Close to midnight on Friday, 28 July 1911, all was dark and waves were high as the boat Ntra. Sra. Del Carmen entered Sorsogon Bay. Before dawn, the 22-year-old Texan Rogers Raymond Pope jumped over his traveling companions—eight cows and a carabao—and hopped on the banca that brought him to shore to start a two-year stay in Sorsogon as supervising teacher covering Casiguran, Sorsogon, Bacon, Castilla, and Juban.
After checking in and freshening up at the local Shangri-La, he had breakfast with Messrs. Whitacre and Atkins, American teachers already there. He spent the day getting his bearings and looking around Sorsogon Central School. Still full of energy, they all attended a party the same evening where Pope was cajoled into a Rigodon, in the process stepping on several ladies’ sayas. Then off to bed at two a.m.
Work began Monday, 51 days after Rogers left home, the little town of Henrietta in North Texas by the Oklahoma border, where the family farmed and raised cattle. He was a high school valedictorian and was taking summer college courses when he learned that teachers were needed in the Philippines. He had no idea how things were in America’s new colony but it was bound to be an adventure, a chance to travel abroad and earn good money to remit back home.
He applied, took and passed the needed Civil Service Exam, and off he went, following in the footsteps of the first 600 who arrived in 1901 aboard the SS Thomas to reorganize the public schools system. The early “Thomasites” served as classroom teachers in all grade levels but the plan was for Filipinos to gradually take over and, by 1911, Americans were assigned mostly to secondary and technical schools and as supervisors of school districts.
Pope’s job was to select, train, and supervise teachers through actual visits, to establish and see to the construction of school buildings where needed, supervise agricultural and vocational projects, do athletic coaching, and other work as needed.
Inspection was not always easy. Pope described the nine kilometers to Bacon as being on a beautiful gravel road. Getting to Juban, however, meant a boat ride on a large banca that moved “by sail, oars, paddles, poling, and pulled by men wading ahead of it” and on the final half mile, on foot.
Reaching remote barrio schools were toughies. “Our trail to Barrio de San Vicente led ‘thru hills and over canyons.’ The trail was never made for a pair of shoes. Nothing but a monkey or a barefoot Filipino could travel it easily. It was about 3 feet wide and very slick and hard. Many toenails lay along the way in testimonial of the steepness and ruggedness of the road. …After about one hour of walking, climbing and sliding… I found the school in a nipa shack.”
The trail to Santa Cruz was “… an exaggerated duplicate. … The way across a stream was…one small slippery bamboo. A house cat or a tight rope walker would have hesitated but not the old presidente. He took a firm hold with his toes and walked over. … Then I made a mad dash and went across safely.”
In his 1913 report to the division superintendent, Pope focused on school building construction, vegetable gardens (corn and vegetables), and athletics (baseball, volleyball, indoor baseball, and basketball). Teacher performance was carefully evaluated and recommendations made (“Jose D. should be continued but supervised closely as he is lazy.”).
The highlight of student vocational education was the exhibition and sale of their work at the Sorsogon pavilion in the Manila Carnival, among them abaca slippers, narra tables and “siesta chairs,” mats, baskets, and macramé work. Pope proposed, however, the discontinuation of instruction in lace making, embroidery, slippers, and coiled baskets, that were unsalable because quality was poor.
During the schools summer vacation of 1912, Pope traveled to pine-clad Baguio and, with legions of fellow American teachers, stayed at Teachers’ Camp where they recovered from the heat and humidity of the lowlands with dances, card games, mountain climbing (he scaled Mt. Santo Tomas), and getting acquainted with Cordillera culture.
Pope ended his Sorsogon first tour of duty in 1913 and went back home to Texas. He returned, however, in 1915 a married man and, with his wife Emma Pettey, proceeded to San Jose, Antique, and Capiz, Capiz (now Roxas City), where Rogers served as high school principal.
Rogers Raymond Pope (1888-1975) maintained a diary and took about a thousand photographs during his two years in Sorsogon that his granddaughters Linda Pope Pratt and Cindy Pope Leaverton organized. These paint a vivid picture of the early years of the modern Philippine education system, covering the daily work, challenges, and successes of the dedicated young Americans who helped build our public schools system. To them we owe much of the excellence of the first generations of Philippine leadership in government, business, and the professions.
Notes: (a) This article is based on Linda Pope Pratt, Rogers and Emma: American Teachers in the Philippines, 1911-1913 and 1915-1920, a work that the Pope family has donated along with other memorabilia to the American Historical Collection, kept at the Ateneo Libraries; (b) Rogers Raymond Pope kept a diary during the two hears he was in Sorsogon. Intended as a private memoir, entries are often tongue-in-cheek. He also brought a camera and took numerous photographs during his stay; and (c) I don’t know if it’s still the practice but at least in the 1950s when I attended Manila’s Arellano High School, Academic Supervisors made the rounds and actually sat down in classrooms to observe and comment on how teachers conducted their classes.
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