When the Sarmientine precept of “educating the sovereign” was strictly fulfilled

The first centenary of the May Revolution was approaching and the country that barely half a century ago had been practically a desert was preparing to celebrate the miracle of unlimited prosperity. In so few decades it had multiplied its population, planted its immense territory with means of transportation that linked hundreds of new towns and cities, opened theaters and other cultural centers that competed with the first in the world, built large hospitals and inaugurated beautiful parks. Above all, he had persevered in the idea of ​​taking public education to the highest level, through new universities, polytechnic institutes and normal schools, after ensuring that even in the smallest and most remote population centers the Sarmiento precept of ” educate the sovereign.

By 1910, not a few of the children of immigrants who had arrived in Argentina with their hands Empty, they were notable professionals, they practiced journalism, they shone in the scientific field, they generated industries and gave luster to their surnames, which in certain cases were incorporated over time into the respective urban nomenclatures.

It was understandable that the rulers wanted to show the world the product of the effort collective, of the achievements of each of the inhabitants, from the highest to the most modest.

And it was also that the first nations of the Earth decided to join the festivities of the centenary through its presidents, extraordinary ambassadors, military delegations and leading figures of world culture.

Spain wanted to be represented by a member of the Royal House and the Infanta Isabel came de Borbón, the famous Chata, aunt of Alfonso XIII, who received many entertainments and was with President José Figueroa Alcorta in the great military parade and in the Centenary Naval Parade.

In his entourage were several journalists, including Alfredo Escobar and Ramírez, Marquis de Valdeiglesias, director of the Madrid newspaper La Época, who, after punctually sending his notes on that great and multifaceted celebration, decided to gather them in a book entitled Trip of her Royal Highness the Infanta Doña Isabel to Buenos Aires, May 1910.

Beyond the chronicle he made of those events, it is appropriate to point out the admiration who woke up in it the visit to some schools of the city of Buenos Aires. Sensation that surely would have aroused not a few establishments in other Argentine cities.

Accompanied by the former Minister of Foreign Affairs and of Justice and Public InstructionIn addition to being a brilliant legislator and journalist, Estanislao S. Zeballos, whose culture and intelligence deeply admired his Hispanic colleague, went out to visit some establishments. They entered the Sarmiento School, “a true Greek palace,” according to the Marquis of Valdeiglesias, but they could not attend any class because an exhibition was being held on teaching in the Misiones territory, where the students of the School of Arts and Trades who had performed the jobs received “instruction analogous to that of German children.”

They went to “another palace, also a school”. “When we arrived [expresa el periodista], a well-dressed, pretty and friendly teacher, taught her students about the importance of the Centenary festivities”. Valdeiglesias was surprised by the expressive capacity of those boys: “We explain why so many speakers spring up in this country.” After the lesson, the children, formed two by two and “singing a school hymn” stopped in front of the establishment’s canteen, “where individuals from a society called La Copa de Leche give them, daily and free of charge, a glass of so liquid nutrient.

Escobar, who came from a poor Spain shaken by successive misfortunes, reflected that in his country – “unfortunately given to jokes and chirigota, and where so many useful and respectable things cause laughter” – perhaps it would seem ridiculous to see children leaving a school “marking the pace, led by a twenty-year-old teacher, wearing a cloche hat”. On the other hand, he underlined, in Argentina, how much love for the flag tends to awaken in the boys, “it is looked at with respectful consideration.” “This, which is common in Germany and the United States and which the Argentine Republic imitates in a highly patriotic sense, since love of country begins in school, has timidly begun to be put into practice in some schools in Spain” .

And he added: “We spoke with some children from the schools we visited. They all dressed They were very clean, they had the color of health and seemed carefully educated. The impression they produced on us could not have been better. Half, at least, were children of Spaniards; there were also German, Italian and some Russian children; but the truth is that everyone comes out of school Argentines”. Valdeiglesias visited other schools with Zeballos. In addition, the gymnasiums of different societies where students practiced various sports for free aroused their admiration.

Conclude the pages dedicated to public education in the country that celebrated joyfully its first centenary, with these reflections: “The third stage of youth education –compulsory service– we were able to appreciate when we contemplated the troops on the day of the military review and when the president of Chile marched. It was easily understood that those tall, strong, clean young men who make up the Argentine regiments had not acquired their good looks and martial courtesy in the barracks; they had more solid foundations: they started their origin in the school”.

The journalist alluded to the economic strength of this land, then prosperous and even opulent, located among the first in the world, an example of old Europe and the goal of those who yearned for a better future, where the first privilege was education through schools governed by a sense of responsibility and freedom, and of universities in which researchers and professionals were trained as well trained as imbued with social sensitivity.

Faced with this optimistic vision, there were those, such as the jurist Adolfo Posada, who pointed out the risk that the Argentines ran from considering themselves, “the navel of the world”, an attitude that was not going to help them maintain and overcome the achievements obtained.

However, when you hear that one of the serious problems of a considerable part of the Argentine students it lies in the difficulty to interpret simple texts; when merit is lightly dismissed; when qualifications are considered discriminatory and efforts superfluous, one can only yearn for the times when education was the main and unwavering goal of governments. And not only in the already remote days of the First Centenary, but in our childhood, when it was a pride to obtain a good grade, when children played without fear at recess, when the overalls equaled us all and parents were zealous collaborators and not enemies of the masters.

Former President of the National Academy of History

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