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The Mother of American Education

11 December 2015

With the present government here trying to impose educational “reforms” by force, sending in federal police to prevent teachers from making a mockery of “testing” programs designed not to highlight weaknesses in the educational system, but to force public school teachers out, and pave the way for more privatization; and with teacher training having become potentially fatal (remember the 43?), a little bit on the history of education in Mexico.   A bit from the draft of my revised “Gods, Gachupines, and Gringos” (maybe Gods and Gringos Reloaded?).

The “apostles” I mention were the twelve Franciscan monks sent by Carlos of Castille and Aragón (aka, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V) with a mission to convert the Aztecs.

Although the first Conquistadores were followed by more than its share of profiteers, rogues and outright psycopaths (like Nuño de Guzmán), the “apostles” were not the only Spaniards who found a higher calling in the New World.

Catalina Bustamante, one of the first European women in the Americas, had emigrated to Santo Domingo (Haiti and the Dominican Republic) was secure enough in her position as a “lady of quality” to bombard King Carlos with letters demanding justice… and a better education… for the indigenous survivors of the Conquest in the Carribean. Widowed young, with several children, she used the one sure skill she had, literacy in an era when it was rare for even a wealthy woman to read and write, to support her family as a teacher. Cortés hired her to educate his own children, brining her to Mexico.

Catalina-de-BustamanteWhile teaching the children of the elite was renumerative, Catalina became friendly with Motolinia, who had been teaching the sons of the former Aztec elites. With no one educating their daughters, Catalina took on the task, and opened her school to any indigenous girl. As a condition of receiving support from the Church, she of course had to add religious instruction to her curriculum, but daringly, began instructing the girls in Spanish law, and encouraging them to speak up for their rights. As one might expect, this wasn’t exactly what the “founding fathers” of the Colony had in mind, but… backed by Isabella of Portugal (Queen of Spain and Empress of the Holy Roman Empire) she was not only able to find funding for her school, but returned with the backing and money needed to expand her programs, and to start start training her girls to become teachers themselves. The only restriction ever put on “The Mother of Mexican Education” was that the Crown expected education to be controlled by the Church. Becoming a member of the “Third Order of Franciscans”, which bound her to follow the religious precepts of her superiors… the monks running the boy’s schools… she remained free to live independently of a religious community, to manage her own personal affairs, and to claim her school (and, later, schools) were officially religious institutions.

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