Colonial Education

View item information

In this memoir, teacher William B. Freer's recalls how he taught Filipino children to read and write by blending American lessons with Filipino culture. For example, he explained that when singing the nursery rhyme "Cherries Ripe," he substituted the names of Filipino delicacies because "cherries were unknown in the Islands." Courtesy of University of Michigan via HathiTrust.

Schoolhouses provided a space for Americans and native peoples to come together, albeit on uneven ground. In Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines, students gathered, and the relationships between them and their teachers mirrored the power dynamics between the colonized and colonizer.

Following the annexation of Puerto Rico, the US reopened the island's schools with American educators. The US also prioritized public education in the Philippines. Government policy allocated nearly half of its annual budget to schooling, and official legislatures dictated curricula. Teachers taught almost exclusively in English, and they modeled their problem sets, student exercises, and class rules after American traditions. William B. Freer taught in the Philippines from 1901 to 1904. A native of Akron, Ohio, he worked under a contract with the US government and instructed classrooms in villages on the island of Luzon. He documented this work with writings and photographs that he later published as a memoir. Reflecting on his time overseas, Freer framed education as a colonial endeavor. He helped mold students into good subjects, familiar with and loyal to the US. Freer himself concluded: "In such absence of enlightened sentiment...what genuine well-wisher of the Filipinos will desire to allow them… their independence...to place the responsibility of the ignorant many in the hands of the educated few?"