Simón Rodríguez’s writings are within the richest and most powerful in the Latin American nineteenth century. Over his entire written works, Rodríguez maintains an absolutely novel concept regarding popular education. Through this idea, the author denies the very identity principle of each educational institution of the time. The Latin American school in the mid-eighteenth century and early-nineteenth century consists of a diverse group of schooling institutions. Each one accepts within a determined kind of population according to certain identity criteria established by a caste system. In this context, different schools are created throughout the colony for the castes that comprise the Spanish Empire. Schools for rich white boys, for poor white boys, schools for girls according to their stratum and social place, schools for boys part of the natives’ nobility, for the children of common natives that could not show nobility by birth, schools for mestizos, and schools for orphans (Gonzálbo Aizpurú 2005; Querejazu 2012). Admissions, as well as the contents taught in each one of them, were determined and oriented according to the identity of the school population for which they were conceived. Thus, we could say that the school environment is structured on the basis of a complex class interaction system built over the principle of identity. Each one of these schools requires this principle as a condition for admission and accepting of a student. Thus, educational institutions ensure the preservation and replication of a determined social and political order typified by a division in hierarchies of the people that comprise it. This system did not experience significant variations during the early years of the republic and most of the nineteenth century. The idea of popular education coined by Rodríguez breaks with this schooling order as it entails the unfolding of a radical equalitarian principle, powerful and unknown until that moment. Rodríguez’s Popular Education not only denies the identity principle held by the rest of the institutions, but it also affirms a completely different principle from which to open new paths to consider education for the people of America. Based on this concept, the author develops an educational project unprecedented in the continent. Rodríguez upholds an educational project that is equalitarian, welcoming, and irreverent. Popular Education regarding Rodríguez’s work affirms equality as a starting point for each and every one of his students. According to this point of view, no student is worth more than the other. His schools have no distinctions regarding caste, creed, lineage, or sex. They are all equal. It is on this statement that the welcoming feature of popular education is based on. According to Rodríguez, every boy and girl in the city enters school without any identity requirements. Unlike traditional schools, which have strict admission criteria based on the students’ identity, Rodríguez unconditionally opens his school to all children in the city. Finally, the irreverent feature of popular education lies precisely in the fact that, within it, respect is not based on fear, distinctions, or superiority of any kind. Given the equalitarian and welcoming features of popular education, no kind of subduing is allowed within.
Popular Education, the Philosophical Name of a Novelty
The Bolivian city of Chuquisaca was an area ruled and structured in hierarchies. The system of division and classification of human beings based on an alleged racial composition was in full force in the early-nineteenth century. Its schools were a reflection of the city and the system. Rodríguez broke that order by creating and spreading an equalitarian principle implied in the inclusion, in the same classroom, of all children as equals.
“Education for all, because they are all citizens” (Rodríguez 1999, p. 284) is the representation of this statement which meant the dissolution of an unequal environment and the opening of another environment in Chuquisaca and Latin America. In American Societies in 1828 he wrote on this matter. There, he states “… even if work is done to remove from peoples the idea they have on their fate, nothing can be accomplished unless they feel the effects of moving” (Rodríguez 1999, p. 271). From his point of view, equality and inequality of the people rest, ultimately, in the choices each person makes to that respect and their consequences. Thus, his “Education for all, because they all are citizens.” Such statement assumes, unlike educational projects of the time, that citizenship, understood as a political concept that expresses equality among men and women, can be found in the very beginning of the schooling process. It is not a school that creates citizens, but one that affirms their opportunity. All children of the city, boys and girls, are citizens, are equal, and are therefore admitted to the new school.
Equality in Rodríguez’s school is axiomatic in nature for it takes root and follows the logic derivative of its consequences. In other words, it is a constant claim from which a coherent practice emerges. It is a statemental dimension and not a program. For Rodríguez, equality is not something to be attained in the near future, but a part of the order of what is. It constitutes an appearance in an environment where inequality prevails and he upholds the abolition of that very environment along with the chance to create a new one.
Rodríguez’s school, in its equalitarian claim, not only allows any and all to enter but provides time for studies to those who, until then, had to use it to work. Time off from social and work duties is offered in a radical and unconditional manner there. Unlike other schools which offer free time to those who already have it by birth, money or gender, Rodríguez’s school provides it for all based on the aforementioned principle of equality.
Such a gesture is unprecedented in Latin American education. So novel was the action taken in Chuquisaca that the common educational knowledge of the time was insufficient to name what took place. Authorities and local oligarchy employed terms such as “place of doom,” “brothel,” “whorehouse,” “stunned Frenchman,” “madman,” “nun kidnapper,” and “child corruptor” to talk about the school and the teacher. They never used educational concepts or any other knowledge related to the school.
Rodríguez was aware of the novelty that took place in Chuquisaca. What happened in his school was different from any other known school. New concepts were required to name what took place there. In this sense, he wrote “all foundations are pious… – some for foundlings, others for orphans, others for noble girls, others for sons of the military, others for the disabled… in all of them charity is mentioned: they were not made for the common good but for the salvation of the founder or the flaunting of the Ruler” (Rodríguez 1999, p. 358).
For him, common knowledge from institutional schools was not appropriate to show what happened in Chuquisaca, precisely because his project was something completely new for the political and social situation in which it was applied. In his own words “the establishment set in Bolivia is social, its combination is new, in a word it is the Republic” (ibidem). It was necessary to create a concept that, up to that point, escaped any educational terminology. His call to philosophy may be read in this sense. In American Societies he wrote “public teaching in the ninteenth century asks for a lot of philosophy: common interest claims for a reform and… America is called, by the circumstances, to undertake it” (1999, p. 234).
The school, his school, needs philosophy. For Rodríguez there is a close relation between theory, concepts, facts, and life in general. In the case in point, philosophy thinks, argues, criticizes, and conceptualizes what took place in his school. It is the ground for his decision to break apart from the traditional educational order and creating a new one. Ultimately, it is that through which Rodríguez justified a way of acting and living (Kohan 2014). According to his interpretation of American reality in his school in Chuquisaca, a problem existed for which there were no proper concepts to notice it. The presence of boys and girls from the different castes as equals created a political anomaly within education. That is to say, something new and unnamed was introduced from a decision. This incursion opened a new setting that was unthinkable with the concepts and teaching methods of the time. New concepts were required as well as the commitment to uphold them before the battering of tradition and conservatism.
Popular education in Rodríguez’s work fulfills that double role. On the one hand, it is the philosophical name through which Rodríguez conceptualizes this dimension of equality materialized in the presence of all the boys and girls of the city in his school. It is a theoretical construction from which he shows a decision that guided the rest of his life and constitutes the strongest invention of his ideas. It was a new concept that showed a new school in America. A public, equal, irreverent, and welcoming school. One that “combines knowledge and life, one that teaches people how to live, which means teaching them how to be active, animated, self-sufficient people” (Kohan 2014).
Militant Life: The Popular Teacher
On the other hand, Popular Education is an expression of a militant life. That idea is shown through his whole life as the foundation of any emancipation process of the people, for the people, and by the people in a radical and intransigent manner. Beyond relevant conveniences, Mr. Simón upheld Popular Education in each and every action and place. He always argued, debated, wrote, and proposed Popular Education. In his last writing An extract from Republican Education (Rodríguez 1999) published between April and May in 1849 in Neo Grandino, it is possible to clearly see this committed gesture that supports a way of life dedicated to equal education for all. In the beginning of this text published six years prior to his death, he writes: “I have been talking and writing both publicly and privately about the republican system for twenty-four years, and the fruit of all my good actions has been the title of MADMAN” (225). Failure, mockery, ostracism, and coldness had been his companions since the failed experience of Chuquisaca. Few were those who listened to him, even less those who read him. The only appeal the old philosopher showed, walking erratically through the American continent, was the title of “teacher of the liberator.” Everything showed the most definite failure of his ideas. Rodríguez himself seemed to confirm it in his writing. However, it is not so. The text continues, the paragraph ends in a fiery, challenging, potent, and why not, militant statement. Rodríguez, exhausted and full of failures upon him raises his pen once more and writes: “Children and madmen speak the truth” (ibidem). Far from quitting, changing, or betraying his ideas, he raised the odds and claimed them as truths.
This project of Popular Education, which Rodríguez puts into practice and defends during his whole life, is a revolutionary invention in the Latin American ninteenth century. Within it there is a new meaning to the position of those teaching, learning, and of what is taught. In relation to those learning, as we have said, the basis is equality as a true fact of reality. This simple fact is carved in a devastating manner within a tradition that wants to remain and blows it away. As for content, Rodríguez’s work does not provide a body of specific ideas and doctrines to be taught or learnt beyond setting relations between work, political life, and knowledge. The only possible exceptions are some remarks in Friendly advices to the School of Latacunga (Rodríguez 1999:) and a comment to the note in page number 10 of Defense of Bolívar (Rodríguez 1999). Finally, the standpoint of the person who teaches is reimagined from two models of teaching: the horn teacher (Rodríguez 1999, p. 233) and the teacher that makes knowledge available to all (Rodríguez 1999, p. 63).
The horn teacher is the teacher that comes from tradition, concerned with dropping knowledge foreign to the art of living. They are people interested in their own knowledge, with no sensitivity for others’ feeling, thinking, knowing, and living. For this he writes: “as proof that hoarding knowledge alien to the art of living nothing has been made to shape social behavior – observe how many spoiled wise men inhabit the land of sciences” (Rodríguez 1999, p. 104). They are individualistic wise men that can do little for thinking, creating, and developing a school that teaches how to live as the popular school intends.
As an answer to horn teachers, Rodríguez places the teacher of all, the popular teacher. For Rodríguez, the popular teacher that inhabits the new school is the one concerned with making knowledge available to all. Unlike the horn teacher, locked within himself, the popular teacher is one that volunteers unconditionally to his students and their needs with the aim to “INSPIRE some, ROUSE others, the DESIRE of KNOWLEDGE” (Rodríguez 1999, p. 17). He does not provide a particular knowledge but is concerned with teaching how to learn. He creates in his students a different relationship with knowledge and its output, places them as beings capable of understanding, questioning, and creating knowledge relative to the life each person wants to have. To summarize, as Kohan says, the popular teacher: “is he who creates in others the desire to understand and transform his own and others’ life” (Kohan 2014).
These notions of education, school, and popular teacher are materialized in the city of Chuquisaca with Bolívar’s support. The project only lasts a few months. The oligarchy in the city spread a series of ill intended rumors regarding Rodríguez and his work. These defamatory statements come with a series of disagreements with the government of the Republic which caused Rodríguez’s resignation to his position and the closing of the school. A few months after leaving his position, Rodríguez left the Republic of Bolivia and set on a journey that would take him through Chile, Ecuador, and Peru.
As he did in Europe, everywhere he went he worked as a teacher. Always in the company of two trunks where he kept his writings, he traversed different countries communicating his idea of a school for all. He practically lived in misery. He never accepted charity; he only asked for work. Ever faithful to his ideas and friends, he tirelessly repeated the need for a popular education project.
Eventually, he managed to publish his writings with little success. Most of them were partially published and distributed in installments. In the city of Arequipa, he published an early version of what would later be American Societies in 1828. In 1830, he publishes The liberator of America’s noon and his brothers in arms defended by a friend of the social cause and Comments on the land of Vincocaya in relation to the endeavor of deviating the natural course of its waters and drive them through the Zumbai River to Arequipa. In the city of Concepción, Chile, he published Social lights and virtues for the first time in 1834. He published Social lights and virtues in the city of Valparaíso, Chile, in 1840. That year, in the same city, he published a series of eleven articles in the newspaper The Mercury entitled “Parties” along with an “Extract to the Defense of Bolívar.” In the city of Lima, Peru, in 1842 he published the second edition of American Societiesin 1828. How will the coming centuries be and how they can be. In 1843, he published six issues of a work entitled “Critics to the Measures of the Government.” In Bogotá, the newspaper The Neo-Granadino published in issues 38, 39, and 40 during April and May 1849 “A short extract of my work on Republican Education.” This is his last publication while he was alive.
Exhausted, practically forgotten by all and very ill he arrived to the town of Amotape. The town priest, regarding him as a heretic, did not grant him entrance. He was forced to stay in a ruined house in the outskirts of town. He was accompanied by Camilo Gómez. The next morning the priest was asked to come to the bed of the teacher who is at death’s door. He finally died in the Peruvian town of Amotape on February 28, 1854. Some biographers tell that in his deathbed, instead of confessing and requesting the last rites from the town priest, Rodríguez decided to perform a materialistic dissertation in which he recalls the Oath Bolívar had made before the teacher not to rest until the continent was emancipated from Spanish power. According to those who support this version, the last Rodriguean gesture is proof of his faithfulness to the promise of liberation to which he dedicated his life. It is true that there are no solid data that may confirm this version. However, his writings, along with all biographic documents kept are more than sufficient evidence of the strength, courage, coherence, and creativity of a man who, with his way of life, transformed education in his time.
- Escobari de Querejazu, L. (2012). Cacique, yanaconas y extravagantes. Sociedad y educación colonial en Charcas s. XVI-XVIII. La Paz: Plural Editores.Google Scholar
- Gonzalbo Aizpuru, P. (2005). Historia de la Educación en la Época Colonial. La educación de los criollos y la vida urbana. La Ciudad de Mexico, Mexico: Colegio de México.Google Scholar
- Kohan, W. (2014). El maestro inventor: Simón Rodríguez. Buenos Aires: Miño y Dávila.Google Scholar
- Lasheras, J. (2004). Simón Rodríguez: maestro ilustrado y político socialista. Caracas: Universidad Nacional Experimental Simón Rodríguez, Ed. Rectorado.Google Scholar
- Rodríguez, S. (1999). Obras Completas. 2 vols. Caracas: Presidencia de la República.Google Scholar