Chapter 13:

The Class in Physics

(English version of “El Filibusterismo”)

The classroom was a spacious rectangular hall with large grated windows that admitted an abundance of light and air.  Along the two sides extended three wide tiers of stone covered with wood, filled with students arranged in alphabetical order.  At the end opposite the entrance, under a print of St. Thomas Aquinas, rose the professor’s chair on an elevated platform with a little stairway on each side.  With the exception of a beautiful blackboard in a narra frame, scarcely ever used, since there was still written on it the viva that had appeared on the opening day, no furniture, either useful or useless, was to be seen.  The walls, painted white and covered with glazed tiles to prevent scratches, were entirely bare, having neither a drawing nor a picture, nor even an outline of any physical apparatus.  The students had no need of any, no one missed the practical instruction in an extremely experimental science; for years and years it has been so taught and the country has not been upset, but continues just as ever.  Now and then some little instrument descended from heaven and was exhibited to the class from a distance, like the monstrance to the prostrate worshipers—look, but touch not! From time to time, when some complacent professor appeared, one day in the year was set aside for visiting the mysterious laboratory and gazing from without at the puzzling apparatus arranged in glass cases.  No one could complain, for on that day there were to be seen quantities of brass and glassware, tubes, disks, wheels, bells, and the like—the exhibition did not get beyond that, and the country was not upset.  

Besides, the students were convinced that those instruments had not been purchased for them—the friars would be fools! The laboratory was intended to be shown to the visitors and the high officials who came from the Peninsula, so that upon seeing it they would nod their heads with satisfaction, while their guide would smile, as if to say, Eh, you thought you were going to find some backward monks! Well, we’re right up with the times—we have a laboratory!

The visitors and high officials, after being handsomely entertained, would then write in their Travels or Memoirs: The Royal and Pontifical University of Santo Tomas of Manila, in charge of the enlightened Dominican Order, possesses a magnificent physical laboratory for the instruction of youth.  Some two hundred and fifty students annually study this subject, but whether from apathy, indolence, the limited capacity of the Indian, or some other ethnological or incomprehensible reason, up to now there has not developed a Lavoisier, a Secchi, or a Tyndall, not even in miniature, in the Malay-Filipino race.

Yet, to be exact, we will say that in this laboratory are held the classes of thirty or forty advanced students, under the direction of an instructor who performs his duties well enough, but as the greater part of these students come from the Ateneo of the Jesuits, where science is taught practically in the laboratory itself, its utility does not come to be so great as it would be if it could be utilized by the two hundred and fifty who pay their matriculation fees, buy their books, memorize them, and waste a year to know nothing afterwards.  As a result, with the exception of some rare usher or janitor who has had charge of the museum for years, no one has ever been known to get any advantage from the lessons memorized with so great effort.


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