The Role and Contribution of the Thomasites to Language Education; Educators Speak

Article excerpt

THE Centennial of the Thomasites' arrival in the Philippines on August 23, 1901 is an occasion for us to examine the methodology used for teaching the English language, which was designated by Elihu Root, the Secretary of War and over-all supervisor of the colonial government, as the language instruction for the schools, without prohibiting the use of the local vernaculars. In fact, in the initial instructions of President McKinley, specific mention is made of the use of the 'dialects' (actually, vernaculars or separate languages, not dialects of the same language, where mutual intelligibility is still possible) in addition to the English language, considered then as a powerful tool for instructing Filipinos in the ways of democracy.

As the system established itself, no use was made of the vernaculars except informally by the local teachers, and teaching was conducted totally in English as the medium of instruction. Not only was English prescribed in the classrooms but the use of English outside of the classroom was likewise specifically enjoined. Later, as Filipinos took over the system, the use of a language other than English outside of the classroom was proscribed and financial penalties imposed in some private schools when a student was "caught" using the local "dialect," an unenlightened and linguistically unrealistic policy that the nationalists of the 1960s and 1970s decried.

The educational system thus, at least in ideals, totally immersed the Filipino student in the English language; later linguists of the Ontario School in Canada, called this system one of "total immersion," an arrangement found in the bilingual schools of Canada especially in Quebec.

In the English language classes, themselves, however, the actual teaching of English as a subject was done using the model of the American schools and the methods of English language instruction then prevalent in the United States. This consisted of the study of the parts of speech of English, using a Latinate grammatical model of analysis, which were defined and their correct use exemplified, then exercises prescribed on the application of these rules embodied in examples of correct usage. Later, this method was called the "grammar analysis" method and was used universally in American grammar schools and high schools based on the English grammar (using a Latinate model) of Lindley Murray. Definitions and rules were memorized, then exemplified, subsequently applied to exercises consisting of multiple or dual choice (either/or), underlining of subject and predicate, declension of nouns (a much attenuated declension system in English), even conjugations, ending up in diagramming sentences and in the upper years, including college, the parsing of sentences (including literary pieces such as Shakespeare's).

Actually, the method was ill advised, even for native speakers or first language speakers of the language, and certainly for second language speakers such as the Filipino child in the barrio.

Critics of the grammar analysis method even for first language speakers rightly point out that these activities were not language learning activities but grammatical analysis exercises which analyzed the language but did not use it. They were theoretical and did not lead to mastery but to sharpening the analytical skills of students, the same kinds of skills needed for a formally trained linguist in the investigation of languages. Moreover, they were based on a wrong analysis of the language, imposing the Procrustean bed of Latin grammar on the English language, an Anglo-Saxon based language that had deviated from the Latin (its cousin in the genetic tree of the Indo-European languages) in substantial ways. The exercises were jejune exercises in analysis (if one's objective was language use for communication), using a misguided (because wrong) grammatical model for analysis, and tested rather than taught the language.

Teachers of English in the United States found that there was little correlation between mastery of grammatical analysis and the ability to write language well. …