Teaching June 12
An advantage with home-schooling, which is what I am doing with my son, is that I’m always on schooling mode.
Last week my son asked me why street vendors were selling Philippine flags. If he were enrolled in a school, I would have given a short response: “Oh, it’s Independence Day on June 12.” And that would have been that.
Or, if he had pushed for more information, I would probably have said: “Didn’t they teach you about Independence Day in school?”
Which would have been an unfair question because the sad fact is that most schools are still struggling with the start of the new school year to bother talking about June 12. Many members of the faculty and staff, as well as parents, probably view June 12 as a welcome break from the frenzy of the school opening. This year, Independence Day falls on a Friday, which means a long weekend to hit the malls or the beach.
Because I home-school my son, I ended up preparing a long session to talk first about the Philippine flag, the Philippine revolution against Spain, and the Katipunan.
That session did remind me of how difficult it can be to teach history. The date being commemorated—June 12, 1898—is just an anchor, a way to discuss a long series of events leading to that day, and, even more importantly, what has happened since then.
I had a large flag in the house which I very reverently unfolded on a bed, and the first thing my son did after I had laid it out was, well, to jump and lie down on it. That sparked something almost akin to a homily from me on the sacredness of the flag.
That done with, I asked him if he knew what the three stars stood for, and he was quick: Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. I looked at the eight rays of the sun and got a bit nervous, for reasons which you might have guessed, so I moved into the red and blue fields. He was quick to mention war and peace, and that if red was on top (he flipped the flag over), it meant we were at war (which he demonstrated, pretending to fire a gun, or was it a machine gun, complete with sound effects).
Now the eight rays. I explained that they stood for the eight provinces that first rose against Spain. I was reluctant to end there because if you’ve taken a good Philippine history course, you know that this interpretation is biased, concentrating as it does on eight Central Luzon provinces.
The historical fact is that there were many more provinces that rose against Spain; in fact, I was elated to learn that this year’s national celebrations would be held in Iloilo City—a rather late acknowledgement that the Visayas also fought for independence from Spain.
I looked at the flag and thought that maybe the eight rays, each with three “subrays,” could be interpreted to refer to 24 provinces, but I decided to postpone researching on that. When I did check the books, I found out that the Proclamation of Independence was later ratified, on Aug. 1, with signatories from 16 provinces, again not quite reflective of the rays.
Actually, even the term “provinces” is inaccurate. During the Spanish colonial period, the Philippines was one province administered until 1821 through the Viceroyalty of New Spain (mainly Mexico and Central American colonies) and, after that, directly through Spain. What we call provinces today were either alcaldias for areas subjugated by Spain or corregimientos for areas where Spanish control was only partial.
Even after I had gathered all those facts, I decided not to have another session for discussing the details that would have been irrelevant to a 9-year-old. I did mention, though, that there have been proposals to put a ninth ray on the sun, to represent Muslim resistance to colonialism in the Philippines. This was part of my very conscious effort to raise my children’s awareness of, and cultivate their respect for, Islam and Muslims in the Philippines.
My son wasn’t too excited about the flag and wanted to hear more about the war with Spain—an unfortunate choice of words on my part. I quickly de-emphasized that part, and talked about how, for more than 300 years, Filipinos were under Spanish rule, and how they suffered. I made a mental note to point out, the next time we look at Spanish churches, that they may be beautiful and awesome and should be preserved, but that we have to also remember that they were built with near-slave labor.
I went into the Katipunan—which, I realized, my son knew only as a nearby street with the supermarket and Ateneo. So he made the connection to Bonifacio, the guy with the bolo at the University of the Philippines, who always reminded him of Zorro, a man who walks around UP Diliman dressed up as, well, Zorro. I didn’t go into the Cry of Pugad Lawin and the tearing of cedulas, worried that he might restage that scene complete with a bolo.
We talked about Jacinto and Mabini, all familiar as street names. Then, Aguinaldo (I had to restrain myself from giving him too important a role) and the proclamation of independence in Kawit, Cavite. I had to explain that the United States had gone to war with Spain (now that was a war); I mentioned the Battle of Manila (which I said was not quite a war) and Spain selling us to America and how Aguinaldo felt that he had to proclaim independence in order to fire up Filipinos.
I mentioned, too, that Filipinos were the first people in Asia to proclaim independence and establish a republic, and that we inspired other nationalists (that took some explaining, too) in Indonesia (against the Dutch) and in Korea (against the Japanese).
There was also a bit of a Filipino lesson: of June 12 being both “Araw ng Kasarinlan” (Independence Day) and “Araw ng Kalayaan” (Freedom Day), which deserves much more discussion. When a Taiwanese friend asked me to confirm if June 12 was the Filipino “kok-kieng dit,” I hesitated, realizing that the Chinese words refer more to the foundation of a nation or republic. I ended up saying yes, but began to better appreciate our own terms for independence and freedom, which more powerfully capture the struggles entailed.
A few days after our lesson on June 12, as we were driving around UP Diliman, I heard my son pointing out the street names to a visiting relative from Davao and explaining that they were named after Filipinos who led in the fight for independence. I was quite proud of his recap, which included a longer discussion about Aguinaldo than I had provided.
I thought, too, that teaching about June 12 will have to be iterative, a topic to return to many times, with different angles as we review old information and process new ones.
The next opportunity shouldn’t be too far off, with July 4 just around the corner. I’ll pull out the Wikipedia entry on Philippine Independence Day where there is a passage: “The United States of America granted independence to the Philippines on July 4, 1946.” Now that’s going to be a lesson on history, social studies… and correct(ed) English.
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