First published: Sunday, October 7, 2007, in the Albany Times Union
As President Bush tries to shape his legacy in regards to the Iraq war, he should pick up David Silbey’s engaging history “A War of Frontier and Empire: The Philippine-American War, 1899-1902” (Hill and Wang; 272 pages; $26).
Though both were wars of choice, the details are quite different. Still, the generalizations that can be gleaned from Silbey’s account are eerily familiar: a quick and stunning conventional military victory turns into longer-than-expected guerrilla warfare; a failure by the United States to understand its enemy; a sense of racial superiority that enflames troops and politicians in Washington; and a native population whose loyalties seemed to change depending on the time of day.
As part of the U.S.’s colonial policies of “benevolent assimilation” in the Philippines, they set up a system of universal education. At first, the primers were geared toward U.S. children (with references to things outside of most Filipino experiences such as snow), and then new primers were made.
This page comes from a 1908 Revised Edition of the First Primary Language Book by O.S. Reimold.
This is the entirety of the essay and image to go with lesson 40 (what follows it are a description of centavos and pesos, and then “Written Exercises” such as “Write the names of ten things that you can buy in the market.”).
The questions the passage raises for me are: Who is the we? Is it the teacher (whether a Filipino or American) and the school children in the moment of the lesson? Or maybe I’m reading the “We” all wrong, and perhaps it refers to all the members of the colonial system? After all, wouldn’t it be too much to expect school children to have spending money for the market? So then is the “We” supposed to be a generalized “everyone,” as in “everyone goes to the market”? Then again, the “we” seems to be in opposition to the “many people” in the previous sentence? Couldn’t it be possible that some of the Filipino children learning to read, speak and write in English through this lesson be part of the “many people”? Is there a class distinction at play here that may be confusing to some of the student? Doesn’t the act of naming the shopper (Natalia) as opposed to the seller (“the man”) further that kind of class difference? And then, if the narrator can name one of the people depicted in the image, how is a child supposed to respond to those final questions about who is buying and selling the chicken? Are children supposed to know the names of the people? Are they supposed to respond with a gender identification (“the woman”/”the man”)?
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