Criminal Justice is not only about studying crime; most of all, it is the praxis (theory integrated with practice) of justice. Its main goal is to understand crime in the tenets of realizing justice. The reality of crime and social injustice in the Philippines and my responses to them have shaped my teaching philosophy in criminal justice education.
I grew up in the Philippines where the millions of homeless and poor are treated as criminals, the innocent are imprisoned for political reasons, criminals become politicians, corruption in the government is normal, human rights violations are common, and poor inmates die behind bars without trials and for unspecified crimes. Crime and injustice in the Philippines is not only a reality but also a tragedy. I responded to this tragedy as a community organizer and writer in TAMBULI, a national newspaper for the urban poor.
I worked for three years as community organizer at the Center for Pastoral Concern, a non-governmental organization that brings together out of school youth, students, women, workers and the urban poor in Metro Manila. We helped these sectors pursue their rights and interests. As an organizer, I assisted youth and urban poor communities in building associations and coalitions, developing local leaders, recruiting members, raising funds, and organizing campaigns and mobilizations that advanced their right to decent housing, education, food, jobs, and freedom of expression. My muti-sectoral organizing experience was guided by Paulo Freire’s transformative social justice learning. It is a process of learning that breaks the culture of silence of the poor and nurtures their deep understanding of themselves and their society, which leads to their empowerment. To attain this empowerment, I helped facilitate and organize learner-centered workshops and seminars on self awareness, leadership, political campaigns, social analysis, gender sensitivity, and other topics. These workshops helped youth and urban poor develop critical awareness and self confidence while discovering their full potential.
My work with the urban poor continued when I became a writer for an urban poor national newspaper. My stories about their lives, my coverage of their struggles for secure and permanent housing, and my reporting on their mobilizations to stop government-sponsored demolition of their houses became a significant catalyst in taking their causes to national audiences. With a commitment to transformative social justice learning and drawing on my experiences in that area, I set my goals for teaching as my students explore theories and realities of crime and justice in the academic world. I seek to ensure that students will learn to: 1) communicate their ideas, express their feelings, and actively participate in the learning process; 2) develop a critical awareness of the root causes of crimes and injustice; 3) conceptualize an alternative justice system that is restorative, humanistic, gender sensitive, ecological, nonviolent, inclusive and participatory; and 4) participate in organizations that actively address problems that affect the campus and the community.
To attain these goals, I create a friendly and affirming learning environment that makes students comfortable in articulating their feelings and ideas; even the most reticent student will gain sufficient self confidence to contribute his/her insight to the discussion. I also utilize small group discussions to create a climate of genuine listening, sharing and affirmation. I set up online forums to ignite additional discussion outside of the classroom. I devise analytical tools that develop students’ critical learning of facts and theories of crime. A great example of this is the crime web exercise that I developed over several years of teaching criminal justice.
In the crime web exercise, I ask students to choose one crime incident and ask questions about why it occurred. They continuously interrogate the answers they receive until they lay out webs of causes that contribute to the existence of a particular crime. This exercise leads student into discovery of various factors that contribute to the existence of crime and generates discussion of different theories of crime.
I instill in my students new ways of understanding crime and justice from the viewpoint of “new criminology,” which includes Critical Criminology, Green Criminology, Postcolonial Criminology, Feminist Criminology, Black Criminology, Convict Criminology, and Buddhist Criminology. I hope that through this teaching philosophy and strategy students can gain not only knowledge but also experience, not only skills but also vision, and not only critical thinking but also judicious participation. As I said in the beginning, “criminal justice is not only about studying crime but most of all it is the praxis of justice.