Early Education in Calamba and Biñan
Rizal had his early education in Calamba and Biñan. It was a typical schooling that a son of an ilustrado family received during his time, characterized by the four R’s- reading, writing, arithmetic, and religion. Instruction was rigid and strict. Knowledge was forced into the minds of the pupils by means of the tedious memory method aided by the teacher’s whip. Despite the defects of the Spanish system of elementary education, Rizal was able to acquire the necessary instruction preparatory for college work in Manila. It may be said that Rizal, who was born a physical weakling, rose to become an intellectual giant not because of, but rather in spite of, the outmoded and backward system of instruction obtaining in the Philippines during the last decades of Spanish regime.
The Hero’s First Teacher
The first teacher of Rizal was his mother, who was a remarkable woman of good character and fine culture. On her lap, he learned at the age of three the alphabet and the prayers. "My mother," wrote Rizal in his student memoirs, "taught me how to read and to say haltingly the humble prayers which I raised fervently to God."
As tutor, Doña Teodora was patient, conscientious, and understanding. It was she who first discovered that her son had a talent for poetry. Accordingly, she encouraged him to write poems. To lighten the monotony of memorizing the ABC’s and to stimulate her son’s imagination, she related many stories.
As Jose grew older, his parents employed private tutors to give him lessons at home. The first was Maestro Celestino and the second, Maestro Lucas Padua. Later, an old man named Leon Monroy, a former classmate of Rizal’s father, became the boy’s tutor. This old teacher lived at the Rizal home and instructed Jose in Spanish and Latin. Unfortunately, he did not lived long. He died five months later.
After a Monroy’s death, the hero’s parents decided to send their gifted son to a private school in Biñan.
Jose Goes to Biñan
One Sunday afternoon in June , 1869, Jose, after kissing the hands of his parents and a tearful parting from his sister, left Calamba for Biñan. He was accompanied by Paciano , who acted as his second father. The two brothers rode in a carromata, reaching their destination after one and one-half hours’ drive. They proceeded to their aunt’s house, where Jose was to lodge. It was almost night when they arrived, and the moon was about to rise.
That same night, Jose, with his cousin named Leandro, went sightseeing in the town. Instead of enjoying the sights, Jose became depressed because of homesickness. "In the moonlight," he recounted, "I remembered my home town, my idolized mother, and my solicitous sisters. Ah, how sweet to me was Calamba, my own town, in spite of the fact that was not as wealthy as Biñan."
First Day in Biñan School
The next morning (Monday) Paciano brought his younger brother to the school of Maestro Justiniano Aquino Cruz.
The school was in the house of the teacher, which was a small nipa hut about 30 meters from the home of Jose’s aunt.
Paciano knew the teacher quite well because he had been a pupil under him before. He introduced Jose to the teacher, after which he departed to return to Calamba.
Immediately, Jose was assigned his seat in the class. The teacher asked him:
"Do you know Spanish?"
"A little, sir," replied the Calamba lad.
"Do you know Latin?"
"A little, sir."
The boys in the class, especially Pedro, the teacher’s son laughed at Jose’s answers.
The teacher sharply stopped all noises and begun the lessons of the day.
Jose described his teacher in Biñan as follows: "He was tall, thin, long-necked, with sharp nose and a body slightly bent forward, and he used to wear a sinamay shirt, woven by the skilled hands of the women of Batangas. He knew by the heart the grammars by Nebrija and Gainza. Add to this severity that in my judgement was exaggerated and you have a picture, perhaps vague, that I have made of him, but I remember only this."
First School BrawlIn the afternoon of his first day in school, when the teacher was having his siesta, Jose met the bully, Pedro. He was angry at this bully for making fun of him during his conversation with the teacher in the morning.
Jose challenged Pedro to a fight. The latter readily accepted, thinking that he could easily beat the Calamba boy who was smaller and younger.
The two boys wrestled furiously in the classroom, much to the glee of their classmates. Jose, having learned the art of wrestling from his athletic Tio Manuel, defeated the bigger boy. For this feat, he became popular among his classmates.
After the class in the afternoon, a classmate named Andres Salandanan challenged him to an arm-wrestling match. They went to a sidewalk of a house and wrestled with their arms. Jose, having the weaker arm, lost and nearly cracked his head on the sidewalk.
In succeeding days he had other fights with the boys of Biñan. He was not quarrelsome by nature, but he never ran away from a fight.
Best Student in School
In academic studies, Jose beat all Biñan boys. He surpassed them all in Spanish, Latin, and other subjects.
Some of his older classmates were jealous of his intellectual superiority. They wickedly squealed to the teacher whenever Jose had a fight outside the school, and even told lies to discredit him before the teacher’s eyes. Consequently the teacher had to punish Jose.
Early Schooling in Biñan
Jose had a very vivid imagination and a very keen sense of observation. At the age of seven he traveled with his father for the first time to Manila and thence to Antipolo to fulfill the promise of a pilgrimage made by his mother at the time of his birth. They embarked in a casco, a very ponderous vessel commonly used in the Philippines. It was the first trip on the lake that Jose could recollect. As darkness fell he spent the hours by the katig, admiring the grandeur of the water and the stillness of the night, although he was seized with a superstitious fear when he saw a water snake entwine itself around the bamboo beams of the katig. With what joy did he see the sun at the daybreak as its luminous rays shone upon the glistening surface of the wide lake, producing a brilliant effect! With what joy did he talk to his father, for he had not uttered a word during the night!
When they proceeded to Antipolo, he experienced the sweetest emotions upon seeing the gay banks of the Pasig and the towns of Cainta and Taytay. In Antipolo he prayed, kneeling before the image of the Virgin of Peace and Good Voyage, of whom he would later sing in elegant verses. Then he saw Manila, the great metropolis , with its Chinese sores and European bazaars. And visited his elder sister, Saturnina, in Santa Ana, who was a boarding student in the Concordia College.
When he was nine years old, his father sent him to Biñan to continue studying Latin, because his first teacher had died. His brother Paciano took him to Biñan one Sunday, and Jose bade his parents and sisters good-bye with tears in his eyes. Oh, how it saddened him to leave for the first time and live far from his home and his family! But he felt ashamed to cry and had to conceal his tears and sentiments. "O Shame," he explained, "how many beautiful and pathetic scenes the world would witness without thee!"
They arrived at Biñan in the evening. His brother took him to the house of his aunt where he was to stay, and left him after introducing him to the teacher. At night, in company with his aunt’s grandson named Leandro, Jose took a walk around the town in the light of the moon. To him the town looked extensive and rich but sad and ugly.
His teacher in Biñan was a severe disciplinarian. His name was Justiniano Aquino Cruz. "He was a tall man, lean and long-necked, with a sharp nose and a body slightly bent forward. He used to wear a sinamay shirt woven by the deft hands of Batangas women. He knew by memory the grammars of Nebrija and Gainza. To this add a severity which, in my judgement I have made of him, which is all I remember."
The boy Jose distinguished himself in class, and succeeded in surpassing many of his older classmates. Some of these were so wicked that, even without reason, they accused him before the teacher, for which, in spite of his progress, he received many whippings and strokes from the ferule. Rare was the day when he was not stretched on the bench for a whipping or punished with five or six blows on the open palm. Jose’s reaction to all these punishments was one of intense resentment in order to learn and thus carry out his father’s will.
Jose spent his leisure hours with Justiniano’s father-in-law, a master painter. From him he took his first two sons, two nephews, and a grandson. His way life was methodical and well regulated. He heard mass at four if there was one that early, or studied his lesson at that hour and went to mass afterwards. Returning home, he might look in the orchard for a mambolo fruit to eat, then he took his breakfast, consisting generally of a plate of rice and two dried sardines.
After that he would go to class, from which he was dismissed at ten, then home again. He ate with his aunt and then began at ten, then home again. He ate with his aunt and then began to study. At half past two he returned to class and left at five. He might play for a short time with some cousins before returning home. He studied his lessons, drew for a while, and then prayed and if there was a moon, his friends would invite him to play in the street in company with other boys.
Whenever he remembered his town, he thought with tears in his eyes of his beloved father, his idolized mother, and his solicitous sisters. Ah, how sweet was his town even though not so opulent as Biñan! He grew sad and thoughtful.
While he was studying in Biñan, he returned to his hometown now and then. How long the road seemed to him in going and how short in coming! When from afar he descried the roof of his house, secret joy filled his breast. How he looked for pretexts to remain longer at home! A day more seemed to him a day spent in heaven, and how he wept, though silently and secretly, when he saw the calesa that was flower that him Biñan! Then everything looked sad; a flower that he touched, a stone that attracted his attention he gathered, fearful that he might not see it again upon his return. It was a sad but delicate and quite pain that possessed him.
Life and Studies at Ateneo
The Jesuits were considered the best educators of Spain, and perhaps of Europe, and so, when they were permitted to return to the Philippines, although their power to administer parishes was restricted except in the remote regions of Mindanao, the privilege of founding colleges, they had to apply to the City of Manila for subsidies. That is why the college which began to function in the year 1865, was called the Ateneo Municipal.
To enter the Ateneo a candidate was subjected to an entrance examination on Christian doctrine, reading, writing, grammar, and elementary arithmetic. Jose did not take his entrance examinations Jose did not remain in Manila but returned first to his town to celebrate the fiesta of its patron saint; it was then that his father changed his mind and decided to send him to the Ateneo instead.
Since Mercado, the first surname of the family, had come under suspicion of the authorities because it was the name used by Paciano when he was studying and working with Father Burgos, in whose house he lived, Jose adopted the second surname, Rizal.
Paciano who accompanied Jose, found him a house in Walled City, but Intramuros looked gloomy to Jose, and he later found lodging outside, in the house of a spinster situated on Calle Carballo, district of Santa Cruz. As if chance would furnish him data for his future campaigns, he became acquainted in that house with various mestizos, begotten by friars.
The Jesuitical system of instruction was considered more advanced than that of other colleges in that epoch. Its discipline was rigid and its methods less mechanical. It introduced physical culture as part of its program as well as the cultivation of the arts, such as music, drawing, and painting. It also establishes vocational courses in agriculture, commerce, and mechanics as a religious institute, its principal purpose was to mold the character and the will of the boys to comply more easily with the percepts of the Church. The students heard mass before the beginning of the class, which was opened and closed with prayers.
In the first two terms the classes were divided into groups of interns and externs: the first constituted the Roman Empire and the second, the Carthaginian Empire. In each empire there were five dignitaries: Emperor, Tribune, Decurion, Centurion, and Standard-Bearer. These dignities were won by means of individual competitions in which it was necessary to catch one’s adversary in error three times. The empires considered themselves in perpetual warfare, and when an individual of one empire was caught in error by one belonging to the enemy empire, a point was counted in favor of the latter. At the end of each week or two, the points in favor of each were added and the empire, which obtained more point, was declared winner.
There was a fraternity of Mary and Saint Louis Gonzaga, to which only those who distinguished themselves in the class for their piety and diligence could belong. This fraternity met on Sundays and after mass held public programs in which poems were recited or debates were held. With all these inducements it was only natural that should be a spirit of emulation, a striving to surpass ones colleagues found in the Ateneo.
The first professor Jose had was Fr. Jose Bech, whom he describes as a man of high stature; lean body, bent forward; quick gait; ascetic physiognomy, severe and inspired; small, sunken eyes; sharp Grecian nose; thin lips forming an arch with its sides directed toward the chin." He was somewhat of a lunatic and of an uneven humor; sometimes he was hard and little tolerant and at other times he was gay and playful as a child. Among Jose’s classmates were Peninsulares and sons of Peninsulares; Francisco G. Oliva, very talented but not very studious; Joaquin Garrido, endowed with a poor memory but with much talent and industry; and Gonzalo Marzano, who occupied the throne of Emperor.
From the first days Jose learned to systematize his work; he fixed a program of what he had to do in the twenty-four hours of the day and did not in the least deviate from it. Thus he disciplined his will and subjected it to the commands of his reason.
As a newcomer, Jose was at first put at the tail of the class, but he was soon promoted and kept on being promoted so that at the end of one month he had attained to the rank of Emperor. At the end of the term he obtained marks of excellent in all the subjects and in the examinations. He had reason to feel proud of his advancement; and so when he went home on vacation that year, he ran alone to see his mother in the prison and tell her the happy news.
He must have uttered this exclamation on learning from his mother that they had played her a mean trick. The judge, who was a blind partisan of the friars having been a domestic of theirs, told her that if she confessed her culpability he would release her at once. With the desire to see her children again, she pleaded guilty; but the judge, instead of releasing her, convicted her. In a few months the judge asked her forgiveness for what he had done because according to him his conscience hurt him, but the case had no remedy because it was already on appeal.
The second year, Jose had the same professor as in the previous year; but instead of lodging outside the City, he resided at No. 6 Calle Magallanes. At the end of the term he obtained a medal, and upon returning to his town, he again visited his mother in jail alone. This was three months before her release.
The rejoicing that her release produced in his spirit had much influence on the result of his studies in the third year, for he began to win prizes in the quarterly examinations.
About that time he devoted himself to reading novels, and one of those he enjoyed most was Dumas’ (father) The Count of Monte Cristo. The sufferings of the hero of the twelve years. He also asked his father to buy him a copy of The Universal History by Cesar Cantanu, and according to himself he profited much from its perusal.
The family, who saw in Jose great aptitude for study, decided to place him as intern or boarding student in the college the following year. In the corner of the dormitory facing the sea and the pier Jose passed his two years of internship.
In the fourth year of his course he had Fr. Francisco Sanchez as professor. Jose describes him as a model of rectitude, a solicitude, and love for the student, and his studied mathematics, rhetoric, and Greek, and he must have progressed much, for at the end of the year he-obtained five medals, which pleased him immensely because with them I could repay my father somewhat for his sacrifices.
His aptitude for poetry revealed itself early, and from that time on he did not cease to cultivate it.
An incident which demonstrates Jose’s independence of character took place at this time. Fr. Leoncio Lopez, parish priest of the town, who was a great friend of his father, also liked Jose as a little friend. He was cultured but at the same time timid and tender. One day Jose’s mother showed Father Lopez a poem of his young friend and that the latter must have copied it from a book. Jose, who heard this, answered the priest violently, for which his mother reprehended him. Afterward Father Lopez came to know from the Jesuits themselves that Jose was a pupil who excelled in poetry; and, in spite of his age, made a trip to Manila expressly to apologize to Jose. That gesture of Father Lopez’ won him Jose’s esteem and they became good friends again, lending each other the books they had.
In the fifth years Jose had other professors: Frs. Vilaclara and Mineves. He studied philosophy, physics, chemistry, and natural history, but his devotion to poetry was such that his professor in philosophy advised him once to leave it, which made him cry. But in his rest hours he continued cultivating the Muses under the direction of his old professor, Father Sanchez. Jose had then written a short story (leyenda), which was only slightly corrected by his professor, and a dialogue, which was enacted at the end of the course, alluding to the collegians’ farewell. However, philosophy, just and serve, inquiring into the wherefores of things, interested him as much as poetry; physics, drawing back the veil that divine drama of nature was enacted, natural history seemed to him somewhat uninteresting although he much liked the shells and sometimes imagined seeing a goddess in each shell he was on the shelf.
Jose was considered small of stature and he tried to correct this defect by applying himself regularly to gymnastics in the college. He also engaged in other physical exercises, such as fencing. After his baccalaureate, he surprised his family with his skill in handling the sword when he gave an exhibition bout with the best swordsman of the town.
He also devoted time to painting and sculpture. In drawing and painting he was under the guidance and direction of the Ateneo professor, the Peninsula Don Augustin Saez, who honored him with his affection and consideration because of his progress. In sculpture his instructor was a Filipino, Romualdo de Jesus, who felt proud in the last years of his life of having had such an excellent pupil.