Sunday, June 20, 2010

Did your Parents or Grandparents pore through the Rizal Readers?

On the 19th of June next year, the nation will be celebrating the 150th birth anniversary of the national hero from Calamba, Laguna, who was schooled at home by his mother Teodora before he was sent to the public school in Binan, then to the Dominicans and the Jesuits in Intramuros before going to Europe for further studies and his patriotic mission.

If Pepe Rizal was seven when he went to the Binan school, he and the other first graders, and the public school system in the Philippines were just about of the same age. It was only in 1860 (150 years ago) that O'Donnell, the Spanish minister of war and colonies, established the public primary school system--one for boys and one for girls--in each town in the archipelago with Spanish as medium of instruction.  Since the schools were in the town center, education was forbidding to children from far-flung barrios; hence, it was a privilege that the children of the rich families enjoyed. 

An image that continues to illustrate the value of books, or the importance of teaching young children how to read, or the joy of reading, is that of Pepe listening to his mom read to him a story from a book.  The original drawing was done by Fernando Amorsolo for the Philippine Readers of Camilo Osias in the 1920s.

Reading was a major subject in the primary (Grades 1 to 4), intermediate (Grades 5 to 7) and secondary (first to fourth year high school) courses of study in the 11-year American public school system set up in the country in 1901.  

The primary schools aimed "to give children a knowledge of letters ... to make the common people literate in the English tongue" (Bureau of Education 1909) with four years of reading, language, writing and spelling, among other subjects. After Grade 4, the pupils could choose to go to any of three-year intermediate courses of study: general course, the course for teaching, the course in farming, the trade course, the course in housekeeping and household arts, and the course in business" (Education 1912).  Grammar and composition, and reading and spelling were major subjects in the intermediate grades.

Proficiency in English was the admission ticket to the secondary courses: the pupil's "written and spoken English [must be] approximately equivalent to that of an American school boy upon entering high school."

It was thus necessary for the public schools to have basal and supplementary reading materials.  At the start, all of these were brought from America, designed for the schools there but whose material and character contents were alien to Filipino children. Subsequently, calls were made for textbooks written especially for Filipinos and well adapted to local conditions, and American publishers responded with books by American and/or Filipino authors. By the 1920s, the primary and intermediate pupils were already reading "The Philippine Readers, Books 1 to 7" by Camilo Osias, "Rizal's Own Book" as translated by Agustin Craig, and "Rizal Readers, Primer to Book 7"  by various authors.

Of the Rizal materials, "Rizal's Own Book," published and adapted for use as supplementary reading in Grade 4 in 1918, had authentic local appeal since it was written by the hero himself about his experiences in life.

Starting in 1924, the  Primer and First Reader of  the "Rizal Readers" were textbooks in Grade 1. The Second up to Seventh Reader became supplementary readings correspondingly in Grades 2 to 7 in 1925.

The books' titles were misleading actually.  In his review of Philippine schoolbooks in 1930, Frederick Starr commented that the Primer of the "Rizal Readers" "contains little else that smack of the Philippines," while "the First Reader contains little folklore, a brief article upon Rizal, and some pictures with local color." 

Starr said that the color frontispieces of the two books are portraits of Jose Rizal. From the advertisement  (above) placed by John C. Winston Company in the September 1930 issue of Philippine Magazine, allusions to Rizal can be seen only in the cover decorations of the First Reader (his Luneta monument) and the Seventh (his portrait).  

In 1924-1925, authorship was attributed to Firman and others for the Primer, First Reader and Third Reader; and to Lewis and others for the rest of the Readers.  In 1927, the Primer and First Reader were attributed to Firman, Maltby, Marshall and Estrella; the Second and Third Readers to Lewis, Marshall and Estrella; and the Fourth to Seventh Readers to Lewis, Rowland, Marshall and Carreon.

Revisions in the book contents could have come from changes in authorship, which could be the case when these were advertised in 1930 as "adapted to the Philippine Islands," whatever that meant, by Elizabeth J. Marshall, Cesaria R. Estrella, Miguel L. Carreon and Gabino R. Tabunar, the last three being all Filipinos.

Our conjecture is that the "Rizal" in the book title and the portrait in the frontispiece were dedicatory in nature, and a brief article on the hero was a simple obligatory token.

When we entered the public elementary schools, "Pepe and Pilar" was our primer in Grade 1, the Rizal Readers were no longer in circulation but the Philippine Readers was still in our reading list.  

It's no wonder then that our parents spoke and wrote in English quite well; they were required to go through basal and supplementary readings, story telling and writing what they learned. 

Their time was almost a century before this cut-and-paste and jejemon age, when the medium of instruction is Pilipino, and English is again a must to learn just like when the Americans were newly arrived with that language.  


Barrows, D. (1903, September). The aims of primary education in the Philippines. The Official Gazette. 2(4):58-67. Manila:Bureau of Printing. Retrieved from

Bureau of Education. (1906 to 1928).  6th to 28th Annual Report of the Director of Education. Manila:Bureau of Printing.  Retrieved from

Starr. F. (1926). A review of Philippine School Books. The Philippine Republic. 3(10):12. Washington DC. Retrieved from

Copy of advertisement from Philippine Magazine (1930, September issue).  Retrieved from

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