The American School - History

CHAPTER I: 1898 – 1919

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  One result of the Spanish-American War of 1898 was the Spanish loss of the Philippines, which became in effect an American colony. At that time, there were already some British and American traders living in Manila. Soon, however, large numbers of American government employees and military personnel began to arrive with their families.  Philippines
One of the major objectives of the new administration was to set up a system of public education for Filipinos. To accomplish this, the Bureau of Education was established almost immediately, and recruiting drives for teachers and teach-trainers were launched across the United States. 

In the very early days of the Occupation, the American Public School was created. It was located in Intramuros, still the center of Manila, and although it was financed and administered by the Philippine Bureau of Education, it was reserved exclusively for American children. Governor Taft’s children attended this school, and Mrs. Taft’s letters to friends back home indicate that she was entirely happy with the school. Since Spanish was the language of the local business community, Spanish was taught at the school as a matter of course. In all other aspects, the school followed an American curriculum. The climate and the Spanish custom of a long mid-day lunch and rest dictated school hours: 7:30am to 12:30pm. Fathers dropped their children off at school on their way to work in the morning, and picked them up again on the way home for lunch. Curiously, schools for Filipino children always had afternoon sessions, perhaps because they were learning English. Climate also dictated the school year: classes opened in early June when the rains began and it was cooler; schools closed down late in March, before the important Easter holiday period and the onset of the hottest months. 

The enormity of financing the public school system soon led the Colonial Administration to one economy measure – the American Public School was closed, and privately-run schools took over. Inevitably there was a social and economic division: children of senior government officials, high-raking military personnel and successful businessmen attended these private schools; other American children fitted into the public school system as best they could. 

There was obviously no magic formula for a successful private school in those days. Schools opened, closed, moved and re-opened with amazing speed. None of these schools was located in a building actually intended to be a school, but they all advertised American curriculum and teachers, and Spanish classes. In 1901, there was a school on Calle Victoria in Intramuros; then the schools began to move away from this area, across the Luneta towards Ermita. In 1904, the English-speaking population of Manila was estimated at 5,000 and most were Americans. By 1908, one school boasted of 236 students in primary, intermediate and secondary levels. This school was located in an old archbishop’s palace at the corner of Calle Nozaleda and Herran (now Gen. Luna and Pedro Gil). This school lasted somewhat longer than most; the boys at the school must have loved its location, close to Paco Fire Station and a few blocks from Nozaleda Ballpark where they could have a pick-up game of baseball during recess. Privately-owned schools such as these came and went until very early in 1920, when both the Bentley School and Miss Brent’s School for Girls realized they could no longer afford to stay open. Nearly all of these early schools from 1898-1919 had been called the American School, but none had a connection with our own school. The name was used by the schools’ owners to indicate that the students and curriculum were American. 

The one exception to this succession of schools was Central School (later Bordner) which was opened in 1914. It was a public high school under the administration of the Bureau of Education, but it was reserved for the use of American citizens. Later, Central expanded to include elementary grades as well. It is useful to understand something about Central’s history in order to follow the development of the American School. Central was public, therefore, tax-supported. Its building was constructed as a school, and Central even had access to some of the teachers recruited from the United States; it did not have to rely totally on locally-hired teachers. But there were some difficulties. As a public school, all eligible students (i.e., American citizens) were supposed to be admitted, and overcrowding soon became rampant. Secondly, many children had American fathers and therefore American citizenship, but their mothers were not Americans; these students’ language patterns and home environments frequently reflected the mother’s Filipino or Spanish influence. By 1920, out of a total enrollment of 600, slightly more than half of the students were mestizo, and some parents felt that the intended all-American character of Central was being diluted. 

After the American School began in 1920, Central was its constant rival. A.S. was smaller, private and accused of being elitist; Central was much larger, had better facilities and its students felt academically superior. But everyone at the American School had neighbors, friends and sometimes even relatives at Central. One was the alternative to the other, both serving the foreign community in Manila. Until the war engulfed the Philippines in late 1941, the schools were closely connected, and in the interment camp, faculty from both the American School and Central joined together and continued teaching students from the two schools who were interned.

Chapter II
Early History of the American School (1920 - 40)
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