Dignifying That Controversy: Statistics, Injustice, and Damn Luck

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Pardon me, but I won’t be doing any linkage for this entry.  It’s just a stream-of-thought thing.

Jester has been taking a lot of flak (OK, crap), from a certain post made by a certain Dennis Relojo on his blog.  The lot of you may already know about the “UP Students = Fake Scholars” controversy, and I think that at least one of you may want to know where I stand, as an exponent of the University of the Philippines.  I’m not going to make any friends with what I’m going to say anyway.  Don’t worry, I’ll try my best to be very, very nice just so that nobody will get offended.

Reading the comments makes me want to challenge the claim that UP students are “likas na magaling at matatalino.” I do not question the intelligence of UP students.  In my long (insert coefficient here) stay in UP, there is no doubt in that assumption.  To doubt “native intelligence” would be to doubt my own intelligence (which I do a lot anyway, so argument is rendered moot).  Yet doubt, ladies and gentlemen, can be raised to the circumstances as to how a UP student got there.  So while we’re in the business of raising doubts, let me raise doubt as to how each and every one of us got to UP anyway:

  • Statistics. Some smart-ass invented a thing called an “examination” to determine one’s native intelligence and capacity to enter an institution of higher learning.  In order to evaluate one’s intelligence and mental capacity, a statistical limit to the right of the Bell curve – the cut-off – is set in order to determine if someone “deserves” whatever reward there is.  When you reach this limit set by the examiners of the UPCAT, then you can say you deserve to enter UP.  This cut-off is the bare minimum necessary to determine if you “possess the native intelligence” necessary to make it to UP.  Like many things about UP, everything boils down to numbers.
  • Injustice. Some smart-ass decided that for the exam to be profitable, one has to charge a fee in order for someone to take an exam.  A reasonably priced P450 fee was instituted for someone to be able to take the UPCAT.  Now P450 may not seem much, but you can imagine a very bright girl from the provinces who walks barefoot for five kilometers to get to school, with nothing but five pesos to buy fish crackers to go along with her baon of cold rice.  She tops her class and possesses the “native intelligence” necessary for a UP student; but she could not, by any means, afford the fee necessary to take the UPCAT.  Or much less, afford the board, lodging, and other necessities for a college education at UP Diliman.  Thanks to an injustice, we were all able to step on the dreams of this girl to be able to make it to UP.

Is there really anything else that determines one’s place in UP other than statistics and injustice?  Like destiny?  God’s will?  Fate?  Because we drank milk and ate peanuts the day of the UPCAT that we ended up having diarrhea?  Well… not really.

This brings me to the third – and perhaps my favorite – reason why we all got into UP:

  • Damn luck. For all this talk about being “entitled” or “owed,” we forget that a lot about this world works around, well, a helluva lot of swerte. It’s so difficult to enter UP; the difficulty of the UPCAT is the least of those reasons.  Chance, that only morality in a cruel world that’s unbiased, unprejudiced and fair (I’m lifting off lines from “The Dark Knight” all of a sudden), made it possible for you to overcome the statistical difficulty of the UPCAT, and also made it possible for P450 to be within the means of your parents.  Yes, for all our collective bravado of “native intelligence,” we all are just… well, lucky people who happened to be at the right place at the right time.

Let’s not dunk our heads on the “activist” and “social” part of these circumstances, and let’s just dwell on the epiphany of being “UPians” (sheesh, that’s irritating) on the basis of statistics, injustice, and damn luck.  I don’t want to say that you’re behooved to work for the greatest good of the greatest number, liberate them from oppression, free them from the chains of injustices, yadda yadda yadda.  But then again, that is what makes us different from other schools.

It’s called “defining your situation,” ladies and gentlemen.  The fact that we’re “Iskolar ng Bayan” is not a license to be entitled for anything except that imperative to be worth something, to be a cog in the wheel of the improvement of the lives of the people, regardless of whether or not the subsidize you or subsidize you enough.  To say that you’re entitled to this and that is a formality, a technicality, a non-necessity.  The same UP that is capable of being the cradle of this country’s history is capable of unmaking it; the same institution that is capable of fostering excellence is also capable of fostering mediocrity.

That itself is superheroic, and is now usually taken as a suggestion, mainly because being a “UPian” these days means to have the entitlement to be chosen by a company above someone else from a different school.  That’s a bag of bollocks.  The expectation is not that you will get your much-needed slap-in-the-face when you graduate and get a job, but you get it while you’re still in school.  It’s not a matter of learning humility (which is a superhero ability), but a matter of learning perspective before arrogance – which comes from a lack of perspective, not necessarily the right one – sets in and takes you over, and give you that paranoid delusion that yor loyalty lies in UP, not the people.

I’ll treat you to a cheeseburger if you can name me a call center that does not, in one way, shape or form, employ a UP graduate.  I’ll treat you to two cheeseburgers if you can honestly say to yourself that you made it to UP for reasons other than statistics, injustice and damn luck.  That’s a fair enough reward for a challenge.

I hope that my little stream of thought dignifies this controversy, or at least lowers my blood pressure.

9 comments on “Dignifying That Controversy: Statistics, Injustice, and Damn Luck”

  1. Reply

    “The expectation is not that you will get your much-needed slap-in-the-face when you graduate and get a job, but you get it while you’re still in school.”

    my prof RDM calls that “humble pie.” boy, does she dish it out a lot.

    (tastes great with beer, by the way. 😀 )

  2. Reply

    I followed this controversy and discovered that this whole shebang is only about somebody who’s bitter of not possessing thick cash to pay on tuition fee counters. I wouldn’t comment on that UP “iskolar ng bayan” controvery. I’ve never “immersed” in that atmosphere to actually be objective about all that “natural intelligence” and other UP-related implications.

    But why should I comment? It’s not just UP who makes up the Philippines’ sphere of academic elites. Though I assume (just assuming here) the only point that Dan (whatchamacallit) was trying to make was what Margarita Ventenilla Hamada (founder of Harvent Schools Pamapanga) wrote in her book “School Mythtakes: Myths and Mistakes About School”.

    According to her: Glory should be given to a school which accepts all kinds of learners.

    To be honest, I resent gloryfying any school (including my own). Maybe because I so long realized that amidst all the competencies, the application of that learning never materialized in this country. For A Better Society—words that emulate in every school’s mission-vision.

    And I would never frown on people who work with their hands… something an agricultrural country really needs.

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  4. Reply

    Jester: Yes, it probably would.

    Staci: We don’t agree a lot, but I have to agree with you on that one. Although I think Relojo’s point was motivated by deep-seated resentment. I personally think that glory should be given to a school which accepts only the best, and counts its exponents as the best.

    • Den
    • August 19, 2008

    My post about Fake Scholars and School Bashing were not driven by resentment. Those were winnowed out from my own observation and opinion. I believe that, in essence, our collective perception of a certain institution (and its graduates) depends more upon the institution’s endowment more than anything else. Wealthy institutions can entice star faculty members, provide their faculty with state-of-the-art resources, have top-notch libraries, can equip their classrooms with high-tech audio-visual equipment and maintain small class sizes. It’s all because they have all of these great resources and so students flock to them. And so they have the luxury to get the pick of the litter. Well, it’s all about money, isn’t it? However, some students may manage to maximize their learning in spite of lack of endowment by their chosen institution. Yet, some fail to grasp this. Undeniably, graduates from lesser-fancied schools (like me) are being placed at a disadvantage because of those “biases”.

    I think as a nation we should stop glorifying schools. Wouldn’t it be better if we judge graduates according to their own ability and not on one’s perceived-ability? Would it be better if we don’t allow stereotypes to cloud our judgments?

    Yes, I am guilty of glorifying my own alma mater. You may call me bitter or whatever. It’s not bitterness it a clamor for equality.

    By the way, I’m Den, not Dan.

  5. Reply


    Y’know, reading your comment, I’m reminded of small children who, after getting scraped knees, show off the scars even if the wounds have healed.

    Move on.

  6. Reply

    Den (did I spell it right?)

    Excusez-moi for spelling your name wrong but I did wrote the slang “whatchamacallit” which meant “whatever you call it.”

    Just a trivia for you.

    • Dennis Resurreccion
    • September 16, 2008

    FYI. Public school students who belong to the top 10 of their graduating class get to take the UPCAT for free.

    The quality of the graduates determines the prestige of a school, just as a tree is known by the fruit it bears. Entrance exams help schools select the talented young blood who will ensure the school retains the prestige that it carries.

    If AMA, for example, were to produce mostly incompetent graduates, its prestige will be very low, no matter how much money it spends on advertizing and promotion. But if they get the best minds and train them to become topnotch professionals, their name would be honored far and wide.

  7. Reply


    True enough. But what about the necessary expenses (board, lodging, fare, food, and so on) should said poor student pass the UPCAT and gain admission to UP?

    I do agree that entrance exams *help* schools weed out the talented who *must* gain entry into their schools. However, any institution that is capable of fostering excellence is also capable of fostering mediocrity. Entrance exams are *never* an assurance or a proof of excellence; even the best trees make rotten fruit.

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

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