Thursday, October 13, 2011

Remembrance of English-speaking teachers past

Lucinda (Philippine Republic, 1925) wrote that this picture would "show to American school boys and girls that the little Filipino children start out just like we here in the United States."
We could have been in Grade 1 when we were six years old but we could not reach our left ear with the right hand over our head, supposed to be the test of school-readiness of kids in our time. We were taken in as saling-pusa (sit-in), which was more than being in the kindergarten or prep-school now.  When we began our formal education the next year, we could already read the slim Pepe and Pilar primer ("I am Pepe. I am a little boy.") even without looking at the pages.  There was no need for us to learn how to write; we were taught that at home as early as when we could hold a pencil.

Almost everyone knew or related to each other in our coastal hometown in Zambales when technology has not yet transformed the world into one global village.  Outside the schoolyard, teachers could be aunts, uncles, lolo or lola. Our saling-pusa and then Grade 1 teacher was our father's spinster first cousin.

Schoolboys 1901. (Source:  University of Wisconsin Digital Collections.)
Townmates knew the teachers very well, and most admired (and sympathized with) were those who took assignments up in the mountain barrios, which they reached at great risk by fording the wide, swift Sto. Tomas river every day during the rainy season.  They clung to ropes held at the ends by brawny men of the barrios while others carried their bags or guided them through the turbulent waters. 

Surigao schoolgirls and teachers 1901. (Source: University of Wisconsin Digital Collections.)

We were the generation who were taught in English all the way from Grade 1 to the university, whether the subject was arithmetic, history, geography, industrial arts or good manners and right conduct (GMRC, now an extinct subject). Every school day morning started with our singsong "Good morning, teacher," and during flag ceremonies, we sang "Land of the Morning" and recited the patriotic pledge ("I love the Philippines, it is the land of my birth ..."). 

Those were the days when teachers could still get away for pinching us on the thigh or pulling our ears.  We took it lightly that our industrial arts teacher whacked our bottoms with a meter-long one-inch-wide bamboo slat for not bringing materials for weaving baskets or making chairs. We'd prepare beforehand by padding our behind with our notebooks even if we knew the whips were usually very light.

Our elementary school teachers either went to the Philippine Normal School/College [PNC] or to the Zambales Academy, a private high school which offered the normal course before the second world war and into the 1950s.  Many of our classmates in high school aspired "to join the noble profession" and enrolled at PNC.

Although we did not take up the normal course, we taught mathematics (in English, of course) at the local Catholic high school during the first four years of the martial law regime.  The principal, a product of St. Louis U in Baguio, was our senior class adviser at the Zambales Academy six years earlier.  It was she who taught us to appreciate reading the classics, initiated us to writing, and mentored us for our first bout in public speaking, an oratorical contest in English on the theme "I speak for democracy."

We remember getting ribbed by older kinfolks that they speak better English than us, they who went to the public schools in the 1920s and 1930s.  They were of the generation when Filipino teachers had fully replaced the Thomasites, Dorics and other American teachers whose batch names were derived from the ships they took in coming here in the public schools.

Their teachers could have been among the first trainees who went through a radical crash course in teaching in English under American teachers as soon as the public school system was set up in the early 1900s.  In his annual report of 1904, the General Superintendent of Education wrote about the  "[b]right, intelligent young men and women [who] were selected and organized in a teachers' class. Many of them, after only a few months of English instruction, commenced teaching their pupils with an English chart and an English primer."

"Not only were they entirely ignorant of English in the beginning," he further described, "but their knowledge of the fundamental subjects of arithmetic, geography, and history was also very small. In their own instruction by the American teacher they could be kept but little in advance of the pupils in their classes. Frequently the teacher taught one week what he himself had acquired only the week preceding. Such a system of instruction, to be of any value at all, naturally had to be accompanied by the constant assistance, supervision, and instruction of the American teacher. Surprising to say, the Filipino teacher under this method has made progress far in advance of anything that could have been anticipated. Many of those now employed are very fair instructors in the subjects falling within the primary course. They have developed well as disciplinarians. School rooms in charge of Filipino teachers are now almost invariably quiet and well ordered. The daily program is carried through on time and successfully. What perhaps is more gratifying than anything else, is the reliability and fidelity they show to their work and their increasing professional pride."

There were also annual normal institutes for further training of teachers from the provinces, the first one held in Manila in April-May 1901.  These institutes brought about the construction of the Teachers Camp in Baguio. "The method of presenting the subject, teaching with the use of objects, the conduct of English conversation, etc., [were] explained with great care and the teachers drilled in these methods. ... [T]he Filipino teachers ... left these institutes with new conceptions of school management and of teaching, with great enthusiasm, and with the assured feeling that the Government was seeking to raise their efficiency and value. Each year the results have told in raising the quality of primary instruction."

Pilipino was not yet officially the national language, and the debate for its use as medium of instruction was still light years away.  In our time it was already in the high school curriculum in all levels plus a Spanish course in the senior year.   

But before the local dialect and/or Pilipino came into the elementary school classrooms, "[p]rimary instruction [was] conducted entirely in the English language. More than this, the conversation of the class room  [was] in English. The Filipino teacher [was] carefully instructed to address even the smallest pupil in short English sentences, discarding almost entirely the use of the native dialect from the beginning, in order to familiarize the child immediately with spoken English. ...The American supervising teacher spen[t] only a few minutes a week in the class ... occupied very largely with the correction of errors of grammar and mistakes of pronunciation, or in the method of presentation by the teacher, but in spite of this fact the little boys and girls who have received instruction practically only from a Filipino teacher have acquired a correct pronunciation of English and are able to speak with fair regard to grammatical rules."

The General Superintendent of Education (1904) noted that under those conditions, the Filipino child who was "an exceedingly apt learner and possesse[d] natural ability in the acquisition of languages" --which we think is still true today despite the deluge of so many courses in the elementary grades--made marvelous progress in learning the English language. 

The Department of Education is adding two more years to the 10 years of elementary and secondary schooling to become K-12 like most parts of the world.  The rationale seems to be 'global competitiveness' of Philippine graduates in the international job market.  This also explains why our college graduates have to enroll in undergraduate courses in foreign universities before they can do their post-graduate work. 

We do not know how English will be tackled under the K-12 system.  In the global market, non-English-speaking countries have become economic powers and learning particular languages like Nippongo, Mandarin, and Spanish even may be better choices.

Even beauty queens need not speak English to win an international crown now, do they? Learn English or other tongues and speak your mind in your own language.  That should be it.

The teacher and her class in an advertisement in the 1920s.  Source:  Duke University Digital Collections.

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