Jargons and Terminologies

Searching for that Etymological School

The etymological school

A screen shot from the film “3 Idiots”

Mansoor L. Limba on February 10, 2017

MAKATI CITY (MindaNews / 10 February) – The other day, I attended a convocation program of a high school student.

It was the third in the series for this school year.

As usual, it was a gathering of students, parents and teachers in which ‘top’ students were given recognition. Implicitly, their parents were accorded that recognition, as well. The names of the ‘best’ students in each academic subject were announced, too.

Such a scenario is known to all and sundry, I’m sure. And there are no limits to its concomitant clichés.

Perennial School

At the back of this gathering are the indescribable pressures to all stakeholders – the students, parents, and teachers. The students have to burn the midnight candle in order to keep their respective ranks or even improve the same. The ‘mediocre’ among them have to strive hard so as not to fail in each periodical examination. The parents are so religious in monitoring their kids’ nocturnal rites of studying their lessons, and even in becoming their own kids’ instant tutors. The teachers have to check the test papers and compute the students’ grades most meticulously, for even less than one percent grade difference between that of the ‘first’ and the ‘second’ rank matters a lot.

In this typical set-up, there are the ‘first,’ the ‘second’ and of course, the ‘last’ rank. These ‘lower’ ranks will be seated in front rows, but in public roll call, they would be called last. There seems to have common acknowledgment that the ‘honor’ students are ‘brilliant’ while the ‘average’ are intellectually ‘poor’. The former are impliedly deemed ‘famous’ while the latter ‘infamous’.

Etymological School

This educational setting, regrettably, is too much alien to the etymology or origin of the word ‘school’. Dictionary indicates that the word ‘school’ is derived from the Greek word σχολή (scholē), which originally means ‘leisure’ and also ‘that in which leisure is employed’. In turn, dictionary also tells us that ‘leisure’ means ‘free time when a person can choose what to do’.

Etymologically, therefore, a school is supposed to be a place for play and joy. It is a playground where learning and leisure are rolled into one. It is a tryst for the lovers of Sophia and logos. It is a rose-garden where the learners are jolly bees, untiringly sipping the nectar of knowledge and wisdom.

In that ‘etymological’ school, Dr. Howard Gardner’s 1983 theory of multiple intelligences is truly acknowledged not only theoretically, but more importantly, in practice. It is duly recognized there that every student is talented; that he or she is ‘intelligent’ with respect to the subject or activity he or she is good at and passionate about. In the end, the student will be advised to follow his or her own calling.

Moreover, that school is an arena where the teacher is a ‘leisure-giver’, and not as a ‘lecturer’ and ‘terror’. Far from being pedantic or doctrinaire, she is a provider of free time and breathing space for her co-players who are conventionally called ‘students’ or ‘pupils’. She is a motivator, rather than an intimidator. She is a mentor, rather than a dictator.

Simply put, in that school, pedagogy is playing.

This is why while still perennially searching for that elusive school, I do not find any motivation to post by myself in any social media platform the ‘honors’ of that high school student I mentioned above, who graduated Valedictorian in pre-school, Salutatorian in elementary, and is the consistent Rank 1 this school year.

For me, every student is Top 1 in his or her way.

Whether that etymological school exists or will exist, or not, and whether my quest for it is an exercise in futility or not, only time can tell.

 

[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Mansoor L. Limba, PhD in International Relations, is a writer, educator, blogger, chess trainer, and translator (from Persian into English and Filipino) with tens of written and translation works to his credit on such subjects as international politics, history, political philosophy, intra-faith and interfaith relations, cultural heritage, Islamic finance, jurisprudence (fiqh), theology (‘ilm al-kalam), Qur’anic sciences and exegesis (tafsir), hadith, ethics, and mysticism. He can be reached at mlimba@diplomats.com, or http://www.mlimba.com and http://www.muslimandmoney.com.]

Categories: Education, Jargons and Terminologies, Philosophy | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

The Politics of Hermeneutics or the Hermeneutics of Politics?

hermenuetics1 

When I was translating into English a book on the untold story of freedom a decade ago, I encountered for the first time a hermeneutically enigmatic couplet of the great Persian poet-mystic Jalaluddin al-Rumi whose 800th birth anniversary was commemorated by UNESCO on September 2007 and whose magnun opus, Mathnawi-ye Ma‘nawi (Spiritual Couplets) was first translated into English in full by Reynold A. Nicholson in 1925-40.

Rumi sings, thus:

That one is ‘shir’ [milk, or lion] in the ‘badiyeh’ [cup, or jungle]. And the other one is ‘shir’ in the ‘badiyeh’. That one is ‘shir’, which devours human (or, which human eats). And the other one is ‘shir’, which devours human (or, which human drinks). 

The word “shir” means “milk,” as well as “lion”. “Badiyeh” also denotes two meanings: the first one is “desert” and the other is “cup” or “vessel”. In this couplet, it is not exactly clear which one is “lion” and which one is “milk”. Badiyeh is equally not clear which one means “desert” and which one means “vessel” or “cup”.

This Rumian style is inherited by Maguindanaons, though in a simpler but somehow blunt fashion.

When a curious child would ask about the identity of something an adult Maguindanaon is holding, it is not uncommon for the latter to say, “Ut_n na midsa.”  Usually, the former would demand clarification, “What is midsa?” but receive only one-word reply, “midsa.” So, he would suppose that midsa is a kind of animal, but years later, he will realize that midsa means ‘one who asks’ and therefore referring to himself!

In interfaith circles, ‘dialogue’ could mean different things. In mid-1980s Durban-based Ahmed Deedat took issue with the Holy See for evincing his willingness to have ‘dialogue’ with Muslims when, accordingly, he meant something else, and therefore, challenged him to a ‘dialogue’ in St. Peter’s Basilica without realizing perhaps his own use of the same word (dialogue) that also means something else, i.e. ‘debate’—and possibly an acrimonious one. In 2000 two medical doctors, Dr. William Campbell and Dr. Zakir Naik, engaged in a religious ‘dialogue’ which every neophyte member of a university debating team can easily identify as actually a debate.

During the Cold War era, the ‘subversive’ or even ‘activist’ (read ‘communist’) was the favorite villain in the ‘free world’. Shortly after the dismemberment of the strongest bastion of communism in the world, the ‘subversive’ or ‘activist’ was soon replaced by the ‘Islamic fundamentalist’ or ‘extremist’.

After the 9/11, it is the time for hunting down ‘terrorists’. It is interesting to note that Jason Burke dedicated his informative book on Al-Qa‘ida—his first written book—on the victims of both ‘terror’ and the ‘war on terror’.

Since the occupation of the war-rampaged Iraq in 2003, this politics of hermeneutics or hermeneutics of politics—depending on one’s reading—has its own version: the hermeneutics of rafidah with the aim of throwing two birds with a single stone.

Literally means ‘one who rejects’, rafidah (plural rawafid) is translated as ‘heretic’ and its derivative modifier rafidi as ‘sectarian’. For centuries and especially more recently, it is increasingly used as a pejorative designation for a Muslim sectarian group demographically the majority in Iraq since its British-midwifed birth in 1920. Until the fall of the Ba‘ath regime in 2003, however, this majority had been persecuted and politically disenfranchised.

How to convey a sectarian message totally comprehensible to adherents and at the same time capable of fending off outsiders’ accusation of the message’s advocacy of sectarian-based civil war and division of the ummah?

The solution lies in playing with the ambiguity of the word rafidah.

Vitriolic verdicts on the urgency of killing rawafid channeled through audiotapes distributed within the flock of votaries and downloadable at insurgent websites are coupled with everyday carnage of civilians in public places such as markets and houses of worship.

Condemnation of these mass murders is immediately deflected by claiming that the targets are only the “collaborators working with the Crusaders”. Granting that police stations, military outposts and political figures are legitimate targets, why market-goers and worshippers are daily victims?

If ever pounded with this question, rafidah-manipulators argue that voters are responsible for the actions of leaders they elected: “[T]hey are not ordinary people… for they have become the soldiers of the infidel occupier… Did not al-Ja‘fari, al-Hakim and others come to power through their votes?”

Given this line of argument, one may wonder how and at which voting precinct the dome and two minarets in Samarra cast their votes for which they were condemned to destruction for two counts.

Hence, the use of such word is truly a powerful bomb that must be detonated. In postmodernist parlance, this textual interplay at work requires either deconstruction or double reading, or both.

For Derrida and Foucault wannabes, this is a golden opportunity to test the validity of these twin tools. I just hope they would not discover and thereafter conclude that ‘deconstruction’ and ‘double reading’ themselves also require deconstruction and double reading.

Categories: Current Events, International Relations, Jargons and Terminologies, Middle East, Philosophy | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How ‘Plain’ is Plain?

Housewife

As in other occasions, during our recently held first ever high school reunion (after 25 years) in Cotabato City, one recurring introductory phrase among the lady batchmates was, “I’m a plain housewife.” In other words, it is like saying “I’m only a housewife” or “I’m just a housewife.”

Let’s see how ‘plain’ this plain housewife is. Let’s see how simple function being a housewife is.

This housewife is the automatic Vice President of the house. In the military parlance, she is the second in command.

She is the acting President of the house in the absence of the husband. Her assumption of this role lasts for many weeks, nay many months if the husband is one of the men-in-uniform, and worse still, even for a couple of years if the hubby is an OFW or seaman.

For a single-parent mom or widow, this is no longer a temporary role. She is the de facto President and Vice President of the house. In this case, she serves as both the pillar and light of the home (“haligi at ilaw ng tahanan”). She is the towering moral foundation of the family to which the children cling.

She is the Secretary of the house. She is the ‘kalihim’. In other words, she is the husband’s co-keeper of family and household secrets. In fact, one of her most difficult tasks is her unflinching determination to keep the untold ordeals, sentiments and sufferings she has as a secret to her children, parents and even friends. That’s why whenever I learn that a mother or wife dies, I tell myself, “With her shall also be buried forever many a secret – pains, melancholy, ignominy, injustices, self-sacrifices, scandals, and abjectness, to mention but a few.”

She is the Treasurer and the Budget Officer, at the same time. That is, she keeps the limited financial resources and judiciously sets the priorities for expending the same. In sum, it’s making do with less. And worse still, sometimes or many times, she is also the breadwinner of the family. There’s no need to give details in this regard as the primetime telenovelas are already replete with this line of story.

Of course, she is also the Head of the Monitoring Team that meticulously keeps track of the whereabouts of the family’s President.

To sum up, this ‘plain’ housewife is the President, Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer, Budget Officer, Monitoring Team Head, mother, and wife – rolled into one. This is how ‘plain’ plain housewife is.

To this unsung heroine of every household, it’s up to her to maintain the cliché, “I’m a plain housewife,” or to declare to the whole world that she’s higher in rank than the CEO of a multinational company by saying with utmost confidence, “I’m a housewife!”

Categories: High School Reunion, Jargons and Terminologies | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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