Looking Back

History textbooks for the 21st century

/ 05:05 AM November 07, 2018

When I asked Teodoro A. Agoncillo to autograph his classic textbook “History of the Filipino People,” he took one look at the worn newsprint copy I used in school, and advised me to visit his publisher and get an earlier edition not available in the bookstores.

The fifth edition of “History of the Filipino People” was printed on smooth book paper, but that was not what priced it out of the market. It had selected primary source readings and references at the end of each chapter, designed to show students that there were voices and views other than Agoncillo’s. These readings, considered dispensable by the publisher, were included to deepen the students’ understanding of an event and encourage them to appreciate context and form their own conclusions based on evidence, viewpoint, further research and analysis.


Four decades later, we are back full circle. College history now has to focus on primary source documents — presuming, of course, that K-to-12 students who have seen the forest can now focus on the trees.

Horacio de la Costa, SJ, produced the best “Readings in Philippine History,” by weaving a selection of primary sources into a short engaging narrative. So it is one of life’s mysteries why the best was not chosen for use in Philippine schools, and De la Costa was consigned to being a “reference” or “supplementary reading,” whatever that means. Perhaps De la Costa’s book demanded too much of the overworked teacher who preferred a textbook like Gregorio Zaide’s that clearly delivered the who, what, where and how, and that provided easy facts for quizzes and game shows. The why was left for higher history.


To be fair, Zaide’s unused college text, the two-volume “Pageant of Philippine History,” was different from the simplistic texts he generated for the primary, intermediate and secondary schools. On controversial issues, like when and where the Philippine Revolution of 1896 started, Zaide would give his opinion, but a lengthy footnote would point the reader to contrary or conflicting views. Unfortunately, Zaide’s two-volume work did not fly, because it was too expensive for students and required much from the teacher.

Then there is the late O. D. Corpuz’s two-volume “Roots of the Filipino Nation.” Published two decades ago, this dense data-filled work has led some readers to joke that the author’s real name is “Over-Dose Corpuz.” Surely, the book of a former secretary of education and president of the University of the Philippines could be easily made required reading, but Corpuz refused to shorten or simplify it for use in schools. So, again, like De la Costa’s, it has ended up as reference or supplementary reading.

The time is ripe for a new history textbook, and I have often been asked to write one. There were two serious offers. The first came from the late Raul Roco, who summoned me to his office when he was education secretary and offered to pay my Ateneo salary for a year so I would be freed from teaching and could write a textbook for use in public schools. Alas, he did not stay long enough to get the ball rolling.

The second offer was from Socorro Ramos, the “Super Nanay” of National Bookstore, who even offered an advance on royalties and other perks to enable me to write a new history textbook. That, too, is in the air.

Looking back on my students in the past 30 years, and the unbelievable basic questions I receive online from students elsewhere, I think a new history textbook should not just inform, but entertain as well. A new history textbook should be a guide to navigate the sea of historical material online. Young people drown in a deluge of data opened at the click of a mouse; they are castaways, not knowing what source to believe, or what source is reliable.

Contrary to popular belief, history does teach life skills, because long after students have forgotten the who, what, where, when, how and why of Philippine history, what remains is an appreciation of how a historian does his work, and the critical thinking to spot fake news. History teaches research, evaluation and analysis of data, and the ability to argue a point orally or in written form.

What form should a history textbook take in the 21st century? What should it contain and impart? Now those are the real questions.


Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: “History of the Filipino People”, ambeth ocampo, Gregorio Zaide, history textbooks, Horacio de la Costa, Looking Back, O.D. Corpuz, Onofre D. Corpuz, Pageant of Philippine History, Readings in Philippine History, Roots of the Filipino Nation, teodoro agoncillo
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