Invitation to Teaching Sociology

Invitation to Teaching Sociology

Last 18 May, UP Diliman’s Sociosphere hosted the forum “Socio Track: Opportunities and Sociology.” Yvan Ysmael Yohana from UP Los Baños was one of the speakers. We are reposting his speech here. 

It was around 9 years ago when I sat down our family table to fill out that UPCAT form. I had no idea what UP is and in my mind this form I am filling out is just so that I have a second choice in case I didn’t pass UST (hindi ko alam na butas ng karayom pala na pumasa ng UPCAT at di ko din alam na butas ng karayom ng karayom ang makapasok ng Diliman) and because all of my friends were taking this exam. I always followed my brother whichever school he goes to. He went to St. Raphael, I should too. He went to St. Mary’s, I should too. He went to the Royal and Pontifical University of Sto. Tomas, I should too. UP had no appeal to me and I’m sure UP did not care for me either.

Nor was I taking Sociology in College. I came from a string of private catholic schools and it almost came naturally to me that the highest honor I could have in my life was to be ordained a priest. So in UST, my first choice is philosophy and second is political science. In UP, I wanted to take up philosophy too but I mistakenly heard this was a quota course and people told me to take up a non-quota course. I asked around, Sociology was suggested and when I finalized that UPCAT form in 2007, my first choice was Sociology and second Philosophy. Sabi ko mag-shishift na lang ako. Fast forward to almost a decade I am a graduate of sociology, teaching sociology in the University of the Philippines. Mga dalawa hanggang lima lang ako nakapasok sa UST nung college. Nung una, dahil sa PLSS. Yung pangalawa, tinry kong pumuslit sa library nila. So ayun, wala ni isa sa plano ko ang natupad pero wala akong pag-sisisi dahil sabi ko nga pagkatapos akong turuan ni Mam Rubio ng Socio 101: Sociology is the course I’ve always wanted but never realized existed.

Please forgive me about my ramblings about my life. It’s a rare occasion to be asked to tell people – intelligent people – about who I am and what I do so forgive me if I indulge myself in this pleasure every now and then. So what do I do? I teach Sociology in the University of the Philippines – Los Banos. Why was I attracted to a life in the academe? Simple. If I cannot preach, then I will teach. The journey I took may not be so straightforward but the path that I have chosen is beautiful. Berger invited you to Sociology. Let me invite you into teaching Sociology. Here’s why.

First, and on the more practical side, the remuneration is livable. You won’t be filthy rich like if you took up accounting, law or business administration pero nung nag-Sociology ka alam mo na yan. There are a few ranks you have to remember. You have the Instructors – those who are at the bottom of the food chain – people who are teaching but are still yet to have their Masters’ Degree. Taga-dito ako. Tapos you have the Assistant Professors – may MA na, then Associate Professors and finally the Full Professors. According to the UPD Faculty Manual (2003), compared with the Salary Standardization Law (bukod sa pinirmahan ni PNoy recently) ang Instructor 1 ay may sweldo na 23,044 at ang Professor 12 ay 78,916. Before you become a Full Professor 12 though, you need to pass all 7 Instructor Ranks, all 7 Assistant Professor Ranks, all 7 Associate Professor Ranks and to reach the 12th Professor Rank. Will you be able to do it? Probably. How long will it take you? Probably a lifetime. Aside from the occasional bonuses and the subsidies for trips and team buildings, you get flexible hours. Now the flexibility of hours runs both ways. A UP Faculty is required to work for 40 hours a week but informally, there’s a leeway. Bukod sa klase mo at sa 10 hours consultation hours, flexible na yung sched mo. So yung iba tanghali pumapasok. Yung iba maagang maaga tapos maaga din uuwi. I have never worked from 8 – 5 in my life. But there’s a flipside. Flexible can also mean that the work never ends. There are instances when I start reviewing for my classes at 5 am, hold classes from 8:30 – 12 nn. Meetings in the afternoon and advising orgs and students in the evening only to repeat the cycle again the next day. Is that more than 40 hrs a week? Most probably. Is it worth it? Yes.

But let’s move on to loftier things. We are young and from UP, surely, there must be compelling reason for me to stay in the academe than the “flexible hours” and modest pay. Of course there is. But I won’t bombard you with those cliché lines that teaching is a noble profession and the reward is the interaction with students. Sometimes it is; sometimes it’s not. Just yesterday I found out my students don’t read my readings because it’s one per meeting and because I’ll explain it anyway. So katulad ng ginawa ko sa mga prof ko nun, ganun din ginawa nila sa akin. Nag-paxerox lang ng readings tapos tapos na. Of course there are those you remember. Those who asked that one nuanced question. That person who challenged your view or got their views challenged. Those who are grateful. Those who listened.

Second point of my invitation to teaching Sociology is that teaching exposes you to self improvement and consequently the improvement of others. When you are a young scholar, meron yung tinatawag na imposter syndrome. It’s the feeling of inadequacy in relation to a huge task, that you got in by a stroke of luck or you were hired because they made a mistake. Bago ang first day ng Socio 101 ko nung undergrad ako, nakapagbasa na ako ng isang textbook dahil takot na takot ako kay Mam Rubio. You can just imagine my fright when I entered my first classroom with my first batch of students. Paano kung may tanong sila na di ko masagot? Mga points na di ko maipaliwanag ng maayos? Ano nga ba ang pinagkaiba ng taong malapit nang grumaduate sa taong kakagraduate pa lang? Nakakatakot but I had to do it. From then until now I try to improve myself intellectually. Hindi na pwedeng sloppy. Hindi na pwedeng pilit. Hindi na pwedeng walang evidential warrant. I rechecked my assumptions and reflected on my biases. Para kang si Descartes na pinag-isipan yung buhay niya at yung epistemology niya after a certain age.

Aside from self-initiated improvements, you also have to go to Graduate School. I took up MA Philippine Studies not because I hated sociology but because I want to improve my sociology. I knew about import-substitution industrialization but I didn’t know if and when it occurred in the Philippines. I knew about export-oriented capitalism but I had no idea how it was implemented in the country. All I knew about the country were anecdotes, class discussions that cannot be cited and personal bias. I want to look at the Philippines sociologically systematically. So I went to Philippine Studies. I’m not saying you should shift graduate schools instead of taking up MA Sociology. All graduate schools have its own pitfalls. What I am underlining is the importance of new and deeper perspectives about things. Also, and in a completely separate note, you have to have at least a Master’s Degree to be able to stay in the academe.

Another way to improve yourself is to go to conferences and present papers. Bukod sa self-improvement, it’s a wonderful opportunity to explore places. Before I didn’t consider attending conferences an important thing. Aanhin ko pa niyan e alam ko naman na ang solusyon sa lahat ng problema? Adi Class struggle. But in the PSS Conference last year I learned about Gender-based violence in in Zamboanga, religious symbolism among the OFWs, disaster capitalism from April and a whole lot more. It was also my first time in Mindanao, then. I urge you to attend the conference this 2016 and be a member of the Philippine Sociological Society after graduation. You meet mentors in conferences, you meet friends in conferences, you expand your networks in conferences.

When I went to Geneva, I saw one of the most efficient public transportation system in the world and a system of heritage preservation that will make Intramuros great again and every heritage professional envious. I met with scholars, people whose job aspirations realistically include working at the UN headquarters or just go around the world as a humanitarian volunteer. I saw privilege. But this is self-improvement. And as I move around the city, I am always on the lookout for new material, for new perspectives, for novel things to talk about. Such is self-improvement in the academe – it is never alone, it spreads. Knowledge and wisdom liberates you and in turn you want to liberate. Sabi nga ni Erich Fromm, that which distinguishes us from other beings is self-consciousness. This puts humanity in an impasse: on the one hand, it is part of nature, a biological being and on the other it is aware and by virtue of this awareness it is separate from nature. Wala sanang magalit pero sobrang inspirational noong nabasa ko sa tambayan ng isang frat sa Vinzons: if you must give light, you must endure the burning.

The third point I have on my invitation for you to teach sociology is that in a faculty position, you can make a difference. As a student from UP, I’m sure you have heard of the term, “learning beyond the four walls of the classroom” and that is a good saying and every sociologist worth his or her salt should go out and do something about the world. I recall the immortal words written by Marx on his thesis on Feuerbach: Philosophers have hitherto interpreted the world in various ways; the point however is to change it. But this emphasis on the beyond of the four corners of the classroom is not and should not be used as a reason to discredit the power within. According to Max Weber, social stratification is actually a combination of three variables as opposed to the Marxist notion of the primacy of class. For Weber, one must look at class, status and power. Class we know and understand. People in the academe are not the richest people in the world. But people in the academe have status – the academe is the 2nd most trusted institution after religion. The academe has relative power – within its bowels the young are socialized, within its bowels technocrats are trained, within its bowels research – both humdrum and groundbreaking are created. In the academe is the classical Foucault – Nietzsche relationship of knowledge and power. The academe is one of the institutions where Ernie Baron’s timeless adage “knowledge is power” ring true. Bourdieu and Eagleton had a lengthy discussion, I think, on the autonomy of the academe from the rest of society. I take a more functionalist view here but even then no institution, no structure, no system is every independent of its environment. If the academe is affected, why should it be silent?

True there are researches that point out the very little influence of research to policy or the very small impact of assessment to government projects. But this is a matter of strategy rather than an inviolable rule of the world. Connect with government. Work with government. Build relationships with government. Realize its priorities, its processes then you have influence. Sec. Balisacan of the School of economics and Prof. Colonel-Ferrer are excellent examples of academics who had influence, had power, by virtue of being academics. You can influence policy. You can establish consultancies. You can propagate research. Breaking cracks in systems. Seeing the agents as embedded in systems. That hope exists.

Perhaps the most powerful is the struggle between JM Keynes and FA Hayek. The former believed in state regulated markets, the latter in the free enterprise. Right after the War Keynes was the winner, today Hayek is the hegemon. Is this the limited power of ideas? True, it’s coupled with a whole lot of other interest, perhaps strongest is economic interest but ideas play a role. In the words of Keynes, practical men who consider themselves to be exempt from any intellectual influence is usually the slave of some defunct economist.

Thus far I have outlined to you the perks of being an academic and I hope that at least you are inclined to explore the possibility. But the academe is not all fun, there are times when checking papers will take up your whole time, instances when you have to deal with students with endless reasons, pointless meetings, rituals and all the things you hate. But all of those are bearable and mild compared to the single most important demand of academia: the commitment to truth, service to the truth.

Luhmann believed that modern society is characterized by autopoietic systems embedded in its environment. Academia is guided by a binary code: truth/falsity. Everything that passes through academia passes through this standard. This means you go beyond everything and commit to the truth even if it’s unpopular, even if it will lead to criticism. Personally, I have tried to live by this standard. I have been praised. I have been maligned. My favorite is an esoteric academic. Some are lambasted because they remind people of the evils of martial law, some have been dragged in the streets and lynched during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, some have been agents of dictatorships like Virata in the Philippines and the Chicago boys in Chile. But they commit to their truth. They commit to what they believe is right. Their service is to what is empirical, not what is convenient or popular.

My invitation ends with this. Teach where you are needed, not in Diliman. Teach where Bongbong Marcos is the lead vice presidential candidate, teach where a woman’s worth is measured by virginity, teach where poverty is destiny, teach where political rights are denied. Enlighten. Empower. Such is the demand of truth. Such is the demand of scholarship. Such is the demand for every Iskolar ng Bayan who dare venture in the academe.

Thank you very much.


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