I am often the subject of interviews by students from schools in the district I represent, and I always cheerfully grant their request for a parley. Usually, the students are assigned to interview a public official and many times they end up having the same subject--me. I never turn down a request for an appointment with students, whom I believe should be given every opportunity to be inspired by their elders.
Well, that makes me feel old, being referred to as an "elder". But I am still within the parameters of being under the coverage of the term "Youth", which spans the range of 40 years old and below. I am in the last months of being part of the Youth, although I always say that I am forever a teenager at heart and soul.
In these interviews, I am often the one who is inspired, admiring the young students' energy, drive, inquisitive minds and confident dispositions. They always seem ready and eager to face the harsh and cruel world, believing that they have learned more than enough in the few years that they have existed in this world.
Recently, I had another round of these interviews. In a well-known private school, a fourth year high school teacher assigned her students to interview a public official of the city and several groups of students chose to interview me. They had various ways of getting to me, from cold calls to my office to tracing friends or relatives who had personal connections to me. As always, I reserved exclusive time for them, even scheduling them as my last appointment so that we will have time to extend if needed.
The interviews went well and the students did not even seem intimidated by the fact that they were speaking to a Member of the House of Representatives.
I was proud of them. Except for one thing...
Towards the end of the interview of the first group, I gave them some parting words and exhorted them for their accomplishment. I told them, "Talagang ang Kabataan ay Pag-asa ng Bayan (Truly, the Youth is the Fair Hope of Our Motherland)".
The teenage boys and girls said,"Wow! That's a great quote! Can we use it exclusively in our project?" I then realized that they thought the quote was an original one from me.
So I asked them, "Do you know who said that?". They had no reply but looked at me with interested and curious eyes, waiting for me to answer my own question.
After a brief moment of silence, I told them that it was our National Hero, Dr. Jose P. Rizal who said it. "Oh. We didn't know that", they said. After a few more pleasantries, they said goodbye.
Actually, I was surprised that they didn't know Rizal's famous quotation. I had to find out if the youth were really not aware of this or if it was just this group who seemed to be clueless to Rizal's exhortation of the youth.
I did the same thing to the next three groups who interviewed me. Sadly, just like the first group, they were not familiar with the quote. Before I was surprised, this time I was disturbed.
When I got home, I talked to my eldest son who is now 18 and in first year college. I ask him, "Who said this---ang kabataan ay ang pag-asa ng bayan?". He looked at me and said, "You?"
"No", I said.
I shake my head.
We definitely have a problem here.
Eventually, I told him it was Jose Rizal who said it and continued with a lecture in history and nationalism.
What's wrong with the youth? With all the potential that they have, do they even realize at this stage the role that they are going to play in the coming years?
Of course, we do see young people who are politically aware and active, marching in the streets and shouting slogans. We see young persons challenging authorities and facing policemen with shields and truncheons. We see students speak with passion and even anger at the powers that be. But how many of our youth are as aware and involved as they are? Besides, is that the only image of the youth that we want to see?
But the more relevant question is how did the youth come to where they are? Because it is definitely not the fault of those students why they don't know who said the quote. It is the fault of their elders because they failed to convey the message to the young.
The schools are institutions of learning therefore they are at fault. While learning about Rizal and the lessons of his thoughts is not part of the Three R's of basic education, it is part of the basic learnings of being a Filipino. Emphasis should be given on those lessons.
At first, I thought it was just the school of the students who interviewed me which was at fault. But my own son, who went to another school, also was not able to answer. So it is not an isolated case limited to one school.
In fact, the schools are not alone. Learning begins at home and the parents have the primary responsibility of teaching their children. Not just in reading, writing and arithmetic. But more so in character, nationalism and faith.
I stand guilty for my son's ignorance about Jose Rizal's quote. I have taught this quote thousands of times among the students in my district and yet under my very own roof, my son lived unaware of the legacy of wisdom left by our national hero. I accept the blame.
But more than teaching them the what and the who, it is our responsibility as elders to explain to the youth the Why.... Why are they the hope of the nation? We must be able to explain this to them to know their purpose as Filipinos, motivate them to live in the right direction, and fulfill their role as the hope of our nation.
Now comes the hard part..being an example to the youth. Because the youth are impressionable and look up to their elders as role models, it is vital that not only do we talk the talk, but we walk the walk. They may be young, but they are observant and critical. The value of our lessons will be lost if they do not see consistency between what we say and what we do.
The youth, indeed, is the fair hope of the motherland. But they cannot do it alone. They need the guidance of the elders to steer them in the right direction. Are the elders up to it? They were once young and were, themselves, the fair hope of the motherland. How did they fare?