Next year, Rizal is going to be one hundred and fifty years old. In the past three weeks, I've been to three places where Rizal's memory and history is preserved. It's not unlikely that he'll be in the book I am completing. What is a collection of Filipino folk tales with out the mention or the inclusion of Jose Rizal?
Today, I was with Yumi Pitargue for an unguided tour of Manila - the Cathedral, San Agustin Church, Luneta and of course, Fort Santiago. I could not help but ask her who taught her Rizal in college. Her answer -- AMBETH OCAMPO. She said his name with a twinkle in her eyes.
This made me ask further what she thinks of his lessons and classes on Rizal. She replied, "He's like a stand up comic!" Her reply made me think. It only goes to show how creative and imaginative a teacher Ambeth Ocampo is. I sat in several of his lectures on Rizal and Philippine History and yes, like Yumi, I was engaged.
Funny how a former colleague who has chaired the Social Studies department in my former school raised an eyebrow when I told her that a common friend has attended Ambeth Ocampo's lectures. I was intrigued by her reaction since she's a member of the National Historical Institute. In her opinion, Ambeth Ocampo fictionalizes history so much that facts are obscured from history. Oh well. I've heard this one before.
I enjoyed my history classes since grade school till college and yes, I aced the subject. I had teachers, like my former colleague, who gave a big deal on dates and facts but for me, history is the construction of meaning. To be able to do this, one needs the skill of imagination; of reading beyond the lines. And I discovered this on my own despite the traditional instruction I got from my history teachers. Beyond dates and facts, history is a clump of STORIES - real or not, who cares? The traditionalists, maybe. But, fact or fiction, it is essential to derive meaning from these stories.
This is what Ambeth Ocampo does, to me, at least. That's how I see it. He goes beyond facts and trivia, dates and time lines and challenges you, the student, the reader of his articles and the listeners of his lectures to IMAGINE history. Is that wrong? I say that it is a creative way to make meaning from the past.
When I told Yumi of the many critics her former Rizal professor has on his methods, she simply said, "But I remember more of Rizal through his teachings. It was fun."
I know, Yumi. I know.
To Rizal who was a teacher too; to Prof. Ambeth Ocampo; and to all the teachers who've made boring classes come alive, belated Happy Teacher's Day!