Friday, October 17, 2008

The Quest for Mediocrity

Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.
--Isaac Asimov

By now you probably know the story better than I do, if not in the news, at least in the hushed whispers that passes for news in a small town: a teacher of Silliman University received death threats over grades. The information I can only glean from blog posts and emails, so the details for now are sketchy at best.

As far as I can gather, the threat came in the form of two text messages, the gist of which is (for your convenience, translated from the atrocious text-ese to readable English):

"We parents have put up a fund for you. Don't fail any of our children. Otherwise, we have no choice but to have you killed. It only costs P3,000. That includes your family. It's more expensive to send them to school than to have someone killed. You're lucky we're still giving you a warning. Give all your students at least a 2.0 in order to pass."

It's infuriating to read how some people could sink so low, moreso in a university environment in the city that boasts to be of gentle people. At the same time, I can't help but be amused in a funny-sad kind of way.

The subtext of the message is a summary of the ills which afflict the personality of many Filipinos, namely: abdication of responsibility, parental overdependence, communal mischief, incompetence, and the never-ending quest for mediocrity.

The first thing that jumps out in the text is the refusal to take responsibility. This is the thread that girds the whole message. The sender talks as if they were not given a choice in the matter, that they were forced into the situation. Never mind that the students could have exerted a bit more effort; or that they could simply move to a different school; no, the threat of violence is not in fact their doing but the teacher's! (And note the false generosity, that of giving the teacher "one more chance.") This is victimhood elevated to art.

There are two possibilities as to whom the message is from: either a disgruntled student pretending to be a parent, or a parent in actuality. Either way, it's hilarious. Is the sender so soft that even the threat of violence has to be coursed through the voice of a parent? It's the old kindergarten cliché: "My dad can whup your dad." It's pathetic that this has to come from a college student (or worse, the parent of a college student.)

Just as laughable is the communal nature of the threat. Too poor individually to hire a hit man, they apparently have to pool their resources. P3,000? Oh, come on! It's an astounding claim considering how they were able to afford to go to Silliman in the first place. But I suspect it's not so much about the money as it is in the comfort of the collective "we." And why note? In our culture, numbers abrogate morality, a reality hammered so many times in our congress.

Then there's the utter incompetence, an imbecility conveyed in the almost-chatty nature of the threat. Whereas a simple anonymous threat would have been sufficient, the texter goes so far as to explain the circumstances of the threat and leave clues as to their identities. If you take the message at face value, then the first step in narrowing the suspects is to round up all the parents of students who are failing the class.

But really, it's the last crime that's unforgivable, the sin of mediocrity. "Give all your students at least a 2.0..." What is this? Even undertaking these extreme measures, is the best that they can hope for an average passing grade? For a crime of this magnitude, shouldn't they go for the highest grade possible? My golly! Where's the sense of ambition?

Ay! Ka-bogo ba ninyo, uy! Dapat gyud diay mo hagbungon! Lo-ooooser!

You know what: never mind the death threats. If these are the types of college students that Silliman University accepts into its halls -- so lacking in personal responsibility and ambition -- then I am utterly appalled at such low standards for admission.

Expel them all; send them back to their mamas.