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Inquirer Northern Luzon
Descendants seek stories of Thomasites

By Vincent Cabreza
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 06:27:00 05/26/2008

Filed Under: Education, history

BAGUIO CITY?Filipino descendants of the American Thomasites are putting down on paper all the anecdotes they could collect about their grandparents? experiences before they pass away.

Pioneer teachers of the country?s public school system at the start of the 20th century, the Thomasites were honored with a reenactment of their contribution to Philippine education at the Teachers Camp?s centennial program in Baguio City on May 10.

They took their name from the US Army ship Thomas, which brought the first batch of American teachers and volunteers to the Philippines in 1901. About 1,000 volunteers were sent by the United States shortly after it took over the colonies of the Spanish Empire at the end of the Spanish-American War.

Some of the Thomasites had run Teachers? Camp.

Joselito Aseniero, national commander of the Philippine Coast Guard Auxiliary, said his group was determined to compile the Thomasites? stories because their children are already between 80 and 90 years old.

Aseniero is the grandson of Charles Gustaf Carlson, who taught English to Spanish-speaking Filipino teachers in Mindanao from 1901 to 1911. His mother, Ingeborg Carlson-Aseniero, 94, has put together a six-page recollection about Carlson, hoping to start the compilation.

Carlson-Aseniero said Carlson was Swedish but was sent in 1902 to the Philippines aboard the ship Gaelic. Carlson married his student Eugenia Enriquez, established the Davao Trade School, and died of an illness at 47.

Colorful lives

The stories of many Thomasites are likewise colorful.

Citing one account, Aseniero said a Thomasite had sent for his fiancée while he toured the provinces. But as soon as she arrived, the teacher died of cholera.

Some volunteers were murdered, he said. ?Before the teachers, the Americans who were [in the Philippines] were soldiers. After the [Philippine-American War], the teachers inherited the anger that came from the war so they were always in the line of fire,? he said.

Aseniero said ?there are many more descendants of Thomasites in our midst.? He mentioned the Hagedorn family and Casimiro Juarez Jr., president of Capitol University in Cagayan de Oro City.

The descendants formed an association during the centennial commemoration of the Thomasites in 2001, but they have yet to tell their relatives? stories.

Education Secretary Jesli Lapus and other officials of the Department of Education led the May 10 event at the Teachers? Camp. Its green and white cottages and buildings, which were restored to their original 1920s design, were unveiled.

Lapus said the camp represented the genesis of the Philippine public school system. Its story began in 1906 to 1907 ?when a plan was articulated to organize a summer meeting of American teachers?the Thomasites?in some refreshing place in the islands.?

?That was to be Baguio City as reflected in the plan laid out by Benguet Governor William F. Pack to publish instructions for the Secretary of (Public Instruction) W. Morgan Shuster and director David Barrows,? he said.

Democrats vs Republicans

History professor Lino Dizon, who authored the camp?s centennial book, said its story reflected the debates American policy makers had to engage in order to draw up the right mix of laws to promote legitimate public education.

Dizon reflected on a theory offered by historian Howard Fry, who wrote in a revised edition of his 1983 book, ?A History of the Mountain Province,? that the policy for assimilating and pacifying Filipinos depended on the Republican or the Democrat leader who governed the US.

Existing archival records confirmed that Republicans preferred a curriculum that promoted industrial education for Filipinos while Democrats had pushed a less rigid and more liberalized form of education, Dizon said.

He also wrote ?Mr. White: A ?Thomasite? History of Tarlac Province 1901-1913? in 2002. His subject, Frank Russell White, had briefly administered the Teachers? Camp.

But in the end, the public school system that still prevails is distinctly Republican in nature, Dizon said, because it addressed the colonial government?s need to pacify and assimilate Filipinos.

Public school system

Stories that credit the Thomasites and the American colonial government for setting up a public school system are not really accurate, however, according to a University of the Philippines history professor, Charita delos Reyes.

In a paper, ?The Pioneer Ilocano Teachers as Cultural Mediators in Benguet Province,? Delos Reyes said Spain proposed to ?universalize and secularize? public education from 1863 to 1898, years before the Americans took over the former colony.

But the effort failed because fund shortage, a small pool of teachers and corruption had forced the Spanish colonial government to return control of schools to the friars and the Catholic Church, she said.

What the US and the Thomasites introduced, Delos Reyes said, was a working Philippine public school system.



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