Looking over the lake, Ibarra speaks with the town’s schoolmaster, who says that the gravedigger showed him where Don Rafael’s body was dumped. The schoolmaster greatly respects Ibarra and his late father, saying that he owed Don Rafael many favors because the old man used to give his poor students scholarships to encourage them to pursue education. In Rafael’s absence, though, these children live in rags and hardly have time for their studies. Ibarra takes an interest in this dilemma, asking the schoolmaster questions about San Diego’s current education system and telling him that he isn’t asking out of “an empty curiosity.” Rather, Ibarra wants to continue his father’s efforts to empower the town by promoting secular education. “I want the religion that brought education to this society to be respected,” he says. “I want my own spirit to be inspired by what has given my life so much meaning.”
Interestingly enough, Ibarra wants to address the corruption in San Diego by using the same means that produced that corruption in the first place: religion. When he says “I want the religion that brought education to this society to be respected,” he invests himself in Catholicism’s potential to bring about good in his community. Rather than angrily wanting to abandon the church, he wants to find a way to use it to his advantage. This is because he himself has benefitted from an education informed by religion, which he expresses by saying that he wants his “own spirit to be inspired by what has given [his] life so much meaning.”
The schoolmaster assures Ibarra that his intentions are noble, but tells him that there are many obstacles standing in the way of the town’s educational success. First of all, he points out that children aren’t encouraged to aspire toward academic achievement, especially because economic concerns and the will to survive usurps their ability to dedicate themselves to intellectual pursuits. Furthermore, teachers are forced to teach children rote memorization, which is ineffective and unpleasant. Unfortunately, it is hard for the schoolmaster to change these things because of the immediate circumstances surrounding him. His classroom is beneath the parish house, meaning that the children bother the priest when they read aloud. The priest, he explains, will often storm downstairs and berate the schoolmaster, undermining the man’s authority in front of his students.
In this moment, the schoolmaster challenges Ibarra’s optimism that the church is capable of contributing positively to education. He insists that the church isolates educational institutions in an unaccommodating society, forcing teachers to sacrifice their productive lesson plans in service of religious doctrine that will hardly benefit the students. Of course, the schoolmaster doesn’t propose any alternative measures, instead resigning himself somewhat to the hopelessness of education in San Diego—a hopelessness Ibarra is eager to disprove.
The schoolmaster gives Ibarra more details regarding how the friars interfere with teaching in San Diego. Because the Spanish government decreed that all students must learn Spanish, the schoolmaster started teaching Spanish instead of using Tagalog. Several days later, though, Father Dámaso called upon him. He greeted the priest in Spanish, to which Dámaso said, “When you come to see me, it should not be in borrowed clothes. Be content to speak your own language, and don’t ruin Spanish, which is not for you.” Even though this upset the schoolmaster, he explains to Ibarra that he was forced to comply because his salary is dependent upon his relationship with the friars.
When Father Dámaso interferes with the governmental decree that all children learn Spanish, the tension between the church and state once again emerges. This time, though, it is the schoolmaster who’s caught in the middle. Because the priests pose an immediate threat to him, he’s forced to side with the church, despite the fact that doing so goes against his principles as an educator. What’s more, Dámaso’s insistence that even the schoolmaster not speak Spanish illustrates the friarocracy’s tactic of keeping Filipinos isolated from the structures of power, thereby making it impossible for townspeople to address their own oppression.
Continuing his account of education in San Diego, the schoolmaster explains to Ibarra that his encounter with Father Dámaso redoubled his motivation to be a good teacher. As such, he read many of Old Tasio’s philosophy books and discovered that the best way to teach is to refrain from using corporal punishment, since violence inspires fear rather than curiosity. His students immediately improved, and attendance increased. Unfortunately, though, Father Dámaso once again stepped in, demanding that the schoolmaster revert back to the old ways, reminding him that “according to the Holy Spirit, the word enters only with the blood.” The priest also threatened to tell the mayor if the schoolmaster didn’t obey his orders. To make matters worse, the entire community—including the students’ parents—rallied behind Dámaso and advocated for the old method. As such, the schoolmaster reverted to corporal punishment, and his students once again hated school.
The retaliation the schoolmaster had to face from the parents of his students clearly shows the extent to which the friars have manipulated the townspeople to reject measures that might lead to their own empowerment. It’s easy to see that encouraging students to aspire toward a healthy education would only enable Filipinos to climb the socioeconomic ladder, but people like Father Dámaso have so much influence over the town that anything he deems out of step with religious doctrine is immediately met with scorn. As such, Rizal demonstrates the power of the church to interfere with the community’s growth.
The schoolmaster tells Ibarra that even the new priest, Father Salví, interferes in the classroom, often reminding the teacher that his first duty is to teach religion. Having heard this story, Ibarra says, “Don’t be so pessimistic.” He tells the schoolmaster that Don Filipo—the liberally-inclined deputy mayor—has invited him to a meeting at the city hall. “Who knows but that there you will get an answer to your questions,” he says mysteriously.
Ibarra maintains his optimism that education in San Diego can be reformed by working within the current systems of power. He emphasizes this viewpoint by believing that he will be able to make a difference by attending a city hall meeting—a belief that assumes the government will, unlike the church, make room for rational thought.