South America - A Popular History - H. Butterworth

Education in the Republics


The history of the progress of Argentina along educational lines is that of Sarmiento, who once said: "The primary school is the foundation of national character."

This man read the works of Horace Mann, and visited the great apostle of education in America. The friendship between him and Mr. and Mrs. Mann and Miss Elizabeth Palmer Peabody had a great influence on his own character, and through him, as the great educational President, upon Argentina. Senator Sumner was Sarmiento's friend during his diplomatic life. His biography has been written by Mrs. Mary Mann, who has also translated from the Spanish his Civilization and Barbarism, under the title of Life in the Argentine.

He founded in Argentina the North American Normal School, a sign which was long seen in some of the principal cities, and the work of which prepared the way for universal education not only in Buenos Ayres but in the lands of the Andes. On one of the reliefs of his tomb in the recoleta  of Buenos Ayres he is represented as a schoolmaster, with the children of the republic around him.

His history reads like a romance, especially as interpreted by the sympathetic pen of Mary Mann. The influences of Mrs. Mann and of her sister, Miss Peabody, live in Argentina, and that of the latter has found new expression in the growth of the kindergarten.

Don Domingo F. Sarmiento was born in 1811. His family was a worthy one, but had suffered from war. He was descended on one side from a Saracen chief. His education was of the best, and his early accomplishments were many.

He describes his education in his address at the laying of the corner-stone of the Sarmiento School in San Juan, in 1864. I quote from Mrs. Mann's translation. "The inspiration to consecrate myself to the education of the people came to me here in my youth. My, labor of thirty years, that of serving the countries where I resided with schools, turns now to its point of departure, to the very simple idea of the importance of primary-school education over all other education, to insure the happiness of nations. If I had been born in Buenos Ayres or Cordova, or in Santiago de Chili, the primary education of this part of the country would not have arrived at this point, when all are striving for that end. I should have been pre-occupied with the brilliant university, and should have aspired to its honors. But I was born and educated amid the people of a province where there was no other education than that of the public school; and the escuela de la patria  was one of the first order, without a rival in any private one, conducted by a man so respected by the people and the government that at that time the school-master was looked upon as one of the first magistrates of the province. Observe, then, by what singular circumstances the school, as an institution, was destined to acquire in my mind that supreme importance which I have never ceased to give it; and how, at the close of my travels, I found in the United States that the school occupied the same place as in San Juan, and brought forth like results. The truth is that the first ideas in the child's mind keep the same relative position always, and, however slightly they meet with confirmation, grow and develop, and determine the career in life. If I should express all my thoughts I should say that the school of la patria, in San Juan, associated in my mind with the recollections of the only form of education with which I was acquainted, went forth with me from this province, and accompanied me in all my wanderings. In Chili it took the form of normal schools; in Europe I connected it with the study of legislation; in the United States with the spectacle of its wonderful results, of its temple school-houses, and of the prominent place it holds among the institutions of that country. In Buenos Ayres I reproduced it as a seed sown in good ground, and I return to do the same to-day in San Juan, by reestablishing the school of la patria, completed as an educational institution, and also as a democratic one, and I bring to it all the acquisitions made in my long and various travels. No longer confined to three halls that contained in all but three hundred pupils, we have here an edifice that will enable us to throw off the swaddling-clothes of infancy. To-day we lay the stone which consecrates to education these beginnings of an unfinished temple. And that you may see how advanced ideas have grown, I will repeat to you what I have replied to those who have wished this edifice kept to its first destination, and who yet abandoned it to sterility and destruction.

"At the corner of the next block, thirty steps from here, thirty years ago, I was a merchant's clerk, and here pursued my solitary studies. Even at that time I saw that a spacious school-house might be erected within these walls, and, with your assistance, I now realize my thought after the delay of so many years."

Of the influence of certain books on his life he says: "From that time I read every book that fell into my hands, without arrangement, with no other guide than the chance which brought them to me, or the knowledge I had acquired of their existence in the scanty libraries of San Juan. The first was the 'Life of Cicero' by Middleton, with very fine plates, and in that book I lived a long time with the Romans. If I had then had half the means of doing it, I should have studied law to make myself an advocate and to defend causes like that distinguished orator, who was the object of my passionate love. The second was the 'Life of Franklin,' and no book has ever done me more good. The 'Life of Franklin' was to me what 'Plutarch's Lives' was to Rousseau, Henry IV., Mme. Roland, and so many others. I felt myself to be Franklin; and why not? I was very poor, like him; I studied, like him; and following in his footsteps, I might one day come, like him, to be a doctor ad honorem, and to make for myself a place in letters and American politics. The 'Life of Franklin' should be in every primary school. His example is so inspiring, the career he ran so glorious, that there would not be a boy at all well inclined who would not try to be a little Franklin, through that noble tendency of the human mind to imitate models of perfection that commend themselves to it."

His family was obliged to flee to Chili during the revolutions in San Juan. He there became a teacher, and also followed other occupations. He continued his studies. His thirst for knowledge was insatiable. It is said that for sixty days he translated a volume a day of the works of Sir Walter Scott. While this is without doubt an exaggeration, the statement will convey some idea of his industry in literary work.

In 1836 he returned to San Juan destitute, as one coming back from exile. He sought the society of educators, and founded there a college for young ladies. Its life lasted only two years, but furnished a model for the future. Here he had a library of the most scholarly works, which he carefully studied. He mastered the literature of the world.

His methods of a long self-education he thus describes: "It was in 1837 that I learned Italian, in company with young Rawson, whose talents had then begun to show themselves strikingly.

"Several years afterward, when editing the Mecorio  in Santiago de Chili, I familiarized myself with Portuguese, which is very easy. In Paris, still later, I shut myself up fifteen days with a German grammar and dictionary, and translated six pages to the satisfaction of an intelligent man who gave me lessons. That supreme effort left me an incomplete scholar, although I thought I had caught the structure of that rebellious idiom.

"I taught French to many persons for the sake of spreading good reading among them; and to sundry of my friends I taught it without giving them lessons. To put them in the path which I had trodden, I said: 'You must not fail to study—I am coming.' And when I saw their self-love fairly piqued, I gave them a few lessons upon the way to study for themselves."

He again emigrated to Chili with the intention of founding a college there. The idea of public education made his feet restless. He had but one vision. It was like that of Horace Mann. It dominated his life.

The states of South America became jealous of their heroes and national glory. Chili had caused to be erased from her historic records the noble name of the unconquerable Argentine, San Martin. The chivalrous soul of Sarmiento was fired by the injustice. He wrote anew the true history of this man's deeds. He carried public opinion with him. The equestrian statue of San Martin now faces the Andes from, the beautiful boulevard of Santiago. Sarmiento now became an editor, and thus sought to educate public opinion. He endeavored to organize primary instruction in Chili. He wrote the first spelling-book with accents, and founded the "Monitor for Schools." In 1842 he founded the first normal school in South America, and for a time brought to it his own varied learning. In 1843 he founded the first paper that was printed in Santiago de Chili. It was called El Progreso  ("The Progress").

He was persecuted in Chili by some who were jealous of him. Envy called him a "foreigner." Slander made his life miserable. His person was in danger, but he lived in his purpose, and his purpose lived in him. His ambition was to be the apostle of education.

He went to Europe. He there met Thiers, Guizot, Humboldt and Cobden. In the latter he found a congenial spirit. In England he met with the great educational report of Horace Mann. Here, too, he found a twin soul, and from his thought knew his brother worker in the interests of mankind. He returned to South America with a stronger enthusiasm for education. He succeeded in obtaining for educational purposes in Buenos Ayres $127,000, and erected a model school building in that city, which exerted a powerful influence on the thought of the whole country. In 1860 he had the satisfaction of seeing 17,279 children in Buenos Ayres in the public schools. "Give me the department of schools," he said; "this is all the future of the republic." In 1858 he was elected a senator from Buenos Ayres, and secured an appropriation of lands worth $1,000,000 for public education.

Venezuela Railroad


He became a great leader of the liberal party, and minister of state. He was assigned by the national government to the office of minister to the United States. Here he met the great educators of North America. On his return he was elected President of the Argentine Republic. He led the country into that period that will be remembered as the golden age of its history. He made education the glory of Argentina, and did a similar work in Chili and Peru.

He died at Asuncion, Paraguay, September 11, 1888. His life was one of beneficence. Under his influence the republic made use of her great opportunity. The children of the country will ever honor his name. The progress of education in South America has largely followed the views of Sarmiento, who especially valued the primary and the normal school.

The population of the South American republics is now increasing so rapidly that statistics are altered yearly, but the following facts from recent official reports will give the reader a view of the educational field outside of the Argentine Republic:

BOLIVIA. 1893.—Area, 784,544 square miles; divided into 9 departments, the littoral being occupied by Chili; population, 2,333,350, of which 1,000,000 are Indians of pure blood, and 600,000 are creoles; schools, 493, and 4 universities.

BRAZIL. 1893.—Area, 3,251,829 English square miles; divided into 20 states; population uncertain, but exceeding 14,000,000; immigration in 1891, 216,659; schools, public, private and normal, 7500, with 300,000 pupils; especial attention given to primary and normal-school education.

CHILI. 1893.—Area, 290,828 square miles, divided into 23 provinces; population, 2,817,552 (now 3,267,441); 1201 free public schools, with 101,954 pupils; national library, 70,000 volumes.

COLUMBIA.—Area, 504,773 English square miles; population, 4,000,000, including 220,000 Indians; schools, 16 normal, 1734 primary; primary education free.

ECUADOR.—Area, 248,350 square miles; divided into 17 provinces; population, 1,272,065; schools, 856, with 1137 teachers; 17 journals are published in the republic.

PARAGUAY.—Area, 88,807 square miles; population, 600,000; primary schools compulsory; the Normal College has 15 professors.

PERU.—Area uncertain, estimated at 483,147 square miles; population, 2,621,844; schools, 1177 primary; library of University of Lima, 20,000 volumes.

URUGUAY.—Area, 72,172 square miles; population, 706,524; schools, 470 primary; primary education compulsory between the ages of six and fourteen; the normal school has 19 professors.

VENEZUELA.—Area, 599,538 square miles; population, 2,323,527; schools, 1415; primary instruction obligatory.