Sunday, August 24, 2008

Did we ever learn English?

One wonders if the Thomasites were ever told that teaching English was part and parcel of the "policy of attraction" of the USA during the Philippine-American War. Before the Thomasites arrived, many American soldiers were already made to teach English and ten of them called“Philippine veterans” returned with the Thomasites on 21 August 1901.

That idealistic and adventurous group of American teachers arrived five months after Pres. Emilio Aguinaldo was captured and barely a month after they landed, Filipino Revolutionary forces led by Gen Vicente Lukban wiped out a whole company of American soldiers in Balangiga, Samar, which in retaliation was left a “howling wilderness” by American General Jacob Smith.

In Laguna, parts of Central Luzon, Negros, Leyte and Cebu, Filipino revolutionary forces were still fighting quite fiercely , guerilla style, in defense of the First Philippine Republic. Even if Apolinario Mabini had been arrested and exiled to Guam, Generals Macario Sakay, Luciano San Miguel, Artemio Ricarte, and Julian Montalan were still at large and raising hell despite the Bringandage Act of 1901 which branded as insurgents, bandoleros , tulisanes and ladrones those who continued resisting American supremacy.

Be that as it may, the Thomasites were well-received, Filipino children attended the newly-opened public school and because there was a dearth of teachers, many young people enlisted for intensive teacher- training courses to help the Thomasites with their tasks. Even schools established by Spaniards helped the Thomasites. In 1902, the Colegio de San Juan de Letrán published a textbook, “ Mañga Onang Turô sa Uicang Inglés “ by Tagalog Professor P. Ulpiano Herrero and Spanish friar.Francisco García. It had 482 pages of English language lessons explained in both the Tagalog and Spanish.

Dedicated as they were, the Thomasites were under strict scrutiny of American authorities who closely monitored their impact on the education of the natives. In 1908 Director of Instruction David P. Barrows was not too pleased as he wrote the following in the bureau’s School Report: "It is to be noted that with the increased study and use of English, there has been an increased study of Spanish. I think it is a fact that many more people in these islands have a knowledge of Spanish now than they did when the American Occupation occurred. Spanish continues to be the most prominent and important language spoken in political, journalistic and commercial circles. English has, therefore, active rivals as the language of trade and instruction. It is equally probable that the adult population has lost interest in learning English. I believe it is a fact that many more people now know the Spanish language than when the Americans sailed for these islands and their occupation took place... ”

Eight years later, in 1916, another disquieting report was submitted by Henry Ford to US President Woodrow Wilson: "Although, as based on the school statistics, it is said that more Filipinos speak English than any other language, no one can be in agreement with this declaration....Spanish is everywhere the language of business and social intercourse...In order for anyone to obtain prompt service from anyone, Spanish turns out to be more useful than English...And outside of Manila it is almost indispensable. The Americans who travel around all the islands customarily use it." (The Ford Report of 1916..”The Use of English”)

To the surprise of American authorities, many Filipinos set up schools like the Universidad Literaria; the Liceo de Manila was co-founded by Dr. Leon María Guerrero and Don Enrique Mendiola; Centro Escolar de Señoritas, by Librada Avelino, El Colegio de Manila by Mariano Jócson, El Instituto de Molo, Iloilo, by the Avanceña sisters and Don Manuel Locsin; the Escuela de Cebu by Doña Florentina Tan Villanueva and the Instituto de Mujeres by la Gran Maestra Rosa Sevilla de Alvero.

These educators were the children of the Revolution and the First Republic and they taught in Spanish and in vernacular languages like Tagalog, Visayan and Ilocano. English was for them "a language of economic conquest".

As it was, the Thomasites program was hampered by the fact that it was difficult for the Filipino populace to learn English for unlike the vernacular languages, English is not written as it is spoken. In that same 1916 report, Mr. Henry Ford was quick to observe: “… They (the natives) are practically without phonic standards in acquiring English and the result is that they learn it as a book language rather than as a living speech. ".

That being the case, the Philippine Commission enacted Act No. 190 to make English the official language of all courts effective January 1, 1906, which had to be amended with Acts No. 1427 and 1946 that extended the deadline to January 1, 1911 and January 1, 1913, respectively. Moreover, Executive Order No. 44, issued on August 8, 1912, allowed Spanish to continue as an official language until 1920 as it was deemed a “practical impossibility “ to substitute English for Spanish in court proceedings and in municipal governments .

When the "Monroe Commission" came to the islands to assess the educational system and the state of English instruction by the Thomasites, the conclusions were cautious: "Upon leaving school, more than 99% of Filipinos will not speak English in their homes. Possibly, only 10% to 15% of the next generation will be able to use this language in their occupations. In fact, it will only be the government employees, and the professionals, who might make use of English."

As it turned out, the Thomasites did not only teach English, they also taught American values, American history and their way of life. In all the public schools set up during their time, they taught Filipino school children how to tend gardens, plant vegetables and fruit trees that eventually improved their diet and health. They also popularized sports and physical fitness. The Thomasites composed many songs that we still sing today like “Planting Rice” , “My Nipa Hut” and “I was poorly born on top of a mountain.” If Filipinos learned democratic values from them, they must have also learned a lot from us. I wonder what their letters to home were like.

1 comment:

JoeyT said...

This helped me understand why my father, born in 1918 and passed away last year, was able to speak Spanish as a provincial from the barrios of Tagbilaran, Bohol. However, “I was poorly born on top of a mountain" was one of his favorite songs among many Spanish tunes. Tho his English was technically correct, his accent was atrocious for us his American born children.