A ‘woke’ generation

By Justin Francis Bionat

International Youth Day is celebrated annually every 12th of August to celebrate the vigor of the youth, bring awareness to issues faced by their generation, and to empower youth to take their future into their own hands. Obviously, the issues faced by youth in the 1950s were far different from the issues faced by the youth today. Access to technology, migration and globalization, modernization of society, and the progress of education has also opened up so many new issues.

This article (re)introduces us to a “woke” generation which I have come to meet because of teaching the social sciences and from studying the law.

By profession, I am currently a full time senior high school teacher at Colegio del Sagrado Corazon de Jesus. Last semester, I started teaching social science subjects for college students at the Social Science department of West Visayas State University (WVSU). One thing I learned, so far, in teaching the social sciences is that there needs to be a bridge from theory to actual application and critical analysis of present-day social issues.

As a law student of the University of San Agustin, I have also come to appreciate the law as the tool to achieve social justice. As a freshman law student, you are introduced to the 1940 case of Calalang vs. Williams where social justice was defined as the “promotion of the welfare of all the people, the adoption by the Government of measures calculated to insure economic stability of all the competent elements of society, through the maintenance of a proper economic and social equilibrium in the interrelations of the members of the community…”

As a teacher and a student, every day is a learning experience. It’s actually quite amusing because I’m supposed to be the one educating my students, but it seems like I’m the one being schooled sometimes.

Case in points: during the scheduled midterm examinations for my “Life, Works and Writings of Rizal” class at WVSU, I asked my students to relate a “social evil” that happened during the time of Jose Rizal (e.g. corrupt colonial officials, human rights denied to FIlipinos or no equality before the law) to a present-day social issue.

The inspiration for this article are some of the answers of my students to my question. One freshman BS Biology major wrote about “No Equality Before the Law” as a response to my question. In his answer he wrote, “Until now, the law is not for everyone. People on the lower socio-economic strata suffer due to the injustice performed in our country. People on the higher strata may be able to defend themselves with good and highly paid lawyers but those who can not afford such lawyers and have no strong connection with the ones pulling the strings could be detained, imprisoned, and suffer immediately.

“Eloquent.”. “Comprehensive.”. “Well Thought Of.”. “Socially Aware.”. “WOKE!” These were some of my reactions as I read, checked, and graded examination after examination of my classes. Some fell short of answering the question but these students are well aware of the social issues that are happening around them.

Clearly, social media has its perks for this generation as one click gives you the latest trends, issues, and news. Some “boomers” would argue that this generation is self-entitled or privileged oftentimes resulting in patronizing and condescending language when talking to youth. As I’m writing this, I remember that I too belong to this generation. I share the same struggles with my students but also the same benefits that this generation experiences.

Do not underestimate this “woke” generation as their access to information is far quicker and easier than in the 1990s or early 2000s. This makes them easily equipped with ready solutions. This generation knows that they live in a complex and unforgiving society. They know that the current political environment in the Philippines has the same “evils” which they’ve learned from their ‘Life, Works and Writings of Rizal” class. And they can definitely convey their opinions through writing.

As Jose Rizal once wrote, “Justice is the foremost virtue of the civilizing races. It subdues the barbarous nations, while injustice arouses the weakest.” Decades have passed since our dark colonial past. We are no longer the same nation that fell helpless to colonial powers. We’re way past that.

As a teacher now, I believe that there is so much opportunity for pedagogy to be designed with social justice as a central concept. Young people do not need to be a law student, like me, to realize that there are certain non-negotiables in good governance. Things like ethics, rule of law, democracy, peace and order, inclusivity, and equity, are essential to ensure a just society.

Therefore, there should be a commitment from teachers to listen to our students and acknowledge their “wokeness”. This can be the pledge that we can take as a community in the upcoming International Youth Day on the 12th of August.

I know this “woke” generation has woken up to the current situation in our country. The rest of us have to follow suit. Achieving social justice requires a collective action among the citizenry. One collective action that is proven to create change is the elections. The 2022 elections is your opportunity to be heard and to vote for your representatives that will be your voices in the government. I can already hear and see the “woke” generation rising up, so be part of this movement.

The author is currently a law student at the College of Law, University of San Agustin. He is a SHS teacher at the Colegio del Sagrado Corazon de Jesus and a college instructor at the West Visayas State University. He holds an MA in Human Rights and Democratisation from Mahidol University, Thailand and a AB Political Science from West Visayas State University.