Monday, September 29, 2008


STUDENTS OF THOMASITE CARROLL PEABODY. The very first pupils of Maestro Americano Peabody in Mabalacat. Note the school shacks which served as classrooms at the back. Peabody also served in nearby Tarlac province. This photo postcard was personally sent by him from Cleveland, Ohio, his home state.

In my town, Mabalacat, few records exist about the existence of Spanish colonial schools. Formal education beyond the primary school level was, in the beginning, reservd for Spaniards only. Mostly, private tutoring was practiced in those times. In San Francisco, a certain Apung Beltung Pile (Old Lame Beltung) had a “bantayan” school, a kind of day-care center, where parents left their kids to study under his tutelage. Here, he mostly taught reading and writing.

With the coming of the Americans, a Department of Public Instruction was established in March 1900. Mr. Fred W. Atkinson was appointed as General Superintendent of Public Instruction and imposed two things: the use of English as a medium of instruction and the importation of American teachers to help run native schools and train local teachers. The largest and most well-known batch of teachers arrived in the Philippines on 21 August 1901 aboard the U.S.S. Thomas.

Of the 600 civilian educators that arrived, twenty five were deployed to nineteen towns of Pampanga where they labored under extreme conditions to establish a new public school system for $125 a month. Part of their job was training local teachers especially in the use of English as a medium of instruction. A teacher from Mexico, Constancia S. Bernardo, trained under the Thomasites and she may have very well been the first native teacher of English in Pampanga.

Cornell graduate William Carruth for instance, was assigned to Betis town, and later moved to Sta. Rita, San Simon and San Fernando, where he not only collected teaching materials for schools but also solved administrative problems. Luther Parker took so much interest in Pampanga history that he initiated the compilation of town histories, now known as the Luther Parker Collection. He also published an English-Kapampangan dictionary. John W. Osborne, on the other had, served as the first principal of the esteemed Pampanga High School in San Fernando.

Closer home, Thomasite Carroll Peabody, a fresh graduate of Western Reserve University in Ohio, was assigned to Mabalacat and became a school superintendent. His wife, Emma, was also a teacher. Schools had to be quickly set up to institutionalize the American educational system. The early buildings of the Mabalacat Elementary School were built on rented lands in different places: along Ligtasan Street (site of the present Venmari Resort near the Morales Bridge) and in Sta. Ines (property owned by Narcisa Lim), where a cockpit now stands.

The school as we know it today, was built on land donated by Mrs. Rufino Angeles de Ramos, through funds raised with the help of Hon. Ceferino Hilario. Like all public schools of the period, Mabalacat Elementary School adhered to the architectural lay-out specified by the Gabaldon Act, with the structure elevated on posts like a nipa hut.

The Thomasites may have come and gone, but as late as the 1960s, every Mabalacat elementary student could still feel the American influence on the educational process, thanks to nearby Clark Field. Our school used to get regular donations of used school books, and I remember reading “Dick and Jane” books profusedly illustrated in color, alongside my black and white “Pepe and Pilar” textbooks. Then there were the regular milk feeding programs sponsored by Clark, where we got to drink stateside milk for our nutrition—for free.

There was also this matronly American teacher from Clark Field, whom we knew only by the name of Mrs. Davies, who used to come and sit at the back of the classroom to observe teaching methods. In my fourth or fifth grade, it was she who administered an oral exam to determine the final placements of students in the honor roll. I remember how intimidated I was at her presence; she was big and spoke with an accent that was hard to comprehend. But I was more terrified when she quizzed me about the forms of matter, which I completely flubbed (Answer: liquid, solid and gas), so I ended up sorely as just an honorable mention.

With the current sorry state of Philippine education, the older generation formally schooled under the Americans are quick to recall and point out the quality and calibre of schooling in the 1920s and 1930s. There is truth to this observation: America indeed, placed emphasis on quality education to form good citizenzhip and to allow sharing of cultures. It is no wonder then today, the establishment of a new educational order in the Philippines, is considered as one of the most important legacies of the American colonial period.

(*NOTE: Feature titles with asterisks represent other writings of the author that appeared in other publications and are not included in the original book, "Views from the Pampang & Other Scenes")

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the story. Carroll Peabody was my great-uncle. I never knew him but knew of his teaching in the Philippines. Finding the touching story and pictures was very uplifting.