This is Part 3 of Rizal’s Legacy for the 21st Century: Progressive Education, Social Entrepreneurship and Community Development in Dapitan, first published at Social Science Diliman (SSD) Volume 7, No. 2, December 2011 issue. // Ed.
Upon his arrival in Dapitan, Rizal lived in the house of the governor and military commandant, Capt. Ricardo Carnicero, which was just across the town’s central plaza. He later bought, with Carnicero and another Spaniard residing in Dipolog, a lottery ticket. This was to prove fortuitous. Rizal’s lottery ticket won second prize—20,000 pesos—which was awarded on September 21, 1892, and promptly divided among themselves by the three men. From his share of 6,200 pesos, Rizal gave 2,000 pesos to his father and 200 pesos to pay his debt to his friend Basa in Hong Kong (Baron-Fernandez, 1981, p. 255).7
With what remained of his lottery earnings, Rizal was able to move to Talisay, a coastal barrio off the Dapitan poblacion named after the talisay, a large deciduous tree that is usually found along Philippine seashores. Rizal bought a 16-hectare piece of land. But, as he noted in his February 8, 1893 letter to his brother-in-law Manuel Hidalgo, there were no talisay trees in Talisay, so Rizal thought of naming his place Balunò or Baunò, after the large trees that actually grew there. The first thing he did was to clear the land “to sow rice and corn” (Rizal, 1964, p. 356). Then he built a house, a clinic and a school for local boys who he described as mostly “poor and intelligent.” On March 7, 1893, he wrote to Hidalgo saying:
My house will be finished either tomorrow or after tomorrow. It is very pretty for its price (40 pesos) and it turned out better than what I wanted. My lot cannot be better and I am improving it every day… I’m sure that if you come, you will be pleased with my property. I have plenty of land to accommodate at least five families with houses and orchards. (Rizal, 1964, pp. 358-359)
In his sojourns, Rizal had always dreamed of settling down in a farm and founding a school. In his March 31, 1890 letter to his best friend, the Austrian ethnologist Ferdinand Blumentritt, he confided his wish to build a secular and independent school in the Philippines, with Blumentritt as the director, and to devote himself entirely to the pursuit of science and the study and writing of history (Rizal, 1961a, Vol. II, p.344). Now the dream of a school was coming true — with him as the teacher!
Describing his charmed life in Talisay, Rizal wrote to Blumentritt on Dec. 19, 1893:
I shall tell you how we live here. I have three houses; one square, another hexagonal, and a third octagonal, all of bamboo, wood and nipa. In the square house we live, my mother, sister Trinidad, a nephew and I; in the octagonal live my boys or some good youngsters whom I teach arithmetic, Spanish and English8; and in the hexagonal live my chickens. From my house I hear the murmur of a crystal clear brook which comes from the high rocks; I see the seashore, the sea where I have small boats, two canoes or barotos, as they say here. I have many fruit trees, mangoes, lanzones, guayabanos, baluno, nangka, etc. I have rabbits, dogs, cats, etc. I rise early—at five—visit my plants, feed the chickens, awaken my people and put them in movement. At half-past seven we breakfast with tea, pastries, cheese, sweetmeats, etc. Later I treat my poor patients who come to my land; I dress, I go to the town in my baroto, treat the people there, and return at 12 when my luncheon awaits me. Then I teach the boys until 4 P.M. and devote the after-noon to agriculture. I spend the night reading and studying (Rizal, 1961a, Vol. II, p.475)
Retana’s account of Rizal’s role as a teacher is effusively appreciative:
How could he not be adored, when he was second father to all abandoned children who turned up? What’s more, he taught them the art of catching insects, gathering shells, etc., brought them home, fed them, clothed and tidied them up, and practiced passionate charity to the extreme in teaching them Spanish, English, French and German. Those who excelled, who could give the name of a thing in more languages than the others, were awarded with something extraordinary, a knickknack, a novelty, and this encouraged others to emulate them, so that rare was the urchin who did not strive to learn and be a useful boy. He became a teacher, as can be seen in letters he wrote in the years 95 and 96 to his family. He made the boys useful by constructing a dam of stonework which served to conduct water from a waterfall into the house which he had built in a place called Talisay, near the center of Dapitan. (Translated from Retana, 1907, p. 318)
Retana’s account may be faulted for its strange reference to “abandoned children” (practically all were entrusted to Rizal by their parents) and its glaring omission of the role of Rizal’s partner Josephine Bracken, who was in fact the one who looked after the children and kept them glued to their homework when Rizal was away. Rizal said so himself in his March 12, 1896 letter to his mother: “She bathes them, and washes and mends their clothes, so that, poor girl, she is never at rest, but she does it willingly for she has a great love for the boys, and they love her more than they love me!” 
Interesting details about life in Rizal’s Talisay school are now coming to light, thanks to the reminiscences and anecdotes of Rizal’s former pupils and their descendants. Rizal’s nephew, Estanislao Herbosa (the great grandfather of the Philippines’ current Undersecretary of Health, Dr. Teodoro Herbosa) who was an eight-year-old participant in Rizal’s school, interviewed in his 80s by Rizal’s grandnephew Saturnina Rizal-Hidalgo’s grandson Angel Hidalgo, recalled that in the mornings, Dr. Rizal would usually go to town to visit his patients. Josephine Bracken was left in charge of his students and she would see to it that they finished their homework (Hidalgo, 1971, pp. 31-38).
George Aseniero, grandson of Rizal’s star pupil, Jose Aseniero (who became governor of the province of Zamboanga in 1925-1928), relates that Estanislao’s son, the late Francisco (Paquito) Herbosa, told him when he visited us in Dapitan that his little puppy of a father was “in love” with Josephine (George Aseniero, personal communication, 06 October 2011). From his Lolo’s memoirs, Aseniero also learned that Rizal’s Talisay school was both a primary and secondary school (modelled after the German gymnasium), and that Rizal was both a teacher and surrogate father to his nephews:
in effect there were two groups of students: the high school boys (those who were 16 by 1896, including my lolo) and the elementary kids who were primarily Rizal’s nephews who were sent over to him for guardianship given the turmoil in the Rizal family in Luzon. The Herbosa kids had lost their father to cholera, so Tio Pepe would be the surrogate father. Maria had divorced, so little Moris needed a surrogate father too. And of course the surrogate mother was Josephine, who was adored by the nephews.
The older boys’ curriculum was based on the German high school, Rizal’s ideal. And they were meant to be cadres who would go on to pursue higher education. They would then form the core group of teachers for a future institution of higher learning that Rizal was planning for with Blumentritt. The four boys he took with him to Manila were going to study medicine, law, agriculture and (my lolo) engineering. 
As if following the advice of the narrator-mentor in Rousseau’s Emile, Rizal was keenly aware and accepting of the individual differences among his nephews and adjusted his educational approach to each one. He wrote his sister Lucia (February 12, 1896):
[Teodosio] has more liking for the land than for the books. We cannot all be doctors. It is necessary that there be some to cultivate the land. One must follow one’s inclination. Tan [Estanislao], on the other hand, is a boy who likes to study and has ability… When I asked them what was their order in Manila, Teodosio asked for his bolo and Tan for his book. (Rizal, 1964, p.422)
And to his sister Maria, Rizal wrote (March 12, 1896): 
[Moris] is just beginning to learn how to write…and he knows how to swim a little. Only he is too lively and playful, always running and overturning the bottles in our house… He is bright and beats the two of Osio and Tan in memorization, but Tan beats him in arithmetic and English. In slow reckoning Osio beats them all. (1964, p.424)
Rizal oversaw his nephews’ physical and mental development and was proud of their progress. In an undated letter to Lucia, he wrote:
Your two sons are getting along well in their studies. Now they send you their letters written by themselves alone without dictation. They are studying fractions. They swim a great deal and Osio can swim until 30 braces, though slowly. Tanis dives very well and he is nimble like a fish, but he tires quickly. Tanis is going to be a strong lad, he now lifts up twenty-five pounds over his head; I believe he is stronger than Uncle Nengoy. I’m sorry I have no horse or bicycle to teach them how to ride. They already speak English. (1964, p.426)
Rizal’s affection for his nephews is revealed in his parting advice to them when he left for Cuba in 1896:
To Osio [Teodosio]: Continue to be a good boy, studious, hardworking and obedient.
To Tanis [Estanislao]: Do not try to have the best thing for yourself. Try to do the best for others.
To Moris [Mauricio]: Be always good and obedient.
(Palma, 1949, p.356)
Rizal’s attention was of course not limited to his nephews. Asuncion Lopez Bantug, Rizal’s grandniece, portrays Rizal’s resourcefulness, casual teaching style, and method of assessing and rewarding the progress of his students:
He devised his own teaching aids; made his own writing tools, blackboards and maps; used natural specimens during lessons; translated what textbooks were needed but as much as possible concentrated on practical instruction rather than book learning. Classes were held at the square house or in the kiosko he had built as a private retreat for himself on a hillside. Usually he taught from a hammock, with the boys gathered around him, sitting on floor or grass or bench, just as they pleased, though whoever was currently the top scholar occupied a place of honor. Periodic exams were given, with outsiders as examiners. Boys with high marks were rewarded with useful prizes: a pen, a book, a net or a rifle. (Bantug, 2008, p.134)
Education was not confined within the classroom: the older boys were taught the use of the rifle and went hunting with Rizal; the younger ones explored the forest and seashores with Rizal to collect butterflies and assorted bugs, dig for seashells, and dive for rare fish—which gave them “fascinating if practical lessons in botany and zoology.” (Bantug, 2008, p.134)
And there were gym classes for physical fitness and martial arts — weightlifting, wrestling, boxing and fencing. Rizal’s grandniece relates a family anecdote:
During one fencing lesson, his pupils dared him to take all of them on at the same time. When the mock fray ended, his coat was still immaculate, unmarked by the sooty ends of the bamboo swords they wielded. No one won the prize he had offered to whoever could smudge his clothes. (Bantug, 2008, p.135)
What an exciting departure from the insipid and staid parochial school! But there was more—Rizal also taught his pupils lessons in courage and the art of living well and wisely. Again from Rizal’s grandniece,
To instil courage in them, he would on dark nights start a session, all about ghosts and vampires and monsters, until they were all a-shudder. Then he would send them one by one out into the dark night, to fetch a cane he had hung on a tree, or a bundle he had left on the hillside, or some package planted on the riverside. (Bantug, 2008, p.135)
Bantug forgot to mention a riveting method that Rizal devised to entice his young wards to think about the future and the larger questions of life — a fortune-telling board game he named La Sibila Cumana, after a prophetess in Greek legend. (The rule for playing was simple: the player chooses one question on a list and then spins a top on a board marked with numbers and Roman numerals that point to a corresponding answer or explanation in a card Rizal arranged the numbers such that many different types of answers could come out, depending on where the top spun to a stop.) 
Rizal also had an ingenious way of dealing with infractions among his students. One day in 1894, some of his students secretly rowed a boat from Talisay to the town. A puppy of Rizal’s dog followed them but was devoured by a crocodile. The students felt guilty and upset by the puppy’s horrible end. Rizal, however, did not simply reprimand them for disobeying his rule not to go to town without his permission. He made a moral lesson out of it in a creative way—by sculpting a statue of the mother dog killing the crocodile and entitling it “The Mother’s Revenge”, thus driving the point that the mother was grief-stricken when she lost her puppy (Craig, 1913, pp.203-204).
What a wonderful time Rizal’s students must have had in all those four years! The schoolmaster’s words in the Noli Me Tangere, ca. 1887, could veritably be Rizal’s, ca. 1896, except that in Dapitan, no friar frustrated his pedagogical project:
I endeavoured to make study a thing of love and joy, I wished to make the primer not a black book bathed in the tears of childhood but a friend who was going to reveal wonderful secrets, and of the schoolroom not a place of sorrows but a scene of intellectual refreshment. So, little by little, I abolished corporal punishment, taking the instruments of it entirely away from the school and replacing them with emulation and personal pride. If one was careless about his lesson, I charged it to lack of desire and never to lack of capacity. I made them think that they were more capable than they really were, which urged them on to study just as any confidence leads to notable achievements. At first it seemed that the change of method was impracticable; many ceased their studies, but I persisted and observed that little by little their minds were being elevated and that more children came, that they came with more regularity, and that he who was praised in the presence of the others studied with double diligence on the next day. (“The Schoolmaster’s Difficulties,” in chapter 6 of Noli Me Tangere /Rizal, 1912).
Next: Himno a Talisay