My Experiences as a Teacher in the Philippines (1900-1903)
by Moses D. Flint
In August of 1899 I was mustered out of the service as the regiment was about to return home and I had decided to try my fortune in the Philippines.
One day in August, 1900 upon receiving a letter from Mr. Atkinson, who was then at the head of the schools in Manila, I called at his office and accepted a position as teacher in the Second Tondo boys School where I taught for two months.
In November of 1900 there was branching out of the school system and upon request I was sent into the provinces. My first location was Cavite Viejo, the home of Don Emilio Aguinaldo.
I found there had been a so-called Spanish school in the town in which had been taught the Catholic catechism, a few prayers also in Spanish and something of manners, together with a very little of numbers. The building had been destroyed during the uprising of 1896 and the school had deteriorated even below its former low standard of instruction. The man I found in charge was ignorant old fisherman who had picked up a little Spanish in Manila. He would catch fish in the morning and about ten a.m. would come home and hear the children repeat their exercises in Spanish pronunciation and the catechism.
It was truly a novel sight to see the old man dressed in nothing but a pair of coarse pantaloons with the legs rolled up above his knees, sitting propped up against a post, mending his net, with the betel nut juice trickling down the corners of his mouth and the cigarette smoke curling above his matted chair, while he assumed the character of a teacher.
The children studied their exercises out loud in concert and could be heard more than a block away shouting at the top of their voices: "a-b ab, i-b ib, e-b, eb, o-b ob, u-b ub". They had been kept at this senseless work day after day, week in and week out, during the whole year.
The place used for a schoolhouse was the under part of the fisherman's bamboo house. It was low, uncoiled, with a mud floor, and open to the weather. In one corner was tied a pig, while on the posts were nests occupied in part by patient old biddies. there was also the ever prevalent, half-starved dog always under foot.
Upon entering, the sign which met my eyes was not one calculated to insure enthusiasm in the work. Some of the little half-clothed younsters were eating raw turnips, others were smoking the inevitable cigarette, some were having a good time gambling with pennies, while a few were shouting their lessons. Out of this confusion, I must bring order: with this material I must organize a school.
The people were very anxious to learn the new language and seemed willing to help, but when it came to supplying an adequate building and paying Filipino assistants, they were absolutely helpless. They looked to the government for everything. There seemed to be some excuse for their inability to help in this way for they had just passed through four years of almost continuous fighting and privations and had little to give but poverty.
The people were exceedingly poor and many children came to school with only an abbreviated shirt for clothing. These were, of course, sent home and in many cases could not return because the parents were too poor to clothe them. The people in the early days took the new government as natural consequence and looked to it for everything of a general nature, remaining indifferent or blaming it if it failed to keep the peace or punish offenders; but always neglecting to give any help in bringing these things about.
Toward education they were eager to show their appreciation and loud in their praises of it. The town officers would send out policemen to gather the children into the schools when they played truant or were kept away by their parents. The people seemed to think that an education was easily and quickly acquired and after one had finished, he need never work any more. Coupled with this was the Spanish belief that a gentleman never did manual labor. they were scandalized when I took hold and began making desks for the schoolroom.
In 1902 I was transferred to Alfonso, a town in the hills of southern Cavite, where the work of starting the schools had to be begun all over again. I selected some young people in the town and taught them the lessons they should teach the children the next day and giving them instruction in the evening and after school hours, I succeeded in fitting them for teachings in the primary grades.
No Americans were nearer than Indang, seven miles away, and for months at a time I would see no one who could speak English. I was obliged to learn Tagalog in order to make myself understood.
The greatest difficulties were encountered in finding school buildings and preparing the Filipino teachers for there was very little money available. It took weary months of extra work to prepare the teachers for their duties. We had teachers' classes after school hours and in the evenings and at last opened up schools in the barrios of Bailin, Magallanes and Mendez Nunez. The people of the barrios put up provisional buildings. Civil government had been established and was being appropriated for schools but the demand for new schools was greater than we could possibly supply.
The methods of instruction were very similar to those in vogue now. The pupils were first taught a number of words by the use of objects and a few action words. Then the use of these words was taught by means of conversational exercises. After this the questions and answers were written by the pupils, either copied or by dictation. The child taught to read and each new word was treated in the same way. The pupil learned to read, write and use the word the same day. Of course the pupils were older than those generally found in the first grade today. The children had a tendency to commit whole pages of the text and repeat them without any knowledge of their meaning.
As for discipline, I have never found any trouble except that at times the Filipino teachers had to be cautioned against being too severe.
Those early years were full of interesting work and even though there were hardships, privations and disappointments, I look back to them with pleasure. We, the pioneer of the work, feel that we helped lay the foundation stones of our present efficient educational system.
It becomes readily apparent to anyone who surveys the field that the biggest supporters of so-called nationalistic ideas in public education involving the use of Filipino (aka Tagalog) as a medium of instruction are actually those who are most fluent in English (as in, making a living at it either as teachers, pundits or authors) and are already very well-educated. It is quite similar to the situation during Spanish Taliban times, when the teaching of Spanish was strictly against the Church and government policies for hundreds of years. Conversely, the above testimonial and many others like it show that during American colonial times, as it is even today, it is the poor and underprivileged, the uneducated masses who avidly desire to acquire a facility with English.
I would appreciate theories from the Comment Thread on why this curious paradox exists.
UPDATE: This is a comment I posted on MLQ3's weblog that I think also belongs in this post:
The poor, the uneducated “probably” wish they were fluent in English, because it would seem to me they already feel fluent in their native tongue and don’t need further education in it. Thus even Americans and Englishmen are often puzzled at why they have to study English. Until they realize that facility, fluency and expertise in English opens the doors to professional careers, businesses, promotions, wealth.
I think the poor and uneducated are “probably” aware of the fact that their betters, like Conrado de Quiros, Randy David, Patricia Licuanan, and indeed all the substantial people of society in govt, business, academe, etc. are all English speaking in their default condition and that when they deign to speak in the vernacular it is merely to impress the poor and uneducated with their noble and generous humility.
I am guilty of that as much as anybody else.
But I am also convinced that any initially poor person won’t be that for long if he can at least read and write good English.
And so I shall do everything to help our countrymen get a leg up on the world by promoting the use of the tools that will accomplish their upliftment: Mathematics, Science and the Lingua Anglica of the 21st Century.
That is not to say that Mandarin and Japanese and French are not also worthwhile studying. Or indeed Filipino. They are!
But we are inextricably a part of the Anglosphere of this Earth. There is no shame in that. Conversely, it is a cruel and misguided notion that the feel-good nationalism these Petitioners urge will do anything but win them National Artists Awards and congratulations from their peers. In its effects, their Petition to the Court, if granted, would be indistinguishable from the language apartheid policies of the Spanish Taliban which effectively cut the Islands off from the rest of humanity for 300 years, and is therefore despicable and hateful to me.
If I am glad and proud to be part of that Anglosphere, it is because the gift of English is what awakened the Sleepers of the Centuries in this archipelago, to the history of the world, to the wonders of science, to the knowledge and notion that they too could one day be as great as their Masters. Or even greater.