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FF Podcast 098 (Audio): The Climate is Changing! Is it Ethical to Have Kids?

FF Audio Podcast 098 - The Climate is Changing! Is it Ethical to Have Kids?

This week, we talk about climate change and the environmental impact of having more children. We also discuss the stigma against women who choose to be child-free.

You may also download the podcast file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

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The Climate is Changing! Is it Ethical to Have Kids? | FF Podcast

This week, we talk about climate change and the environmental impact of having more children. We also discuss the stigma against women who choose to be child-free.

You may also download the podcast file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Posted in Media, Podcast, Society, VideoComments (0)

FF Podcast (Audio) 010: Pro-RH at SC and Advice for Atheists with Religious Parents

Pro-RH at SC and Advice for Atheists with Religious Parents

The Filipino Freethinkers’ Podcast-that-is-also-a-Video is back! For its tenth episode, Red, Pepe, and Margie talk about the pro-RH presence at the recent Supreme Court hearings on the RH Law, and–in a Podcast-that-is-also-a-Video first–answer an online query about living with religious parents. Press play and enjoy!

You may also download the podcast file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Posted in Audio, audio podcast, Media, Politics, Religion, SecularismComments (0)

Underestimating Parental Involvement

“You can divide the Red Sea,” my son declared.

We had just finished discussing the story of Moses (assigned by our homeschool provider as a lesson under Values Education). I emphasized that Moses’ story was a great narrative but it was just a story.

“What do you mean?” I asked. “What did you think about Moses’ method of dividing the Red Sea?”

Sil answered, “His method was a miracle, but you can still divide the Red Sea even without one.”

“How?” I asked.

“Make a dam,” he said.

I chuckled. It’s moments like these that reinforce my determination to pursue homeschooling, at least until Sil finishes Grade 6.

Through homeschooling, I have witnessed the development of my son’s character, his mental faculties, and his talents. By no means am I saying that homeschooling is easy — it entails a lot of blood, sweat, tears, and a persevering commitment — but it has also been very fulfilling. At the same time, it is far too easy for parents who homeschool their kids to doubt their own teaching abilities, to worry if they are teaching their children correctly.

“Surely, a professionally trained teacher is better qualified than a homeschool parent.”

I used to think that too until natural curiosity had me googling the academic performance of homeschooled children when compared to their traditionally schooled counterparts. Many reliable sources agree that homeschoolers in general significantly outpace traditionally schooled children. A study by Rey (2010) reported that “In most studies, the homeschooled have scored, on average, at the 65th to 80th percentile on standardized academic achievement tests, compared to the national school average of the 50th percentile (which is largely based on public schools). A few studies have found the home-educated to be scoring about the same or a little better than public school students.”


This study shows that homeschooled students are not academically disadvantaged. In fact, in many instances, they are doing very well or even better. Homeschooling is one of the few ways parents can gain control over their children’s education.

While the nature versus nurture debate is still fiercely raging in many educational and psychological circles, I have to point out that we have limited control over our genes and resulting heredity. Rather than curse our fates for not being born with a mythical Math gene, and consequently failing calculus, we could rather concentrate on the things over which we do have control.

And one of these few things is parental involvement. Unfortunately, parental involvement is in a precarious position in relation to other priorities of Pinoy families. With the Philippines’ current unemployment and underemployment rate, and job-skills mismatch, it’s very challenging to find a job that pays well and can comfortably support a family. As a result, both parents are forced to work, to meet the economic demands of supporting a family. One natural consequence is that parents have less and less time to spend with and on their children. This is saddening because increased positive parental involvement has many benefits for the child and his/her development. In this relation, while I am certainly not advocating that parents neglect the survival of their family, I do encourage them to spend more quality and quantity time with their young children.

Parental involvement can give rise to many positive effects for children, but I will just name a few below:

Increased Academic Achievement

Many studies agree that parental involvement can either promote or retard cognitive (mental) development, and thus also affect student achievement. Bempechat (1992) cited Coleman et al. (1996) who reported that achievement was more influenced by family background and environment than the quality of the school.


In our case, the first school that we enrolled Sil in had a whole year to teach him how to read, yet he was still unable to do so at the end of that year. It was unfortunate because I thought he was ready to read. He was 6 at that time and could already identify all the letters in the alphabet (a sign that the child is reading-ready). The school failed us. This reading readiness was a major hindrance to enrolling Sil in the first grade of the next school, because this school (as with most other schools) do not admit non-readers to Grade 1.

So my husband and I worked on Sil’s reading using’s online reading programs which, had animation, text, and audio features. After just two months of working with the program, coupled with patient and consistent mentoring, guidance, and tutoring from us, Sil was able to read. At nine, he is now reading newspapers with lola, his interest and emotions piqued with the territorial standoff with China. He plans to read the “Lord of the Rings” soon.

So how exactly does parental involvement help in achievement? One is through providing tutoring when the child needs it (Haggard, 1957 and Toby, 1957 in Bempechat, 1992). This was what we did daily with Sil in almost all his lessons, especially in parts where he encountered a lot of difficulty.

For example, it took a while for him to comprehend and solve word problems. So I made sure that he first mastered the four basic mathematical operations — addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Then we went back to word problems, and this time around, he was finally able to comprehend and solve them.

The bottom line is that parents act as teachers, where parental instruction is embedded in daily life. Instruction need not be explicit nor involve some particular strategy (Bempechat, 1992). In other words, though teaching can be subtle and indirect, learning can still take place.


Parents also encourage achievement through an active approach in learning (Hess and Shipman, 1965 in Bempechat, 1992). How can they do this? By giving children many opportunities to explore independently and learn by themselves, while still ensuring the child’s safety and wellness.

Reflecting on this second principle, I recall how we observed an entrepreneurial spirit in Sil. One day, Sil said he wanted to earn his own money. So we asked him how he planned to do this.

“I’m going to sell mangoes,” he declared, looking at our fruit-laden Indian mango tree. Except for me designing his “Mangoes Sold Here” label, we left him on his own and offered little assistance. As a result, he contracted the help of two close friends and between the three of them, they were able to sell 100 pieces of mangoes and split the profit evenly between themselves. Now, every summer, Sil sells mangoes with his friends.

Rogoff and Gardner (1984) in Bempechat (1992) reported that parents help children learn by showing how adults handle new problems while using past strategies for familiar problems. In other words, adults organize children’s thinking tasks, monitor the difficulty level of the problem, while providing pointers, and modeling mature performance.

When Sil could not understand division, I used Lego blocks (which he was fond of playing with) to group items and explain the concept. After a few demonstrations, Sil was able to solve division problems much better.

Academic Socialization

Bempechat (1992) cited numerous researchers who asserted that parental attitudes, expectancies, and beliefs about schooling and learning are also instrumental in the development of their children’s attitudes and behaviors toward achievement. For example, although there is little evidence that Math ability is dependent on gender, mothers of Math underachieving boys tend to explain their poor achievement due to lack of effort. In contrast, mothers of Math underachieving girls chalk it up to lack of ability. As a result, many girls tend to think that their gender is to blame for their poor Math ability, even though this isn’t true.

Math is a tricky problem because like many students, Sil has a love-hate relationship with Math. He hates the fact that Math is so exacting, so when he complains how he is hopeless, I always tell him that he can learn Math. After resting or eating (he might just be tired or hungry), and upon returning to the problem, Sil develops a more positive attitude. When he finally gets a problem, he calls himself a “Math monster” and I always agree with him. Consistently doing this has enabled Sil to develop quiet confidence in his Math skills. He now has no fear of Math.

Other Positive Learning Behaviors

Sénéchal, and LeFevre (2003) reported that parent’s involvement in teaching children about reading and writing words promoted the development of early literacy skills. They also reported that early literacy skills directly predicted word reading at the end of Grade 1 while it indirectly predicted reading in Grade 3 or specifically, that the word reading skill acquired at Grade 1 influenced reading comprehension in Grade 3. Thus, the child’s ability to read fluently is rooted in his early experiences, including parental involvement.

Although Sil was a little late in reading, our intensive two-month reading intervention made him a voracious reader. Nowadays, when I buy Sil a short book, he can finish it in 30 minutes. He is also reading encyclopedias, Calvin and Hobbes comics, the Sunday’s funnies, and newspaper articles on the Spratlys issue, among others.

Reduced Behavioral Problems

Finally, parental involvement can help even in the treatment of social phobia and general anxiety. Parental involvement was reported to significantly reduce children’s and even adolescent’s social and general fears, and that this improvement was retained even after one year (and presumably even beyond that). In addition, Domina (2005) reported that parental involvement can also prevent behavioral problems.

Sil has always been quite physical and easily bored when he is not mentally challenged. The language barrier didn’t help either because children in our neighborhood were intimidated by his mastery of English (his primary language). As a result, he was often misconstrued by his classmates, their parents, and even his teachers.

For the longest time, I felt like a failure as a parent. But instead of giving up, I did more research, talked to other homeschoolers, and visited another homeschool in Paranaque. Still, it was quite providential when we found a homeschool provider that had many UP Education graduates who acted as academic consultants and staff. One of his “homeroom” teachers understood that Sil was an intelligent, strong-willed, and active child. Since she was also the one who administered the annual Weschler test , she appreciated that Sil needed to be mentally challenged. She narrated a test on conservation of mass. Sil was shown two groups of seven blocks. One group was arranged in a line. The other group was scattered. Most of the children readily answered that the disorganized group of blocks was fewer. Sil looked at her and said, “I will check”. He counted both sets of blocks and remarked, “See? it’s the same.” Then he said, “I will check again”. Sil rearranged the scattered blocks into a straight line, beside the arranged groups of blocks. He then remarked, “See? It’s the same.”

Sil’s fellow homeschoolers were fluent English speakers, very bright, confident, outspoken, and very active. We have also enrolled Sil under a local taekwondo class. All of these interventions has enabled him to expend his energy on something productive, build up his physical strength, earn him friendship with his peers, and again made us confident that we are doing the right thing.

The Bottom Line

The verdict is out: parental involvement can promote children’s academic achievement and attitudes, influence other positive behaviors like reading and writing, assist in easing fears and phobias, and even prevent behavioral problems, among others.


Although the modern Filipino family has many priorities, especially economic ones, such considerations must be balanced with the critical need for parental involvement in children’s lives which can greatly influence their learning, their attitudes and ultimately, their future.


Bempechat, (1992). The role of parent involvement in children’s academic achievement. Retrieved April 28, 2012 from

Domina, T. (2005). Leveling the home advantage: assessing the effectiveness of parental involvement in elementary school. Sociology of Education, 78 (3), 233-249. Retrieved April 28, 2012 from

Marin, C.E. (2010). Parental involvement and group cognitive behavioral treatment for anxiety disorders in children and adolescents: treatment specificity and mediation effects. Florida International University. Retrieved April 28, 2012 from

Ray, B. (2001). Academic achievement and demographic traits of homeschool students: A national study. Retrieved April 25, 2012 from the Academic Leadership: The Online Journal, 8(1)

Sénéchal, M. and LeFevre, J. (2003). Parental involvement in the development of children’s reading skill: A five-year longitudinal study. Child Development, 73(2), 445-460. Retrieved April 28, 2012 from

Spence, S., Donovan, C., and Brechman-Toussaint, M. (2003). The treatment of childhood social phobia: the effectiveness of social skills training-based, cognitive-behavioural intervention, with and without parental involvement. The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 41 (6). Retrieved April 28, 2012 from

Photo credit for ‘Slices of Parental Involvement’: Copyright 2010 Forsyth County School. Used under Creative Commons.

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To All the Children Bogged Down with Guilt

In April 30, 2010, I wrote a short piece on the future for personal essay site New Slang. Below is the text in full:

April 30, 2010

Dear FutureSpawn,

This is your mother. I hope that you’re reading this no earlier than 2025, because I have no plans of having you in the next few years. I am not yet rich, and only rich people can have children because children are superstrength money vacuums. I trust that you are able to read this thanks to formidable schooling which I was effortlessly able to provide.

How is it over there? It’s election season back here; so far, Noynoy’s leading the polls, and Villar and Erap are tied 19 points behind. I’d vote for Noynoy if I were registered, but I’m not, and yes I suck. My half-baked defense is that I had just moved out from the family compound in Pasig and into an apartment in Quezon City, so I got confused about which district I’m supposed to vote in or some shit excuse like that, but the truth is I got lazy and now I regret it. Did the election work, though? Are you still living in a country mired in frustration? Is the Catholic Church still wielding its Scepter of Ignorance over our multitudes? Has Jolo Revilla run for anything?

Anyway, about the apartment. I moved in about 6 months ago with my boyfriend. (I would like to think that he’s your father, but in case life decides to trivialize my relationship with him down the road [which the both of us are doing our best to dissuade, because we are both of the opinion that we are awesome together], I hope your dad is not a total dickwad, and that we are no longer in contact with him in case he is.) Living at the family compound had led to claustrophobia; it had come to the point that I very desperately needed a place where I didn’t have to be cautious of what I said or did, a place where I wasn’t automatically assigned the role of “wayward offspring.” I was agitated. I stayed out most nights and did things I can’t look back on now without literally burying my head in my hands in shame. Getting the apartment has definitely made me a calmer person; the best part of any day has become the time when your maybe-father and I would make dinner and watch three straight episodes of Randy Jackson Presents: America’s Best Dance Crew (fastforwarding over that insufferable Mario Lopez) or whatever we’d scrounge up at the dibidihan, and just exalt in our general domesticity.

Of course, it didn’t come for free. I had to get a steady job that paid well, a concept that was definitely frightening, as I had grown so accustomed to the unhinged disposition of the freelance career. But I sucked it up and landed a job as the copywriter of a big hospital’s Corporate Communications department. I believe that I’m good at it, and working in a hospital does provide a modicum of weird shit to liven the workweek, but as with any other steady job, it can get steeped in tedium nonetheless. There’s a part of me that wants out, a part that wonders what had happened to the old me, the reckless child of yore. I liked being a homebody, but that didn’t instantly purport that I was fine being an office drone too.

Now, I’m the type of person who cuts things out of my life very easily. I could’ve quit that job and tried to figure things out for myself all over again; I have that ability to harden my heart. But I only edit out things that I know are dispensable in the long run: incompetent bosses, fair-weather friends. For the very first time, I found this latest version of my life pretty necessary. And it’s not just because it allows for a place of my own, and a bit of money for some nice things and the occasional dinner out. It has also become the first crucial step towards the bigger, better version of my life I hope to achieve.

Your maybe-father and I made a pact some time ago that we would save up enough money and move from one province to another every couple of years. We wanted to have adventures. We wanted to get ourselves in trouble, to have something new and ridiculous to do together all the time. There was no better way to do that than by restarting our life together over and over from one strange place to the next. And our first stop? The tiny town of Dumaguete, where we first met a couple of years ago.

So Mom’s a big, fat cheeseball, you say? You think Mom’s masterplan is a classic illustration of the kind of idealistic and impracticable claptrap people in their quarter-life crisis hold dear? Well screw you, futurespawn. It doesn’t matter. You might know for a fact that things didn’t turn out the way I’d hoped, that something went wonky along the way, dashing my precious plans and proving that I was just another 20-something with an idiotic strategy for the future. But right now, that masterplan is what I want, and I’m going to do everything in my power to realize it. I’m going to make sure that when you read this letter, the first few sentences of this paragraph are grossly contradictory of how you feel and what you know. I mean, Mom’s always been a total hard-ass, right? Correct? Damn straight.

But again, I really do hope that these plans come to fruition. I hope that I’ve already regaled you over and over with tales of the many places I’d lived in (so far, Dumaguete, Baguio and Cebu are on our itinerary), with many strange stories and hare-brained schemes your maybe-father and I had amassed during our travels, and that you find this letter annoyingly redundant.

But if things really didn’t work out for me that way, these pieces of paper you hold in your hand is proof that I pursued that life with tremendous resolve nonetheless. That there was a time when everything I did was geared towards that specific version of a bright and shiny future, a time when I wasn’t going to let anything or anyone fuck with me in my pursuit.

I’d like to end this letter with something I told my friends back in college. I still remember it because it was likely the only lucid thing I said during a particularly drunken afternoon in a bar across school. I told my friends that if I ever had a kid, the most important thing I would tell him (I’m set on a boy, by the way, so if you’re a girl, I apologize in advance for being such a resentful bitch) is that if he has his heart set on doing something, even if I am totally against it, so much so that I will be furious with him for the rest of my life, he should do it. So I’m telling you now, futurespawn, that if there’s something you know you will utterly regret for not doing, some idea that skulks in the back of your brain every second of every day, do it. Even if I give you hell for it. Even if it breaks us apart. Your life is yours entirely, futurespawn, so make sure it’s totally awesome, okay? Okay. Good boy.

That’s it; I’m all letter’d out. Off you go now. Fly your hoverbike or whatever the hell it is you kids do. I love you.


It’s been a little over a year since I wrote that letter, and while the maybe-father and I are still very much together, we remain in Manila in the same apartment and have yet to see the aforementioned nomadic lifestyle beckoning from the horizon, if at all. But that’s beside the point of this current essay, and for the record, something did come along that drew our focus away from this particular dream: becoming active members of the Filipino Freethinkers. (And so far, it’s been the best distraction I’ve ever had.)

What hasn’t changed, however, is my stand that my child should do whatever he damn well pleases when he grows up, no matter if his father and I blow our tops for whatever reason — even and especially if we play the utang na loob card in a key moment of a desperation.

Utang na loob, or debt of gratitude, is not a real reason for anyone to forgo the life they want to live. Doing favors for each other out of goodwill, I totally understand. But doing things out of a certain unspoken indebtedness — wherein guilt is more potent than goodwill — is something that I find bothersome, especially when it concerns parent and child.

Granted that I did not come from the most stable of backgrounds. My father was an angry and abusive man, the main reason why I cannot dub my childhood “happy.” And it would make sense for me not to feel indebted to someone who went out of his way to physically and verbally hurt his own daughter (and sons, and wife) on a regular basis. As far as I’m concerned, and as anyone with the faintest concept of self-respect should know, whatever my family says about utang na loob in his regard is null and void. In fact, I estranged myself from him when I was 13 and have never looked back.

But my mother is a different case. She’s done a monumental amount for me. For one thing, she was the main breadwinner, and would always go on overtime at the office in order to support a five-person family. Her sacrifices were all for us; in fact, rooting through sales bins at dinky department stores for the rare pair of semi-decent shoes was her idea of splurging for herself.

Moreover, she endured my estrangement from my father despite her personal conviction that sticking to one’s family is the Right Thing to Do. She did her best to respect (or at least try to respect) my decision — not to mention grin and bear the endless prodding of other relatives as to my whereabouts and mental state — while I lived apart from them in my own little hole in the family compound (and, later on, in my own apartment). I did what I had to do, and while she didn’t like what I did — and yes, for a while nagged at me and berated me for it — she eventually let me be. And for that I am grateful, because it has led me to live a life that is entirely mine.

Everyone should do everything they can to live their own lives as well, and not the lives expected of them. What’s the point of being our own sentient beings if we can’t even choose what to do with ourselves? Everyone should be able to stick with what they believe in and act on that belief (provided, of course, that this does not involve building a money-making mega-church, strapping bombs to your belly, and other dangerous, deceitful, and destructive acts).

Everyone should want a child not for their own selfish purposes, but for allowing this child to experience the awesomeness that is life, and in the best, most positive manner possible, at that. Last I heard, love is not related to suppression, or blind obedience, or guilt. Last I heard, parenting was about raising a child, not strapping one down to the ground. (Suffice it to say that the RH Bill can bring us one step closer to a society that understands this.)

My mother can ask of me a whole host of things in return for all she’s done, but compromising the paltry few decades of consciousness I have in the first place — when I could be doing something that I feel is actually worthwhile, such as being a nomad, or an active freethinker, or a nomadic active freethinker — is not one of them. Being in a situation that would prevent me from writing the above missive to my future child is not one of them.

Once again, there is only one belief that I will impose on my own child, and it is that he owes me nothing.

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He believes in miracles

he_believes_in_miracles_image2My friend is not a very religious person, but he prays before every meal and goes to mass every Sunday with his family. He is aware of and has great respect for my lack of faith, and we occasionally find ourselves discussing and debating on religion. Some of our discussions revolve around our contrasting views of Jesus Christ – he firmly believes in him and his preachings, while I take him to be nothing more than a compelling historical figure. Other discussions are about our similar negative views on the overly-structural methods of the Catholic Church in propagating their faith. Sometimes, our minds repel, while in other times, they are in sync. He is always open to the thought-provoking ideas I lay on the table and tries to judge them without bias.

During one of these discussions, he narrated to me a story about his grandfather. This story had a great impact on him, and he admits himself that it has strongly solidified his belief in God. He told me that a long time ago, his grandfather was diagnosed with cancer. He has consulted with several doctors, all of which were consistent with the cancer diagnosis. He was told to have surgery. On the day of the surgery, he managed to escape from the hospital to go to a nearby church to pray. Eventually, he was found by his family and/or hospital personnel and was brought back to the hospital. After a series of medical tests, they found his cancer to have completely vanished. So he never had that surgery and went home cancer free.

My friend told me that he sometimes thinks his grandfather to be overly-religious, but softens his judgment because he knows what his grandfather had been through. That reminded me of my overly-religious mother, who initially was not a very religious person. But there was a time when she was going through a difficult crisis, and with the help of Opus Dei and its teachings, she was able to cope with it and actually managed to resolve the crisis. It may not be as life-changing as the cure of cancer, but it was very significant for her. Now, she is a devout Catholic, and a supernumerary in Opus Dei. These two individuals have had significant experiences in their lives which they attribute to their faith. We cannot just easily tell them that they must resort to reason, that their belief in God is wrong, when their lives are changed by it.

I am in no position to confirm or disprove the validity of my friend’s story. I did suggest certain other possibilities such as: a non-threatening easily curable disease that mimics the signs and symptoms of that specific cancer but cannot be easily detected by medical practitioners of that time and may have been cured medically by some chemical component of the medicines he was taking or cured naturally by his immune system sometime within the duration after his last medical test prior to his escape and the time he was tested after he was found. Yes, that was a very long sentence. The point is, it may just be a coincidence. However, it was a pretty compelling coincidence that I, myself, could not fault his grandfather, who is by all means a normal human being with human thoughts and emotions, to immediately assume it as some divine miracle.

For whatever the scientific explanation behind it, one can still argue that the timing of its occurrence may be the decision of God. Another example would be the parting of the Red Sea. Even if it may have been caused by some natural phenomenon like shifting tectonic plates or unstable magnetic fields, the fact is, it happened at the moment when Moses raised his staff and the Israelites needed an escape route. By their knowledge of seas (they just don’t part) or staffs (they don’t cause seas to part) how else could the Israelites have interpreted it other than as a miracle of God? Whether by lack of knowledge or lack of mental health (let’s say they may have all taken hallucinogenic herbs and may have hallucinated the whole ordeal), the fact is, they believed it to have happened that way, was not presented with enough explanations that disproves that belief, and was greatly and personally affected by its occurrence, and most especially, its timing. The natural phenomenon could have happened on any normal day, but the fact that it happened at that specific time could easily (though not necessarily correctly) be assumed as the will of God. Disclaimer: I do not know if the parting of the Red Sea actually happened. It’s just an example.

My friend believed the story of his grandfather to be true, to have been caused by God, whether miracle or explainable. And he says that I am too mistrusting and over-skeptical to be so vehement in disproving it to the point of trying to come up with some weird disease. Eventually, our discussion ended without any joint conclusion. He stands firm in his belief in God and this so-called miracle, and I still maintain that it may be caused by the weird disease.. or other explainable thing. And then we ate pizza and went to videoke with friends.

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