Reading with Camilo Osias

I am the happy owner of two pre-loved Camilo Osias books both titled, “The Philippine Readers”; I do not know if these were also used in private schools, specially the sectarian ones,   during that period called “peacetime”.   The revised edition of Book Six is in mint condition, although it was first published in the USA, in 1920, by Ginn & Company; other editions followed in 1924, 1932  and  1948.  The previous owner, or owners,  must have cherished this textbook, it still looks like new. There are four illustrations by Fernando C. Amorsolo. The previous owner scribbled his name, Leoncio C. Jose, with a fountain pen, in block letters and script. He placed a date too close to the edge of the page, June 8, 19…;  he was in Grade VII  B at the Soler Elementary School, probably in Manila. As for Book Seven, a ravenous bookworm had burrowed a minute tunnel from the title page to the last chapter which is a  phonetic “Word List”. Both Osias readers are hardbound, slightly bigger than a pocket book, with a bit more than 300 pages each.  Today,  printing textbooks of this quality must be prohibitive.

Who was Camilo Osias? The name sounded familiar. Born on  28 March 1889,  in Balaoan, La Union, he became a pensionado in 1905, was sent to the  Illinois State Teacher’s College where he received a teacher’s diploma. Then, he went to Columbia  University for an undergrad degree in administration. Mr. Osias was a member of the First Independence Commission to the USA,  an Assemblyman ( 1935-38), member of the  Constitutional Convention of 1934 and briefly a Senate president. He passed on in 1976,  after dedicating the rest of his years to writing and educational reforms.

In Book Six, Mr. Osias formed a panel of  34 Filipino teachers and officials, both men and women, who evaluated the prose, poetry and illustrations in his  “The Philippine Readers”. They came from all over the Philippines– Nueva Vizcaya, Ilocos Norte and Sur, Abra, La Union, Bataan , Pampanga, the Bicol region, the Visayas and as far south as Bukidnon. Glaringly, there was no one from Mindanao, the American colonial government was still in war mode down there.  In his preface, “A talk with the Pupil”, Mr. Osias explained,  “…Looking through your Sixth Reader, you will notice that it is somewhat different in its plan from your Fifth Reader… You see, you  are one  year older, so you must begin to read and think about serious things, such as work and your duty as a man or a woman.” He quoted a former teacher who once told him   that,”…success consists of ten things: the first is work, and the other nine are more work.” Mr. Osias added: “People who work hard succeed best, and the men who succeed, like Lincoln and Magellan, often do so because they never cease trying even in the face of failure.”

The Osias readers cleverly conceal the rigors of learning good English with a carefully handpicked repertory of  Filipino folk tales (Why the Crow is Black, The 3 sisters, Maria Maquiling) biographies of eminent people (Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio, George Dewey, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Edison, Florence Nightingale etc.). Pupils were introduced to the classics through excerpts from works of Homer, Shakespeare and Cervantes.  Poetry was given special mention with the works of Alfred Lord Tennyson, William Wordsworth, Henry W. Longfellow. ( No English translations of Balmori, F. Guerrero Lope K. Santos?) There were tales from our Asian neighbors like Japan and China. Perhaps,  to interest Catholic schools in his “The Philippine Readers”, Mr. Osias added stories about Moses, Joseph and his brothers, the Last Supper and other Biblical references.

While imbibing traditional values and civic virtues, the pupils had to expand their vocabulary by learning new words presented along with the prose and poetry. After reading about Andres Bonifacio, one had to look for the definitions of hostility, compatriot, precipitated, propaganda, arrogant, vernacular. I do not remember coming across those words when I was in Grade 6. ( K 12 did not exist then). A convenient “Litte Dictionary” at the end of each book untangles significance as well as phonetic sounds of each syllable.

No wonder they spoke better English in those days; as a foreign language, it was taught holistically from formal definitions, to physical formation of phonetic sounds to usage in complete sentences during conversations. Learning how to write the words was the last step and it had to be in script. Mr. Osias could not shed off some “hispanismos”,  but his English grammar must have been impeccable.  Should we go back to the Osias Reader to re-learn English? If the Department of Education (DepEd) so decides, a special committee of historians must first be formed to decolonize Camilo Osias’s “The Philippine Readers”.