Rizal holds up education as a way of overcoming oppression. Ibarra, who is a respected figure because of the fact that he studied in Europe, fiercely advocates the importance of intellect and education by building a school in San Diego. In doing so, he seeks to give the townspeople a means of empowerment outside the context of the church. Unfortunately, though, the friars are suspicious of such endeavors, so Ibarra must convince them that his educational ambitions are closely related to their own religious values. When it becomes clear that his allegiances do not lie with the church, however, the friars do everything in their power to covertly derail his effort to spread secular knowledge. As such, Rizal pits religion and education against one another, portraying religion as an oppressive force and education as a liberating force in the colonized Philippines.
San Diego’s friars are fearful of education’s power to liberate natives from the church’s control. Tasio, for example, is an old man who disregards religion in favor of philosophy and reason, for which the church labels him a madman. This is a defensive move that demonstrates to the other citizens that anybody who doesn’t believe what the church says will be seen as crazy and untrustworthy. Knowing his own reputation, Tasio advises Ibarra not to associate with him, since it will only discredit Ibarra’s project to build a school. In saying this, Tsaio recognizes that there are certain repercussions that come along with devoting oneself to unpopular modes of thought, but that building a school (and offering education) is more important than his own dignity. Nonetheless, Ibarra bristles at Tsaio instructing him to appease authority figures by asking permission at each step of building the school. “Can’t I carry my idea forward without a shadow hanging over it?” he asks. “Can’t good triumph over everything, and truth not need to dress in the borrowed clothes of error?” When he refers to the “borrowed clothes of error,” he means that education is an intrinsically valuable pursuit, one that is so “good” that it shouldn’t need to disguise itself as part of a flawed governmental and religious system.
Although it is unwise of Ibarra not to recognize the importance of working with the Spanish colonial powers, he is right that the friars stifle education and stand in the way of allowing students to grow. Their presence is unfortunately ever-present and limiting. For example, the schoolmaster tells Ibarra that even the physical conditions of his classroom invite the church’s unproductive scrutiny; the school is beneath the parish house, and sometimes the priest comes down to yell at the children while they learn. This emphasizes the inescapable influence of the friars by demonstrating how even the physical layout of the town—in which the classroom is beneath the parish house—is designed to empower friars to censor all forms of secular life. This censorship goes beyond the friar’s annoyance at the classroom’s noise. Father Dámaso interferes with the schoolmaster’s attempts to teach the children Spanish, telling him, “Be content to speak your own language, and don’t ruin Spanish, which is not for you.” This, despite the fact that the Spanish government “decreed” that Philippine natives be taught Spanish. The contradiction makes sense in the context of the friars’ wish to control the townspeople, since if Filipinos exist in a society ruled by Spaniards but can’t speak Spanish themselves, then they must depend on the church to be their connection to the government. Indeed, this is why the friars interfere with the process of education. When the schoolmaster decides to stop using corporal punishment in his classroom, for instance, he finds that his students start enjoying the process of learning and vastly improve in their studies. Yet again, though, Father Dámaso steps in to stunt the children’s growth, telling the schoolmaster he must revert back to the old ways. As a result, the students revert to disliking school, and even stop attending.
In this manner, Rizal shows that, though education could lead to positive change in the Philippines, the church curtails its effectiveness. In keeping with his view that the best way forward is for the country to reform the corrupt system rather than completely destroy it, Ibarra takes Tasio’s advice. He tells the schoolmaster that he wants “the religion that brought education to this society to be respected.” As such, he frames education as a pursuit that is naturally linked to the church itself. Unfortunately, Ibarra undermines his own tactic with his eventual violent outburst at Father Dámaso, which reveals to the friars that Ibarra does not actually believe education stands to benefit from the influence of religion. In the end, Ibarra is unable to see his project through because he is deemed a subversive heretic before completing the building of the school. This is yet another example of how the church disrupts positive social change in Noli Me Tangere.
Education Quotes in Noli Me Tangere
“Because sane people,” he went on with a bitter irony, “will think you are crazy, too. People believe that madness is when you don’t think as they do, which is why they take me for a madman. And I’m grateful for that, because, well, the day on which they restore my reason is the day they deprive me of the small bit of freedom I’ve purchased at the price of a reputation as a sane person. And who knows if they are right? I neither think nor live according to their laws. My principles, my ideals, are different. Among them the mayor enjoys a reputation as a sane individual, since he has not learned anything more than how to serve chocolate and suffer Father Dámaso’s ill humor.”