Looking Back

Making learning ‘agreeable and pleasant’

/ 05:28 AM September 29, 2017

While National Teachers Day is an excuse to remember and be thankful for the teachers we liked, or those we believe changed our life, we should also remember those who made us better because they were so bad—teachers who made education a chore, and who made us hate school instead of making us look forward to it every day.

I had my share of grade school teachers whose pedagogical method was the terror of corporal punishment: Every mistake, every infraction, real or imagined, was punished physically—a slap on the face, being made to munch on chalk, being hit on the head by a perfectly aimed pitch of the eraser, or being given a facial with chalk dust freshly had from an eraser. One teacher used a ruler not to measure but to hit the palm of one’s hand. These monsters are hopefully extinct, and those that remain should be exposed, given a double dose of their own medicine before being fired and declared unfit to teach anywhere else.


Things got better in high school, where corporal punishment was replaced by being sentenced to write a sentence on the board or on paper 200 times to make it sink in. Punishment meant being made to stay after class dismissal and stand outside the Prefect of Discipline’s office window for an hour or two, depending on the gravity of the infraction. Everyone on their way home saw the person standing like a “post” (the name for the punishment), and it was a deterrent to cheating, tardiness, and bad behavior.

Our school even had smoking areas for those who had parental permission to light up. When I compared the liberties given us—no uniforms, for example—with the conditions in stricter schools, I realized how lucky I was to be taught how to be responsible without corporal punishment.


In junior year we were made to read Rizal’s “Noli Me Tangere” for Filipino class, and a chapter that remains with me is the 19th: “The Travails of the Schoolmaster.” Ibarra is shown the spot where his father’s corpse was dumped, after being exhumed and transferred from hallowed ground by order of the parish priest. Ibarra is accompanied by the town schoolmaster, who complains about the dwindling enrollment because the school has no building, and classes are held in the garage of the convento where lessons often disturb the curate’s siesta. Worse, the curate insults the schoolmaster in front of his students, insists on corporal punishment, and requires more time for catechism than all the other subjects. There is a long paragraph on whipping that is relevant today in the wake of another senseless death due to fraternity hazing.

Daily whipping does not educate but does the opposite, the schoolmaster laments:

“Fear and terror upset the most serene pupil—besides, a child’s imagination is more alive, more impressionable. Moreover, to fix an idea in the child’s mind, it is necessary that peace reign, outside and inside, that there be a serenity of spirit, material and moral tranquility and gentle encouragement […] the daily spectacle of whippings destroys compassion in the heart and extinguishes that flame of dignity, the lever of the world, losing with it the feeling of shame which is difficult to restore. I have observed also that when one is whipped, one finds comfort in seeing others suffer, too, and smiles with satisfaction while listening to the other’s sobs; and he who is assigned to give the whippings obeys on the first day with repugnance. Later he gets accustomed to it and finds delight in his sorry assignment.”

The schoolmaster tries a change of tactics by making “learning agreeable and pleasant.” He adds: “I wanted to make of the cartilla or first reader not the little black book soaked with the tears of childhood, but a friend which would let him discover wonderful secrets; of the schoolhouse, not a place of sorrows, but a playground of the mind.”

So successful is the new method that pupils learn better and faster, enrollment increases, but it is not to last for long. Father Damaso and the parents return the whippings, and things are back to square one. Crisostomo Ibarra pledges to fund and support a new school, but he, too, is thwarted in his hopes.

Little wonder Rizal believed that education is the best path to social progress in the Philippines. Education now may be better compared to Rizal’s time, but there is still a lot to be done.

Comments are welcome at [email protected]


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TAGS: education, National Teacher’s Day, schoolmaster
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