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Governmental Supervision of Schools in the Philippines
By Mr. John C. Murray, S. J.
Dear Father Editor:
Everybody is familiar with the details and progress of the fight conducted by Catholic educational interests in the United States against the excessive Federalization of education proposed by bills of the Smith-Towner and Sterling-Towner ilk. And everybody knows, too, that one of the reasons for the vehement Catholic opposition to these measures is the menace that such excessive centralization would be to the private school, and especially to the religious school. It may be interesting, therefore, to readers of the LETTERS to hear a brief resume of a situation that is developing in Philippine educational circles — a situation, innocent enough in appearance at its inception, but which has come to be fraught with danger to private education in the Islands.
To begin with a little history, the public school system in the Philippine Islands was provided for by an Act of the Second Philippine Commission in 1901. At the time, mention of private schools was made only in so far as to state that no public moneys were to be diverted to their support, but that they were to function free from governmental obstruction. In 1916, Section 23 of the Jones Law provided for the office of Superintendent of Private Schools, who, pursuing the governmental policy of making the private schools "follow the same general plan of courses as public schools", was to insure in them the realization of public school standards. At the same time, the Jones Law defined a private school as one "independent of governmental interference". Rather anomalous — but legislation to which no open exception could be taken.
So matters stood till 1925. In that year, the Board of Educational Survey, Monroe Commission, came to the Islands at the invitation of Mr. Eugene D. Gilmore, Vice-Governor General, and ex-officio head of the Department of Public Instruction. Mr. Paul Monroe, of Columbia
University, head of the Commission, is a well-known exponent of the "mechanical" theory of education, with its cult of standardization, intelligence tests, etc. Something seemed to be in the wind. The first public meeting of the Board took place in Manila, and at it was present Rev. Joseph A. Mulry, S. J., of the Ateneo de Manila. The reason for his presence was a legitimate curiosity concerning the principles that might be enunciated in the course of the meeting. They promised to be interesting, and they were. Here they are, as taken down by Father Mulry:
1 The state has the primary right to educate its citizens.
2 The private schools, as escaping state-control, are a necessary evil which shall be removed as soon as the state can assume the task of educating all.
3 The education of the nation must be absolutely separated from religious instruction.
4 Parents can be obliged by law to send their children to school, (which principle will have a new meaning when the state takes over our universal education!).
5 The only reason for tolerating private schools is for the emulation they afford to the public schools.
6 Intelligence tests, mental measurements etc. are the means whereby man's worth is to be judged.
Emphatically something was in the wind. However, before any legislative or other decisive action was taken, a private meeting of the Board was held at Malacañang, official residence of the Governor General. To this meeting the late General Wood, as a mark of official trust and favor and out of a desire to hear the other side, invited the Rev. Francis X. A. Byrne, S. J., then President of the Ateneo. For three hours, Fr. Byrne inveighed strenuously against the Monroe theory of education, attacking one by one the principles on which it is based, and representing the case of the private schools.
In view of the high estimation and influence enjoyed by Fr. Byrne in official circles, and of the weight that his opinions carried, it was to be expected that his words would have effect. But the Commissioners were not to be
swayed from their proposed course by any man. In that same year, legislation was put through, increasing to such an extent the powers of the Commissioner of Private Education that it was tantamount to the creation of a new office. His power over the private schools was to be autocratic, unlimited and unshared. His determination of curricular requirements was to be final; his decision as to their fulfillment or non-fulfillment was to be final; his largess or denial of governmental recognition was to be final. From his word there was to be no appeal, for his action no redress. How the grant of such absolute power over private schools to one government official can be made to square with the express provisions of the Jones Law is more than the average intelligence avails to discover. However, there is the fact, — and to wield this absolute power Mr. Gilmore appointed Mr. William E. Buckish.
What happened? First there descended a barrage of communications threatening to remove governmental recognition if the arbitrary requirements laid down by the Commissioner were not fulfilled. And in many cases the threat was executed. Now it may as well be admitted here that certain Catholic private schools were at the time in a state which left very much to be desired. They had failed to look into the seeds of time in 1917, and discover what was likely to grow out of the action of the Legislature in that year. As a result, many were undoubtedly caught off their guard, unprepared for the rigorous inspection to which they were subjected. On the one hand, a good number of parochial schools were struggling for their very existence; they were poorly equipped and staffed by teachers with little of advanced education. On the other hand, not a few private schools belonged to the "wilful minority" in the Islands who were holding out against Americanization, — an understandable and, at the least, not entirely indefensible attitude. In these schools, English was relegated to a secondary position and most of the instruction given in Spanish or dialect — contrary to governmental prescription. We are not, of course, applauding this policy of non-conformity, nor are we condoning "in toto" the many educational inefficiencies disclosed by the Commissioner's activities. We
merely state the penalty that these schools paid for being what they were.
In 1925-6 and 1926-7, many instances of interference were had. Father Mulry, by reason of his manifest interest in the situation, was petitioned for advice by four or five schools in Manila and the vicinity which had been hit by the Commissioner. But no counter action could be taken; the powers of the Commissioner precluded even the possibility of it. However, a certain amount of publicity was achieved, and in the .beginning of the school-year 1926-7, a reaction set in. Unfortunately, the reaction took the form of a personal attack upon Mr. Buckish — an entirely futile proceedure, and one not greatly warranted. In justice to the gentleman we must say that his exercise of the absolute power entrusted to him has been characterized by a restraint as laudable as it is surprising. At any rate, the power is his by law, and will be his as long as the law stands, so that the "status quaestionis" is not Mr. Buckish, but the law and the purpose behind the law — a point, however, which many do not grasp.
In order to obviate the prejudice aroused against the case of the private school by this descent to the personal, and in order to place the controversy on the footing where it belonged, Fr. Mulry, who has from the beginning been the protagonist of the private schools, enlisted the aid of the editor of "La Defensa", a Catholic periodical in Manila, and outlined a series of editorials attacking the principles of the movement. In his many letters, speeches and articles on the situation Fr. Mulry has ever insisted that it is against principles and not against persons, namely Mr. Buckish nor Mr. Gilmore, that we are contending, and furthermore that we are contending not merely as Catholics but also and especially as citizens. Briefly summarized, the points of the case emphasized by Fr. Mulry are these:
1 The power vested in the Commissioner is undemocratic, an invasion of the rights of private property.
2 The evasion of Mr. Buckish, namely that he only withdraws governmental recognition and does not impair the right of the school to function, is an insult to intelli-
-gence. For a school to continue to operate after governmental recognition has been withdrawn would be as satisfactory and profitable as for a speaker to continue to broadcast after the microphone has been disconnected. His words get nowhere, and the pupils of that school would get just as far.
3 The attitude of the government towards private schools is a manifestation of the gravest ingratitude, for the reason that these are taking an immense burden off the public shoulders. Governmental facilities are inadequate to educate more than one-third of the children in the Islands, — 50,000 are being cared for by private institutions.
4 It is ridiculous, not to speak of unfairness, to insist, as they are insisting, upon a higher standard of school-building, equipment and staff in private schools than can be demanded of out-of-town public schools. In which connection it is interesting to note that public schools as far as can be seen, have been untouched by the Monroe Survey, and that all the action has been directed against private schools.
5 The utmost power which the Legislature can bestow is that of inspection, to see that minimum academic requirements, themselves laid down by law, are being fulfilled. Moreover, even then the right to appeal the decision of the inspector must be safeguarded.
6 The whole movement is a sample of paternalism especially over the poor; and all the more contemptible because the poor Filipino cannot see the claw beneath the velvet glove.
7 Mr. Gilmore, in introducing the Monroe ideal, was attempting to gain complete control of education in the Islands; and with that control in the hands of Protestants (Mr. Gilmore and Mr. Buckish are Protestants) and of Masons, the Catholic schools can look forward to persecution and even extinction.
So far, no attempt has been made by the Commissoner to meet the oppostion in a clash of principles. He has his power, and so why fatigue one's self with the heat of controversy? And when it comes to a question of actual facts proving injustice in cases of withdrawal of governmental recognition, we ourselves are rather at a loss. Native indifference to the course of events shows itself in the ignoring of invitations to send in their attested stories. So the case now stands, — at little better than a deadlocked expectancy of some "overt act". However, one good result has attended the publicity given .to the situation largely through the efforts of Fr. Mulry — the Bishops of the Islands are at last awake to the danger on the horizon; the thin edge of the wedge has by mighty blows been driven into the hitherto impenetrable Catholic consciousness, and we must await patiently, the moment when concerted Catholic action will begin. The direction that action should take has been pointed out; its success is a thing for hope and prayer.