Backtracking towards a Transformative Rizal Curriculum


Since 1956, Republic Act 1425, otherwise known as the Rizal Law, has mandated the teaching of the life and works of Philippine national hero, Jose Rizal, in all public and private schools, colleges and universities. Why decree Rizal’s ideas of nationhood and citizenship in the Philippine social studies curriculum? Dumol & Camposano’s (2018) textbook The Nation as Project: A New Reading of Jose Rizal’s Life and Works begins with a pithy statement that perhaps expresses the rationale best: “When Jose Rizal was born in 1861, there was no Filipino nation to speak of . . . When Jose Rizal died in 1896, there was still no nation to speak of, but [through his writings, political campaigns, and the reason for his execution] there was a nation to dream of” (p. 3). To examine Rizal’s life and works, therefore, is “to discover who we are and where we might go as a nation” (Dumol & Camposano, 2018, p. 3).

But the Rizal Law’s lofty directive that his works be an “inspiring source of patriotism” to the youth today is thwarted by curricula widely comprised of a reverential reading of Rizal’s life and works (Dumol & Camposano, 2018). As such, his ideas are left decontextualized and are resultantly barren. Without explanation for how Rizal’s ideas emerged amidst the social conditions of his time, a central truth—that the individual’s thoughts and actions bear weight on the ongoing project of the nation—remains veiled from students.

My experience taking Professor Paul A. Dumol’s Rizal course, while an undergraduate student at the University of Asia and the Pacific, was strikingly different. A respected Rizal scholar, Professor Dumol is the recipient of the 2012 Gawad Rizal from the National Historical Commission, as well as a multi-awarded playwright who has written two plays on Jose Rizal. His Rizal curriculum was concerned with discovering the hero-intellectual’s political thought. And as we struggled to understand Rizal’s ideas of nationhood and citizenship, our discussions continually situated Rizal in the nineteenth-century colonial context so that his ideas were framed as a man’s personal response to contemporary social challenges. Such context gave meaning to Rizal’s life and works, and the semester saw in me a marked transformation: from a primitive conception of my social self as solely daughter, sister, and friend, I began to perceive myself as a Filipino citizen with a share in the nation-building project.

The power of the course to effect individual change in an ordinary Filipino like myself makes it worth examining. At a time when the Philippines is in dire need of social upheaval (a 2020 report from the Human Rights Council of the United Nations documents “deep-seated impunity for serious human rights violations” (UN Human Rights, 2020) in the current administration’s drug war, which has resulted in the extrajudicial killing of thousands since 2016; and the same report problematizes the increasingly institutionalized “vilification of dissent” (UN Human Rights, 2020) with the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020), revisiting Professor Dumol’s Rizal course—its objectives, content, and methods—may serve as an entry point to developing a more transformative Philippine social studies curriculum.

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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