivated manners accompanied by ethical behavior and the capacity for personal development.


Reflecting on Benitez’s words, it becomes evident that education is not merely a privilege but a duty—a duty to uplift the less fortunate and contribute to the betterment of our world. The power to support oneself should not be wielded as a tool for personal gain at the expense of others but rather as a means to uplift and empower those who need it most. Education, as Benitez argues, is about acquiring knowledge that goes beyond self-interest, extending to a love for the best ideals and traditions that define our society.


In our time, dominated by the rapid takeover of artificial intelligence technology, Benitez’s philosophy gains renewed relevance. The rise of machine learning and automation necessitates a reevaluation of our educational priorities. While technology may take over certain tasks, the human touch, rooted in the humanities and liberal arts, becomes more critical than ever.


Kevin Mahnken, in his article “Classical Academies: What if Education’s Next Big Thing is 2500 Years Old?” advocates for a return to classical education, emphasizing the timeless value of humanities and liberal arts. In the age of artificial intelligence, where algorithms and machines handle routine tasks, the unique qualities that make us human—creativity, empathy, and critical thinking—become our distinguishing features.


In revisiting Benitez’s third thesis on refined manners and moral conduct, we find a compelling argument for the humanities and liberal arts in the face of artificial intelligence. As machines handle routine tasks, humans can reclaim their role as thinkers, creators, and moral agents. Education must equip individuals not just with technical skills but with the ethical compass to navigate a rapidly changing world.


The real meaning of education, then, transcends the acquisition of knowledge or the accumulation of power. It lies in our ability to remain human – to do good to fellow human beings and contribute towards making this world a better place. In a society enamored with the allure of success and power, we must not lose sight of the true purpose of education.


As Benitez advocated during his time, education should be a force for positive change, a tool for building a society that values compassion, justice, and equality. It is not enough to be educated in the narrow sense of accumulating degrees and titles; true education lies in the application of knowledge for the greater good.


The incident of the CPA-Lawyer’s humblebrag serves as a stark reminder of the need for a paradigm shift in our understanding of education. Benitez’s vision of an educated Filipino, coupled with the call for a return to the humanities and liberal arts, offers a path forward. Let us redefine education as a force for good, a means to uplift others, and a commitment to making our world a better place for all.


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