Looking Back

Rizal report cards

/ 01:04 AM December 10, 2014

When I am asked how to make history interesting, my standard reply is that history, as an academic subject, is naturally engaging, and if you think or feel otherwise, that simply means you probably had a bad teacher.

Like many effective teachers on whom I model myself, those I liked in school were: Mr. Palacios and Ms. Abaya, who made high school history enjoyable, and Helen Tubangui and Fr. Richard Leonard, SJ, who made college history memorable. I also had the good fortune of having been taught by five Metrobank Outstanding Teachers: Doreen G. Fernandez (English, research, Philippine studies), Marcelino Foronda (Philippine history), Emerita Quito (philosophy), Julia de la Cruz (math), and Esperanza Chee Kee (English).


I remembered these teachers recently as I put myself in their shoes. They had smaller class sizes than mine, so would they have been just as effective if they taught classes with 80 students, many of whom are distracted by cell phones? As I struggle to know my students’ names, as my teachers did, I look to other best practices and cannot but be inspired by Jose Rizal’s school in Dapitan.

When I was rereading Rizal’s letters from Dapitan, in search of some article for Rizal Day, I noticed that he sent very detailed notes to his sisters about the progress of their sons. Three names emerge from the correspondence: “Moris” (Mauricio), son of Maria Rizal Cruz, and “Osio” (Teodosio) and “Tan” or “Tanis” (Estanislao), sons of Lucia Rizal Herbosa.


Moris is the nephew I always remember because of a charming letter Rizal wrote to him in Spanish and English, reminding him to “be a good boy” and encouraging him to study well or he would receive “coscorrones” (blows to the head with the knuckles or the backside of a fist). Our schools today send out report cards to parents that merely reflect a grade but do not detail progress, or the lack of it. On March 12, 1898, Rizal reported to Maria by sending a sample of Moris’ handwriting:

“My dear sister: Enclosed is Moris’ letter who is just beginning to learn how to write. He is stout and dark and he knows how to swim a little. Only he is too lively and playful, always running and overturning the bottles in our house, which is shaky. He is bright and beats the two of Osio and Tan in memorizing, but Tan beats him in arithmetic and English. In slow reckoning Osio beats them all. Miss J. made him a long cáñamo shirt because he tears his clothes fast. Send him a broad-brimmed hat so that he would not get so dark. Miss J. takes good care of the three. She loves them and it is she they always call. They call her Auntie. Moris wears only a shirt because he often wets his pants. He is good in Spanish, but it is difficult for him to drop many vulgar expressions he had learned in Manila. This is all. Miss J. greets you. Command your brother.”

A month earlier Rizal sent Lucia writing samples of her sons:

“Today I have made them write a letter. The writer was Tan and Teodosio helped him. You will see by the characters that Teodosio is economical and Tan is generous. Here I shall teach them Spanish, English, arithmetic, and gymnastics.”

What is fascinating in the report is that Rizal was looking beyond their penmanship. I wonder what books on graphology he read, but he tried to discern the personalities of his nephews from the way they wrote. In the same letter Rizal comments on the handwriting of his niece Delfina, who had sent a sample from Manila and reminds her to be careful about the accents and diacritical marks that make written Spanish more complicated than English:

“Tell Delfina that I have received her letter and that I’m not returning it because it has no mistakes. There is only one accent left out. When she writes muchísimo she does not put an accent on ‘i’; it ought to be muchísimo. She should continue studying as she is getting along well.”

From another letter to Lucia, it is clear that Rizal taught the boys how to write from dictation and also how to compose letters themselves:


“Your two sons are getting along well in their studies. Now they send you their letters written by themselves alone without dictation. They are studying fractions. They swim a great deal and Osio can swim until 30 braces, though slowly. Tanis dives very well and he is nimble like a fish, but he tires quickly. Tanis is going to be a strong lad, he now lifts up to twenty-five pounds over his head; I believe that he is stronger than Uncle Nengoy. I’m sorry I have no horse or a bicycle to teach them how to ride. They already speak English… Send your children shoes and flannel clothes for it is cold. Moris is also very much advanced, but the poor one cannot write yet like Tanis. He needs also flannel clothes.”

Aside from the usual three Rs—reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic—Rizal rounded their education with physical education through swimming and weight-lifting. If he followed the prospectus he wrote out for his “Colegio Moderno,” the boys would also learn fencing, dancing and Swedish gymnastics (whatever that is). I do not want a bullet in the back like Rizal, so I remember him more as a teacher who believed that the youth are the hope of the motherland.

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TAGS: Fr. Richard Leonard, Helen Tubangui, History, Jose Rizal, Philippine history, Rizal, Spanish
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