Monday, January 21, 2008


HEARTH AND HOME. Future mothers go about their Home Economics class with seriousness and youthful zeal in Guagua Elementary School. Schools often had a small structure that replicated a real house complete with kitchens and rooms for reality training. Ca. late 1920s.

GARDEN OF EARTHLY DELIGHTS. Boys in an unidentified Central Luzon school tend to their vegetable plots lush with “mustasa”, watched over by their gardening teacher. Ca. 1920s.

In my elementary days, the subjects I least liked were the so-called Industrial or Vocational Arts, which required mostly manual labor and nothing else. For several years, I feigned sickness of all sorts and used my frail health as an eternal excuse not to take up “shop” where my classmates made wicker baskets that no one could use and dustpans recycled from old cooking oil cans. But in my gardening class, there was no escape. My teacher, Mr. Jose Rodrillo, reasoned that the outside air was going to be good for my lungs and so, I had no choice but to take his dreaded class. Mr. Rodrillo had a reputation of being a terror teacher, and the image of him screaming directions to us on the proper fertilization of our mustasa, pitse and okra plots as he puffed away on his cigar, remains vivid as a scary memory of my Grade 5 days!

Education under Spain did not have these subjects; instead, instruccion primera (primary schools) offered such courses such as grammar, rhetoric and poetry, Latin, Greek and good manners and hygiene. The coming of the Americans changed all that. In their first decade of rule, the superintendent of Public Instruction of the Philippines, Fred W. Atkinson (1900-1902) emphasized the need for industrial and manual education for Filipinos, perhaps imagining a new generation of Filipino greenthumbs, handymen and perfect homemakers. The Director of Education further amplified in his 1926 report: “ The aims of Industrial Education are found in the capacities and needs of the people and in the natural resources of the Islands and their backward state of development. The people possess a considerable degree of manual dexterity coupled with infinite patience, while their economic and social well-being is below that existing in many countries.”

There were 4 principal areas of Industrial Education: Household Industries, Mechanical Trade, Housekeeping and Agriculture. Thereupon, elementary schools enriched their curriculum with culinary arts, trade, farming and business. Later, this expanded to include needlework, woodwork, pottery, rope-making, ironwork, carpentry, nursing and masonry as school kids progressed to higher grades.

The Bacolor School of Arts and Trades holds the distinction as being the oldest vocational school in the Far East. It was founded in 1861 by Don Felino Gil of Porac as Escuela de Artes y Oficio, on land donated by affluent residents headed by matriarch Dña. Geronima Suarez. When the insular American government put a special emphasis on vocational training, the trade school, which was partially damaged during the last war, revitalized its program in 1909 with advanced courses in furniture and cabinet-making, blacksmithing and iron work for its two hundred students.A second trade school, located in Apalit, was similarly run by Americans. Today, the Bacolor School of Arts and Trades is known as Don Honorio Ventura College of Arts and Trades, renamed after Pampanga’s governor who hails from Bacolor town.

Agricultural training in Pampanga began under Spain with the establishment of an agricultural school in Magalang. It ceased operations in 1898, but was reconstructed and re-opened in 1917 with the help of American teacher Kilmer O. Moe and Assemblyman Andres Luciano, with funds donated by Gov. Ventura. Garden Day fairs, another American invention encouraged by Director of Education Frank Russell White (and Tarlac’s 1st American teacher) were occasions to celebrate and show off the agricultural produce of schools as well as the progress of towns, capped with mass calisthenics, sports competition and the search for Garden Day Queens. For girls, Home Economics was offered as a specialized course in elementary and high school levels. The School of Household Industries, in an effort to attract more women workers, opened 6-month ncourses in lacemaking and embroidery.

“To raise the standard of living, to improve the home and homelife, to provide better methods of doing routine work..and to provide the home with necessary household conveniences..”
Such were the goals of this major educational thrust that the Director of Education proudly proclaimed. But critics were led to observe that the tragedy of the American effort to encourage Industrial Education in local schools lies in the fact that it merely catered to selfish pro-American interests. Linens, tablecloths and lingerie—produce of many a Home Economics course—were chiefly made for American consumers. Trade schools were built in response to the American government’s need to have more buildings. Likewise, agriculture was emphasized, not just to feed Filipinos they say, but to answer America’s raw material requirements.

Today, gardening and home economics have all but disappeared in school curriculums, replaced by new practical art subjects that require simple manual skills (as in assembling pre-cut wood pieces !) and hi-tech tools rather than sprinklers, needle and thread and coping saw. After all, who needs back-breaking manual labor when life is hard enough?
(4 October 2003)

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