1928 - Public Education

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The Colonial Heritage and French and North American Influence

Education in Peru has been subject to three successive influences: the Spanish influence or, more precisely, legacy; the French; and the North American. However, the initial Spanish influence has dominated. The other two have barely penetrated the Spanish framework and have not altered it basically.

The history of public education in Peru is divided into three periods according to these influences.[1] The periods are not precisely defined. This is a common defect in Peru, where even men are seldom clearly and unmistakably outlined and everything is a little blurred and confused.

A combination of foreign elements, unadapted to local conditions, is superimposed on public education, as on other aspects of national life. Peru, fruit of the conquest, is not a country that assimilates the ideas of men of other nations and imbues them with its sentiments and customs, thereby enriching without deforming its national spirit. It is a country in which Indians and foreign conquerors live side by side but do not mingle with or even understand one another. The republic feels and declares its loyalty to the viceroyalty and, like the viceroyalty, it belongs more to the colonizers than to the rulers. The feelings and interests of four-fifths of the population play almost no role in the formation of the national identity and institutions.

Peruvian education, therefore, has a colonial rather than a national character. When the state refers to the Indians in its educational programs, it treats them as an inferior race; in this respect, the republic is no different from the viceroyalty.

Spain willed us, on the other hand, an aristocratic attitude and an ecclesiastical and literary concept of education, which closed the university to mestizos and made culture a class privilege. The purpose of teaching was to prepare priests and scholars, and the common people had no right to instruction.

The independence movement, nourished on Jacobin ideology, temporarily brought about the adoption of egalitarian principles. However, this verbal equality, meant only for the criollo, ignored the Indian. The republic, moreover, was born in poverty and could not afford the luxury of a broad educational system.

Condorcet’s lofty concept did not figure among the ideals borrowed from the Revolution by our liberal leaders. In practice, independence perpetuated the colonial mentality in education as in everything else. After the fervor of liberal oratory and sentiment had died down, class privilege reasserted itself. The government of 1831 declared that education was to be free, a measure that was never carried out. The government was actually concerned not with the need to educate the people but, in its own words, with “the notorious depletion of private fortunes that had reduced countless fathers to the bitter situation of not being able to give their sons a good education, thereby ruining the future of many talented youths.”[2]

The literary and rhetorical orientation was just as marked. Felipe Barreda y Laos cites as typical academic centers during the early days of the republic: Trinity College of Huancayo; the School of Philosophy and Latin Studies of Huamachuco; and the Schools of Philosophy, Theology, and Jurisprudence of the College of Moquegua.[3]

The liberals, the old landholding aristocracy, and the new urban middle class all studied together in the humanities. They liked to think of universities and colleges as factories producing writers and lawyers. The liberals enjoyed rhetoric as much as the conservatives. No one was interested in a practical orientation encouraging work in commerce or industry, still less in a democratic orientation making culture accessible to all.

The Spanish heritage was not only psychological and intellectual but above all economic and social. Education continued to be a privilege because the privileges of wealth and class continued. The aristocratic and literary concept of education was typical of a feudal system and economy. Not having abolished feudalism in Peru, independence would not abolish its ideas about education.[4]

Dr. Manuel Vicente Villaran, who stands for democratic-bourgeois beliefs in the Peruvian educational system, deplores this legacy. Twenty-five years ago he stated in a speech on the liberal professions:

There are a thousand economic and social reasons why Peru should be like the United States, a country of farmers, settlers, miners, tradesmen, and laborers. But the vagaries of history and the will of man have converted this country into a literary center, homeland of intellectuals and breeder of bureaucrats. Let us look at society and examine any family: with luck, we might find one of its members in agriculture, business, industry, or shipping; but we shall certainly find a lawyer or physician, a military officer or government employee, a judge or a politician, a professor or a scholar, a journalist or a poet. We are infected with the sickness of the old, decadent countries, with their preoccupation with speaking and writing instead of acting, with “moving words instead of things,” an illness that is a sign of indolence and weakness. Almost all of us look with horror on the active professions that require energy and the will to succeed, because we do not want to fight, suffer, take risks, and make our own way to prosperity and independence. How few of us decide to bury ourselves on a mountain, live in the puna, sail the seas, explore the rivers, irrigate the fields, work the mines. We are even frightened of the risks and responsibilities connected with manufacturing and commerce, while at the same time we are encouraged by society to join the swelling multitude of people who want at any price the tranquility, security, the semi-idleness of public employment and the literary professions. Every father hopes that his son will be a lawyer, scholar, office employee, writer, or teacher. Knowledge is triumphant, the spoken and written word is in its glory, and if this evil is not corrected, Peru will become like China, the promised land of bureaucrats and scholars.[5]

A study of the history of capitalist civilization makes clear the causes of the social situation in Peru as described by Dr. Villa-ran in the above paragraph.

Spain is a country that has never emerged from the Middle Ages and joined the march of capitalism. Whereas in Central and Eastern Europe the last bastions of feudalism were demolished by the World War, in Spain they have been maintained by the monarchy. Spanish history reveals that this country has never had a liberal-bourgeois revolution with a victorious third estate. Capitalism more and more appears to be closely related to liberalism and Protestantism. This is an empirical observation based on experience, rather than a principle or theory. The countries that have most highly developed capitalism—industrialism and mechanization—are the Anglo-Saxons.[6] Of all the Latin countries, Spain is the one that has been least able to adapt to capitalism and liberalism. The famous Spanish decadence, which has been romantically attributed to the most varied and exotic origins, consists simply of this inability to adapt, to Europeanize, to assimilate into a democratic, bourgeois, and capitalist society. The colonies founded by Spain in America were bound to suffer from the same weakness. It is perfectly clear that the colonies of England, a nation destined to be supreme in the capitalist age, received the spiritual and material energies of a society at its zenith, whereas the colonies of Spain, a nation chained to the aristocratic age, received the sickness of a decadent society.

The medieval Spaniard came to America as a conquistador, not a colonizer. When Spain stopped sending conquistadors, it began sending viceroys, priests, and lawyers.

It is now believed that Spain experienced its bourgeois revolution in America. Its liberal bourgeois class, suppressed at home, organized itself in the colonies. The countries most benefited by the historical process launched by this revolution were those which had the strongest elements of a liberal, bourgeois society and economy. In Peru, the viceroyalty had constructed on the scattered remains of the Inca economy and society an aristocratic and feudal regime that reproduced the regime of the decaying metropolitan country with all its evils and without its roots.

The responsibility for the social situation denounced in 1900 by Dr. Villaran belongs to the Spanish heritage. Dr. Villaran admitted as much in his speech, although he could not show much intellectual independence because of his affiliation with civilismo, the class represented by his party and heir to all the privileges of the viceroyalty:

America was not a colony to be settled and developed but to be exploited. The Spaniards came in search of easy wealth, ready and waiting, the kind of wealth that attracts the adventurer, the nobleman, the soldier, and the sovereign. In any event, the Indians were there to do the work. They were numerous, docile, industrious, and used to the land and the climate. The servile Indian produced the idle and wasteful rich. Still worse, labor was associated with servitude, because the worker was nothing but a servant. All labor came to be instinctively regarded as dishonorable. This instinct has been handed down to us by our grandparents as part of ourselves. By race and by birth we despise work and we yearn for wealth without effort, for a life of indolence, parties, and luxury.[7]

The United States was created by the pioneer, the puritan, the Jew, all men of strong will who directed their energies toward utilitarian and practical ends. Peru received a race that in its homeland could only be indolent, feckless, dreamy, and completely unfit for industrial and capitalist enterprises. The descendants of this race have inherited its defects.

The argument that the Spanish race could not liberate itself from the Middle Ages and adapt to a liberal and capitalist century is corroborated by a scientific interpretation of history.[8] We, who have always tended to an undiscriminating idealism in our approach to history, now have a realistic critic, Cesar A. Ugarte. In his Bosquejo de la historia economica del Peru he states:

What forces did the new race bring to Peru? The Spaniard of the sixteenth century was not psychologically equipped to undertake the economic development of a hostile, harsh, unexplored land. A warrior who had recently emerged from eight centuries of the re-conquest of Spain into the political unification of his country, he lacked the virtues of diligence and thrift. His noble prejudices and bureaucratic predilections turned him against agriculture and industry, which he considered to be occupations of slaves and commoners. Most of the conquistadors and explorers of the sixteenth century were destitute, but they were not interested in finding a free and bountiful land out of which they could carve a prosperous future; they were driven only by greed for easy and fabulous wealth and the possibility of attaining power and glory. The few cultured and worthwhile men who accompanied this mass of ignorant adventurers were inspired by religious faith and proselytizing zeal.[9]

In my opinion, a religious spirit was not an obstacle to the economic organization of the colonies. The devout puritans of New England applied precisely this spiritual drive to their economic enterprises. Spanish colonization did not suffer from an excess of religion.[10]Edouard Herriot, Creer (Paris: Payot, 1919), p. 95.

The republic, which inherited the institutions and methods of its public education from the feudal and aristocratic vice-royalty, used France as a model as soon as its budding capitalist economy and class induced the government to become interested in reforming its educational system.

The French influence only added its defects to the original ones of the Spanish heritage. Instead of correcting the literary and rhetorical concepts of education handed down to the republic by the viceroyalty, it simply intensified and complicated them.

Capitalist civilization did not develop as fully in France as it did in England, Germany, and the United States, partly because of the failings of the French educational system. That nation, from which we have anachronistically copied so much, still has not solved such basic problems as a uniform primary-school system and technical training.

Carefully studying this question in Creer, Herriot makes the following statements. “Consciously or not, we have remained faithful to that taste for universal culture which our fathers thought was the best way to refine the spirit. The Frenchman loves the general idea without always knowing what it stands for. Our press and our speeches are nourished on generalities.”[11] “In the middle of the twentieth century, we still do not have a national program for education. Every political regime inflicted on us has imposed its theories on education. Looked at in perspective, their efforts have been disastrous.”[12]

Further on, after recalling that Renan blamed part of the misfortunes of 1870 on a public education closed to all progress and thereby stifling the spirit of France, Herriot adds: “The men of 1848 had planned for our country a program of instruction that has never been carried out or even understood. Our teacher, Constantin Pecqueur, deplored the fact that public education was still not organized socially and that the privileges of birth should be extended into the education of children.”[13]

Herriot, whose democratic principles cannot be questioned, supports his thesis with declarations of the Compagnons de l’Universite Nouvelle and other advocates of a radical reform in education. According to his outline of the history of public education in France, the Revolution had broad and modern theories on education. “With remarkable decisiveness, Condorcet demanded for all citizens all the possibilities of instruction, free at all levels, the triple development of body, mind, and morals.” But after Condorcet came Napoleon.

The work of 1808 [Herriot writes] is the antithesis of the efforts of 1792. From then on, the two opposing principles were in constant conflict. We find them both underlying our institutions, which to this day are badly coordinated. Napoleon’s primary interest in secondary education was to train his bureaucrats and government officials. We believe that he was largely responsible for the prolonged ignorance of our people during the nineteenth century. The men of 1793 had other hopes. Even in the colleges and lycees, there was nothing to awaken intellectual freedom; even in the university, there was no place for the independent study of science or letters. The Third Republic has been able to free the universities from this bondage and return to the sectarian aims of the Normal School, the Conservatory of Arts and Trades, and the Institute. But it has not been able to break away completely from the narrow concept tending to isolate the university from the rest of the nation. It has perpetuated the exaggerated concern for academic degrees and respect for procedures that made Jesuit education so strong and, at the same time, so dangerous a force.[14]

This, according to a democratic and liberal statesman of the French middle class, is the situation of education in the nation from which for so many years we have misguidedly imported methods and texts. Our mistake derives from the viceroyal aristocracy which, disguised as the republican bourgeoisie, has maintained in the republic the privileges and principles of a colonial society. This class wanted its children to have, if not the severely dogmatic education of the mother country, at least the elegantly conservative education of the Jesuit colleges that existed in France during the Restoration.

Dr. Villaran, proponent of a North American orientation, writing in 1908 on foreign influences in education, pointed out the error of using France as a model. “With all its admirable intellectual qualities,” he said, “that country still has not been able to become sufficiently modern, democratic, and united in its system and methods of education. Leading French writers are the first to recognize this.”[15] Dr. Villaran cited the opinion of Taine as an indisputable authority for the intellectual civilistas whom he was addressing.

French influence has not yet disappeared. There are still too many traces of it in the programs and, above all, in the spirit of secondary and university education. But with the recent reforms based on North American models, its period has ended. Therefore, an accounting can be made of this influence, which we already know represents an enormous liability. It is responsible for the predominance of the liberal professions. Unable to prepare a competent ruling class, education in Peru, from a strictly historical point of view, suffers from its failure to meet the needs of the developing national economy and from its indifference to the indigenous element. This is the same defect that we find throughout almost the entire political process of the republic.

When in 1895 the Pierola administration began to reorganize the economy of the country along the lines of civilismo, it also revised the system and methods of education. The creation of a capitalist economy had been interrupted by the War of ‘79 and its aftermath; now public education had to be adapted to the needs of this developing economy.

Primary education, which had been turned over to the municipalities by an impoverished government, again became the responsibility of the state. With the foundation of a Teachers’ Normal School, it was taken out of the hands of criollo dilettantes and made truly public, that is, for the people. Technical education was assured by the reestablishment of the School of Arts and Trades.

This period of public education was characterized by its progressive orientation toward the Anglo-Saxon model. Although the 1902 reform of secondary education was a first step in this direction, it was a false step because it was limited to a single phase of education. The civilismo regime of Pierola neither knew how nor was able to conduct a sound educational policy. Its intellectuals, educated in garrulous and swollen verbosity or in lymphatic and academic erudition, had the mediocre mentality of law clerks. Its leaders or directors, when they rose above the mental level of traffickers in coolie labor or dealers in sugar cane, were hopelessly attached to their outdated aristocratic prejudices.

Since 1900 Dr. Villaran has been advocating a reform consistent with the burgeoning capitalist development of the country. His speech of that year on the liberal professions was the first effective protest against the literary and aristocratic approach to education that had been passed on to the republic by the viceroyalty. In the name of a frankly materialist or capitalist concept of progress, his speech condemned the vaporous and archaic foreign idealism that until then had prevailed in public education—limited to the education of “decent” young men. He concluded with the statement that it was “urgent to reorganize our educational system to produce fewer degree-holders and scholars and more men useful and productive to society.” He added that “the great nations of Europe today are remodeling their educational programs, largely along North American lines, because they understand that this century requires men of enterprise rather than men of letters and also because they are all to some extent engaged in extending their trade, their culture, and their race throughout the world. Following the example of the great nations of Europe, we should also correct our mistakes and educate practical, industrious, and energetic men, the ones the country needs in order to become wealthy and by the same token powerful.”[16]Dr. Bouroncle, “Cien afios de politica educacional,” La Prensa (Lima), 9 December 1924.

The reform of 1920 marked the victory of the orientation advocated by Dr. Villaran and, therefore, the predominance of North American influence. On the one hand, the Organic Law of Education, which took effect that year, originated in a proposal drawn up by a committee headed by Villaran. On the other hand, its final text was revised by Dr. Bard, chief of the North American mission contracted by the government to reorganize public education and for some time charged with applying the principles of this law.

The importation of North American methods cannot be attributed to weariness with Latin bombast, but rather to the spiritual drive that affirmed the development of a capitalist economy. Politically, the historical process meant the fall of a feudal oligarchy because of its inability to become capitalist. In the sphere of education, it meant an educational reform inspired by the example of the most prosperous and highly industrialized nation.

Therefore, the 1920 reform is consistent with the country’s historical evolution. But, like the political movement which it paralleled and to which it was linked, the educational movement was sabotaged by the continued and widespread existence of a feudal regime. It is not possible to democratize the education of a country without democratizing its economy and its political superstructure.

A country cannot conscientiously fulfill its historical destiny unless it carries out its own educational reform, using foreign experts only as consultants. For this reason, the North American mission was a failure and the new Organic Law remained more a program of theory than of action.

There is a hopeless gap between the main provisions of the Organic Law and the practice of education. In a study that is not intended to be either negative or polemical, Dr. Bouroncle reviews the troubled history of this reform and notes several of its failures and amendments.

A superficial analysis [he writes] of the present legal situation of education reveals that many of its provisions and regulations have not had and never can have practical application. In the first place, the National Bureau of Education and the National Council of Education have been modified on the basis of legislative authorization; and the regional bureaus, which were the executive bodies with the highest technical and administrative competence, have been eliminated. The bureaus and offices have been changed and the study programs of primary and secondary education have had to be revised; examinations and degrees for teachers have had to be completely reformed. No work has been done on the division of schools into the different categories envisaged by the law or on the complicated classification of secondary schools that was proposed by the regulation on secondary education. The National Examining Board has been replaced by an Office of Examinations and Studies and the whole system has been modified. Higher education, which was dealt with in greatest detail, has only partially complied with the provisions of the law. The University of Technical Schools failed in its early stages and the Advanced Schools of Agriculture, Pedagogical Science, Industrial Arts, and Commerce have not been created. The study program for the University of San Marcos [also called the University of Lima] has not been fully implemented and the University Student Center, for which special personnel was contracted, has not even been founded. If we examine the present regulations for primary and secondary education, we shall likewise see an endless number of provisions that have been amended or that have not been applied. In Peru, few laws have been modified as rapidly and broadly as that of education, which today has more amendments and unapplied provisions than effective regulations.[17]

This is the thoughtful criticism of a sympathetic official. There is no lack of other statements, even one that declares the 1920 reform a failure because primary education still does not receive ten percent of the fiscal revenue as stipulated by law.[18] Furthermore, this statement is implicit in the revision of the Organic Law by the National Committee on Education.

Those of us whose ideology is revolutionary must declare that the failure of the 1920 reform was not due to overly ambitious or idealistic provisions. In many ways, the reform is limited in its objectives and conservative in its scope. It does nothing to diminish the privileges of rank and fortune. It does not open higher education to selected students from primary schools, because it does not provide for such a selection. It creates a dual school system according to whether or not the student will continue to secondary school, thereby restricting working-class children to a primary education in schools that do not prepare them to pursue a professional career. It perpetuates the private primary school, which from childhood rigidly separates the social classes. It establishes only free primary instruction, without even maintaining the principle that entrance into secondary school, which the government offered to a small percentage under its old system of scholarships, is expressly reserved for the best students. As regards scholarships, the terms of the Organic Law are very vague and in practice only students already in secondary schools are eligible for government support. Article 254 says: “By law, exemption from fees for tuition and residence may be awarded to needy youths who are outstanding in ability, morals, and dedication to study. These scholarships will be granted by the regional director on the recommendation of the faculty of the respective secondary school.[19]

In the light of its many limitations, the 1920 reform cannot be considered the democratic-bourgeois reform proposed by Dr. Villaran.

University Reform


The student movement, which began in Cordoba with student demands for university reform, signals the birth of a new generation of Latin Americans. The documents on university reform in Latin America that were collected by Gabriel del Mazo at the request of the University Federation of Buenos Aires testify to the spiritual unity of this movement.[20] University unrest, whether in Argentina, Chile, or Peru, is caused by the same forces. Almost always sparked by a minor incident, it is spread and directed by a mood, a current of ideas called—not without risk of error—the “new spirit.” Therefore, the desire for reform is found to have identical characteristics in all Latin American universities. Students throughout Latin America, although moved to protest by local problems, seem to speak the same language.

This movement is also closely connected with the postwar wave of messianic hopes, revolutionary sentiments, and mystic fervor which especially affected the university youth of Latin America. Convinced that the world had entered a new era, youth yearned to play a heroic role and to perform deeds that would go down in history. As is natural, the prevailing socio-economic system, with its evils and shortcomings, acted as a powerful stimulus to their desire for reform. The world crisis made it urgent for the Latin American people to examine and resolve their problems of organization and growth. Logically, the new generation felt these problems with an intensity and passion unknown to previous generations. Whereas the latter, in keeping with the tempo of the past, had been evolutionary— at times completely passive—the new generation was instinctively revolutionary.

At the beginning, the ideology of the student movement was neither homogeneous nor autonomous. It was overly influenced by the Wilsonian philosophy. The liberal and pacifist sentiments made popular by Wilson in 1918-1919 circulated as good revolutionary currency among Latin American youth. This is easily explained. In Europe, too, not only the bourgeois Left but the old Socialist reformers accepted as new the liberal ideas so eloquently expounded by the North American president.

Only through closer cooperation with labor unions, through battle with the conservative forces, and through criticism of the interests and principles of the established order could the university vanguard define its ideology. This is the belief of the spokesmen for the new student generation, after examining the origins and consequences of the reform movement.

Everyone agrees that the objectives of this movement, which hardly has a program, are not related exclusively to the university. Because of its increasing concern with improvement of the working classes and with reduction of the old economic privileges, it can only be understood as one of the aspects of a profound Latin American renovation. Palacios, taking into account all the recent consequences of the struggle, states that “as long as the present regime continues, the reform will not touch the hidden roots of the educational problem.” He adds:

It will have achieved its purpose if it rids the universities of professors who think of themselves as bureaucrats; if it gives—as in other countries—to all who are competent the possibility of becoming professors, without being excluded because of their social, political, or philosophical beliefs; if it neutralizes, at least somewhat, chauvinism and encourages teachers to do research and accept responsibility. At best, the reform, correctly understood and applied, can help prevent the university from becoming, as is the rule in most countries, as it was even in Russia—whose intellectuals, although superior to those of any other country, betrayed the Revolution—a stronghold of reaction. The reform can do this by maftsng an effort to attain the highest aspirations of the century.[21]

As might be expected, interpretations of the significance of the movement do not exactly agree. But, with the exception of the reactionaries, who are interested in limiting the reform to the university and to education, all those who are sincerely inspired by true ideals define it as the affirmation of the “new spirit,” understood as the revolutionary spirit.

As a philosopher, Bipa Alberdi considers that this affirmation is a victory of the idealism of the first two decades of this century over the positivism of the nineteenth century. “The renaissance of the Argentine spirit,” he said, “operates through the younger generation, which, while crossing the fields of philosophy, has felt the wing of liberty brush its forehead.” But Ripa Alberdi himself realized that the purpose of the reform was to enable the university to carry out “that social function which is the very reason for its existence.”[22]

Julio V. Gonzalez, who has collected his writings on the university movement into two volumes, reaches more precise conclusions:

The university reform acknowledges the appearance of a new generation with no ties binding it to the preceding generation and with its own feelings, ideals, and mission in life. This is not a simple, isolated fact: it is related in cause and effect to recent events in our country which, in turn, are the consequence of world events. It would be a mistake bordering on the ridiculous to think of university reform as a problem of lecture halls and, even then, to assume that its importance lay in its effects in cultural circles alone. Such a mistake would inevitably lead to a solution of the problem that has nothing to do with actual circumstances. In other words: the university reform is part of the material and moral development of our society since the war.[23]

Gonzalez goes on to list the World War, the Russian Revolution, and the rise of the Radical party as decisive factors in the reform in Argentina.

Jose Luis Lanuza points to another factor: the evolution of the middle class. The majority of the students belong to some level of this class. However, one of the social and economic results of the war is the proletarization of the middle class. Lanuza argues that

a collective student movement of such broad social implications as the university reform would not have been possible before the World War. It became evident that methods of study would have to be modernized and that the university had not kept up with the development of universal thought since the time of Alberdi, when our country began to industrialize. But at that time, the university middle class was content to be a select group. To its misfortune, its privileges diminished with the growth of industry, class distinctions became more marked, and the proletarization of the intellectual followed. Teachers, journalists, and tradesmen organized into unions. Students could not escape the general movement.[24]

Mariano Hurtado de Mendoza agrees substantially with the observation by Lanuza:

The university reform is first and foremost a social phenomenon that results from another, more general, and far-reaching social phenomenon related to our country’s level of economic development. It would therefore be a mistake to study the reform, in terms of the university, as a problem of modernizing its administration; or, in terms of education, as an attempt to apply new research methods in the pursuit of culture. We would also be wrong to think of it only as a current of new ideas produced by the World War and the Russian Revolution, or as the work of the new generation that appears “with no ties binding it to the preceding generation and with its own feelings, ideals, and mission in life.

And later on he adds:

The university reform is no more than a consequence of the proletarization of the middle class which inevitably occurs when a capitalist society reaches a certain stage of economic development. This means that in our society the proletarization of the middle class is taking place and that the university, which is composed almost entirely of this class, has been the first to be affected because it was the prototype of the capitalist institution.[25]

In any case, the reform generally has inspired the formation of groups of students who demonstrate their sympathy with the proletariat by spreading progressive social ideas and studying Marxist theories. Popular universities, very different in concept from earlier timid attempts at university extension courses, have sprung up all over Latin America as a visible adjunct to the student movement. Throughout Latin America the university has produced students of economics and sociology who have used their knowledge to help the working class, giving the latter, in some countries, an intellectual guidance that it formerly lacked. Finally, the most enthusiastic propagandists and supporters of the political union of Latin America are for the most part former leaders of the university reform who thereby conserve their continentalism, another badge of the “new generation.”

A comparison of this movement with that of the universities of China and Japan proves that it has historical justification. In Japan, the university has been the principal classroom of socialism. In China, for obvious reasons, it has been even more active in the creation of a national conscience. Chinese students are in the vanguard of a revolutionary nationalism which has given that immense Asiatic nation a new soul and organization and assigned to it a role of influence in world affairs. The most authoritative Western observers agree on this point.

But I shall not enter into a study of all the consequences of the university reform and of its relationship with the great problems of the political evolution of Latin America. Having established the solidarity of the student movement with the general historical movement of these peoples, we shall try to define its characteristics.

What are the basic objectives or demands of the reform?

In 1921, the International Congress of Students held in Mexico proposed: (1) student participation in university government; (2) open courses and optional attendance. Chilean students supported the following principles: (i) autonomy of the university, understood to be an institution composed of students, professors, and graduates; (2) reform of the teaching system by means of open courses and optional attendance, so that when two professors teach the same subject, student attendance will testify to the better teacher; (3) revision of study methods and content; and (4) university extension courses to effectively link the university and society. In 1923, students of Cuba expressed their demands as follows: (1) a really democratic university; (2) a real pedagogical and scientific modernization; (3) an educational system really for the people. In their 1924 program, the students of Colombia advocated that the university be organized to ensure its independence, the participation of students in its government, and the adoption of new study methods. “Not only lectures,” this program says, “but also seminars and special courses should be offered, and journals should be published. Professors should have assistants and the teaching profession should offer security and be open to all who are qualified to occupy a chair in the university.” The vanguard students of the University of Lima, loyal to the principles proclaimed in 1919 and 1923, presented in 1926 the following platform: defense of university autonomy; participation of students in the administration and in the orientation of their respective \ universities or special schools; the right of students to vote in the election of the university rector; modernization of teaching methods; student voice in the establishment of courses; incorporation into the university of values outside the university; social content in culture; popular universities. The principles upheld by the Argentine students probably are better known because of their extensive influence on the student movement of America since its first declaration at the University of Cordoba. Furthermore, they are largely the same principles that were announced by the other Latin American universities.

This rapid review makes it clear that the main proposals of university reform are, first, student participation in university government and, second, open courses alongside the regular courses and with identical standing, to be given by competent teachers.

The meaning and origin of these two demands help us to understand what the reform stands for.


The economic and political system created by the colonial aristocracy—which in some Spanish American countries still exists, although it is steadily and irreversibly declining—has long kept the Latin American university under the tutelage of these oligarchies and their supporters. Because university education has turned into a privilege of wealth, if not of position, or at least of a social class absolutely bound to the interests of either wealth or position, the university has tended to become an academic bureaucracy. Even the temporary influence of some outstanding personality could not save it from this fate.

The purpose of the university was chiefly to provide lawyers and other professionals for the ruling class. The rudimentary development and limited scope of public instruction closed the doors of higher education to the poor. Even primary education did not reach, and still does not reach, more than a fraction of the people. The university, controlled intellectually and materially by a class that in general lacked any creative drive, could not aspire to the formation and selection of skills. Its bureaucratization inevitably led to spiritual and scientific impoverishment.

This was not a phenomenon peculiar to Peru. We have had it longer because of the survival of our semi-feudal economic structure. But even among countries like Argentina, which have led the way in industrialization and democracy, the university has been the last to join the march of progress and change. The history of the University of Buenos Aires before the reform is summarized by Dr. Florentino V. Sanguinetti as follows:

Early in Argentine history, it promoted culture on a modest scale and formed urban centers which gave the masses an awareness of political unity and institutional order. Although its technical level was low, it was adequate to the needs of the country and to apply the slowly acquired knowledge of the civilian sector. After our country became a nation, the aristocratic and conservative university created a new social type: the professional. These men were the patricians of the second republic, gradually replacing the rural caciques in the managing of businesses, but they were not intellectually qualified to participate actively in the educational system or to guide the energies bursting from the wealth of pampas and tropics. During the last fifty years, our farming and ranching nobility has been excluded first from the economic field by the technically more skilled and progressive immigrant and then from the political field by the emergence of the middle-class parties. In search of an area where they could still wield influence, they took over the university, which soon became the vehicle of class privilege—where a succession of lifetime directors held the most important posts and where teachers, recruited by hereditary levy, imposed a veritable academic servitude of narrow-mindedness and conservatism.[26]

The reform movement had to attack, first of all, this conservative stratification of the university. The arbitrarily imposed courses, the incompetent professors, and the exclusion of independent and progressive minds from the faculty were simply consequences of the oligarchical system of education. These evils could be attacked only through student participation in the government of the university and through the establishment of open courses and optional attendance so that students could eliminate the bad professors by demonstrating their preference for the classes given by better qualified teachers.

Through the history of the reform, the conservative oligarchy invariably has followed two courses of action. First, it has been united in its support of the incompetent, unpopular professor, whenever the interest of a family of its group was involved. Second, it has been no less stubborn in its resistance to any new, non-university, or simply independent teaching values. The two basic demands of the reform are, therefore, unquestionably dialectical, because they do not grow out of purely doctrinaire concepts but out of specific student action.

The majority of the teachers were unbending in their opposition to the important principles of the university reform, the first of which had been declared at the Student Congress of Montevideo and, thanks to favorable political circumstances, was officially recognized in both Argentina and Peru. When these circumstances changed, the conservative elements in education began a counter-movement, which in Peru has already wiped out almost all the gains of the reform and which in Argentina has stirred up recent student demonstrations against reactionary trends.

But the ideals of the reform cannot be attained without honest acceptance of the two principles discussed here. The vote of the students, even if used only as a moral check on teaching policy, is the sole dynamic and progressive elements in a university which otherwise would be hopelessly dominated by reactionary forces. Without this premise, the second principle of the reform, open courses, cannot be carried out. Moreover, the “hereditary levy” so accurately described by Dr. Sanguinetti becomes the method of recruiting new professors. And scientific progress loses its main stimulus, because nothing lowers the level of teaching and of science as much as an oligarchical bureaucracy.


In Peru, for several reasons, the university has been the stronghold of the colonial spirit. The first reason is that under the republic the old colonial aristocracy continued in power.

But this fact has been brought to light only since the new generation, having freed itself of the colonialist mentality or civilista historiography, has been able to judge Peruvian reality objectively. The breakdown of the old class was foretold in 1919 by the “secessionist” character of the change in government.

When Dr. V. A. Belaiinde described the university as “the link between republic and colony” and praised it as the unique and essential organ of historical continuity, he seemed to think that he had made a valuable discovery. Until then, the ruling class had maintained the intellectual illusion of a republic different from and independent of the colony, although its real feelings were betrayed by its instinctive nostalgia for the vice-royal period. The university, which according to a cliche was the national alma mater, had always been officially defined as the highest seat of the principles and ideals of the republic.

Except for a moment of liberalism under Galvez y Lorente, who reestablished and carried on the ideology of Rodriguez de Mendoza, the university had remained faithful to its scholarly, conservative, and Spanish tradition. The divorce between the work of the university and national reality—which although commented on sorrowfully by Belaiinde, did not prevent him from praising the university as the unique and sacred embodiment of the country’s historical continuity—is entirely due to the divorce, little recognized but nonetheless true, between the old ruling class and the Peruvian people. Belaiinde wrote: “An unhappy fate has decreed that our university should serve professional interests and a certain scientific snobbism; but it has not been an instrument of education nor has it created a national conscience. A rapid review of the history of the university from its founding to the present makes tragically clear that it is out of contact with our national reality, with the life of our society, with the needs and aspirations of our country.”[27] Belaiinde could say no more. Bound by education and temperament to the feudal class, and a member of the party that was led by one of its most authentic representatives, he had to be content to disagree, without going into his reasons. He even had to offer as explanation an “unhappy fate.”

The truth is that the colony survived in the university because it also survived—in spite of independence and a liberal government—in the social and economic structure of the country, thereby slowing down its historical evolution and weakening its vitality. The university did not play a progressive and creative role in Peruvian life. It was not only isolated from but also opposed to the country’s requirements and expectations. The colonial landholders, who rose to power in the republic during the turbulent period of military caudillos, are the least nationalist, the least Peruvian, of the factors in the history of independent Peru. This alone has determined the “unhappy fate” of the university.

After Galvez y Lorente and until the student movement of 1919, the university was heavily influenced by the spirit of the colony. In 1894, Dr. Javier Prado spoke on “the social condition of Peru under Spanish rule” and tried to give an objective and balanced criticism of colonialism. This speech could have initiated measures to bring the university closer to our history and people. But Dr. Prado was closely associated with interests and beliefs with which this movement inevitably would have conflicted. He therefore preferred to head a mediocre program of positivism which, in the name of Taine, attempted to justify civilismo by endowing it with a superficially modern political doctrine and which did not even succeed in orienting the university away from its literary preoccupations toward the scientific disciplines that it still lacks. In 1900, Dr. M. V. Villaran delivered a significant speech on the liberal professions in Peru in which he charged the colonialism of the university with being responsible for the aristocratic prejudices that nourished and perpetuated a surplus of lawyers and men of letters. But this rebuke, like all the other sporadic outbursts of civilismo, barely ruffled the waters of this placid intellectual pond.

The generation arbitrarily known as “futurist” should have been, chronologically, the one to begin a reform of the methods and spirit of the university. To this group belonged the students, later professors, who represented Peru in the Student Congress of Montevideo and who organized the University Center, in which they laid the foundations of a solidarity that would have made possible a definition of the procedures and objectives of the reform. But under the direction of Riva Agiiero, who acted as spokesman for the colonialist spirit in his writings on Peruvian literature, that university generation was given a conservative and traditional orientation. Furthermore, because of its origins and ties, it appeared to be the generation designated to react against the literary movement of Gonzalez Prado and to reestablish the intellectual hegemony of civilismo, which was threatened by the popularity of Radical literature, especially in the provinces.


The Peruvian student movement of 1919 received its ideological stimulus from the triumphant rebellion of the students of Cordoba and from the eloquent exhortations of Professor Alfredo L. Palacios. But it originated chiefly as a student uprising against certain obviously unqualified professors. A minority of the students extended and elevated the objectives of this unrest, transforming what had started out as only a repudiation of bad professors and an archaic system into a repudiation of the old spirit of the university. The movement was supported by students who conformed to civilista ideas but who followed the proponents of the reform as much because they thought they were participating in a relatively innocuous school rumpus as because they also objected to the obvious incompetence of the professors.

This shows that if the teaching oligarchy had shown any interest in maintaining its intellectual prestige and had promptly carried out a minimum of the scandalously overdue improvements and modernizations in the educational system, it would easily have kept its position intact for a few more years.

The crisis that it dealt with so ineptly was brought on by the protracted and flagrant discrepancy between the academic level of the professor and the general advance of our culture in more than one field. This lag was particularly striking in literature and the arts. The “futurist]’ generation had reacted against the romantic “radical” generation outside the university by trying to reinforce the spiritual power of the university and concentrate in its classrooms all the forces directing national culture. They did not, however, have the knowledge, the desire, or the power to replace the old, backward, and incompetent faculty of the most vulnerable department, which was the School of Literature.

The glaring contrast between the teaching of literature in this department and the country’s heightened literary awareness and production could no longer be ignored once the new generation broke with the conservatism of our paradoxical “futurists” and launched a renaissance in national literature. Young people attending the literature courses had acquired outside the university an aesthetic discrimination that enabled them to judge how outdated and inept some of their professors were. Whereas these students, reading on their own, had left “modernism” behind, the university faculty was still in the grip of the criteria and precepts that prevailed in Spain in the early 1800’s. Because of its historical and literary orientation, the group that headed the 1919 movement in San Marcos was more severe in its criticism and more categorical in its condemnation of the professors it accused of being backward and anachronistic.

The reform spread from the School of Literature to the other departments where vested interests and the oligarchical system maintained unqualified professors. But the first breach was made in the School of Literature; only some time later was the struggle directed against “bad methods” rather than “bad professors.”

The students began their offensive by drawing up a list of criticisms which they carefully tried to keep impartial and dispassionate. At this time, the evaluation was made on the basis of academic competence, without any ideological judgments.

When the rector and the council declared their support of the professors under attack, the movement intensified. The student insurgents, realizing that the oligarchical character of teaching and the bureaucratization and stagnation of teaching were two aspects of the same problem, expanded their protests and made them more detailed.

The first national congress of students, which met in Cuzco in March 1920, revealed that the reform movement still lacked a well directed and defined program. The most important act of this congress was the creation of popular universities in order to link revolutionary students with the proletariat and to broaden the scope of student protest.

Later, in 1921, during the conflict between university and government, student behavior was profoundly disoriented. Furthermore, reactionary professors, who attempted to smuggle in colonialist superstitions and nostalgias under the guise of an opportunistic and democratic oratory, found an enthusiastic audience among university youth, most of whom persisted in revering their old masters.

It was, nonetheless, evident that the defeat suffered by traditional civilismo had contributed to the triumphs achieved in 1919 by student protest. In that year, the decree of September 20 established open courses and student representation on the university council, and by means of Laws 4002 and 4004 the government declared vacant the chairs occupied by the blacklisted professors.

Once the university reopened—after a recess which strengthened the bonds between teachers and part of the students—the gains of the reform largely vanished because of the new organization. On the other hand, the students were more deeply imbued with the “new spirit” and were less confused ideologically than before the closing.

The reopening of the university in 1922 under the rectorate of Dr. M. V. Villaran signified that the government and professors had reached an agreement to end the conflict which had forced the university to close the preceding year. The basis of this agreement was the Organic Law of Teaching promulgated in 1920 by the Executive under authorization from Congress in October 1919, when the latter passed Law 4004 sanctioning the principle of student participation in the government of the university. This law granted the university an autonomy that satisfied the teachers who, for obvious reasons, were more inclined than before to accept a compromise. The government, equally anxious to find a solution, managed to circumvent all difficulties and ratified the law in its entirety.

As is natural, the agreement endangered the gains of the students by solving, even if only temporarily, the situation that had sustained their struggle. In fact, soon there was a badly disguised attempt to gradually nullify the reforms of 1919. Some professors restored the attendance system. But now the students were alerted to such an attempt, and they were inspired first by the Student Congress of Mexico and then by the fervent message of the youth of the south delivered by Haya de la Torre.

On taking office, the new rector, in a spirit of moderation and fairness, had declared himself to be sympathetic to the reform and even critical of the law’s provisions replacing the free association of students with the highly authoritarian and bureaucratic “university student center.” In line with these declarations, he recognized the wisdom of working with a consensus of the students and of avoiding any arbitrary or reactionary action that could arouse student hostility.

With the recalcitrant conservative professors brought under control, Dr. Villaran’s term of office marked a period of collaboration between faculty and students. The rector made himself popular by his support of Zulen’s intelligent library reforms and by his frequent consultations with the students, whose opinions and ideas he respected. Dr. Gastafieta, dean of the School of Medicine, by following a similar policy, won the students’ enthusiastic cooperation. And the work of some of the young professors helped improve relations between faculty and students.

This policy, however, prevented a renewal of the reform movement. On the one hand, the professors were careful to adhere to a progressive program or at least to avoid action that might be interpreted as reactionary. On the other hand, the students were in a mood to collaborate and many were convinced that this was the only way to guarantee the autonomy and even the survival of the university.

On May 23 the working class and the student vanguard demonstrated how closely they had become allied socially and ideologically. On that date, in exceptionally favorable circumstances, the new generation played a historical role when it advanced from student unrest to collective and social protest. This event sparked a revolutionary current that swept through the university halls, strengthening the left wing of the Student Federation, reorganized soon after, and, above all, reviving and invigorating student discussion.

But the reform, apart from abolishing compulsory attendance, actually gained for the student no more than a theoretical control of the orientation or, more precisely, the administration of education. The principle of student representation on the university council was formally recognized; but the students, who used the assembly to express their opinions on any problem, neglected to designate permanent delegates and preferred to influence the council through spontaneous action and student plebiscites.

Although student leaders were extremely aggressive and dynamic, they did not use the assembly, where there was more uproar than discussion, to demand and obtain new teaching methods. They may have been distracted by the struggle against reactionary forces within and outside the university or they may not have been sufficiently aware of the problems of education. In any event, they were satisfied to accept token efforts or vague promises that melted away once they relaxed their vigilance in the classrooms.

Therefore, the university reform made little progress as an educational reform, despite the new Organic Law and the more sympathetic attitude of some of the professors. The comments of Alfredo Palacios on a similar phase of the reform in Argentina can be applied to our university.

In its first stage, university reform consisted only of student participation in the university government and of optional attendance. It had failed to achieve its most important objectives: modernized teaching methods and intensified studies. These were very difficult to accomplish in the School of Law, which was petrified in its old procedures of pure theory and pure abstraction. There was no teaching by observation and experience. It was always believed that from this school would emerge the social elite who would become the governing class: the financier, the diplomat, the writer, the politician. What emerged, to the contrary, were youthful materialists, knowing nothing about everything, but versed in all the tricks needed to embrangle a litigation and employed to perpetrate the injustices of daily life. Students listened to lectures without showing any curiosity or any interest in research; without laboratories to spur their enthusiasm, to test their character, to discipline their will, and to exercise their intellect.[28] Because our university did not have directors like Dr. Palacios, capable of understanding the reform required in the educational system and of dedicating passion and optimism to the task of realizing it, our reform movement never went beyond the stage to which it was carried by student activity.

The years 1924-1927 were adverse to the movement to reform the university in Peru. The expulsion of twenty-six students from the University of Trujillo was a prelude to an offensive by the reactionaries. Soon after, all the conservative forces in the University of Lima were mobilized against the provisions laid down in 1919 and 1923. The repressive measures taken by the government against the student leaders of San Marcos freed the professors from the watchful presence of most of those who had kept the reform spirit alive among the students. With the deaths of the two young teachers Zulen and Borja y Garcia, almost no professors remained to champion reform. After the departure of Dr. Villaran, his policy of cooperation with students was abandoned. Left vacant, the rectorate fell into the paralysis and sterility typical of an interim administration.

This combination of unfavorable circumstances inevitably produced a resurgence of the conservative and oligarchical spirit. As the forces of progress and reform weakened, teachers went back to the old system and representatives of the civilista mentality regained absolute control. The expedient of a provisional administration, constantly extended, temporarily masked the reestablishment of conservatism in positions from which it had been dislodged by the reform movement.

There was a noticeable concentration of left-wing students in the 1920 election of delegates. The platform presented by this group, which dominated the new federation, reaffirmed all the basic principles of the reform.[29]Repertorio Americano, vol. 15 (1927), p. 145. But once again repression came to the aid of conservative interests.

A characteristic of this period of reaction was the support given to the university’s conservative elements by the same forces which, riding the historical wave that swept away traditional civilismo, had been decisive in the triumph of the reform in 1919.

These are not, however, the only factors in the crisis of the university movement. Youth is not exempt from responsibility. Their rebellious behavior usually has been the result of their susceptibility to superficial enthusiasms. This is actually a failing common to all Spanish America. In a recent article, Vas-concelos writes: “The principal weakness of our race is its instability. We are incapable of sustained effort and, for that same reason, we cannot develop a plan or execute a project.” He goes on to say: “In general, one should beware of enthusiasts. ’Enthusiastic’ is the most dangerous adjective in our vocabulary. With that noble epithet, we have learned to cover up our national weakness: we start out well and promise much; we fail to finish or make good.”[30]

Erratic and unstable though he is, the student does more damage to the movement because he is vague and imprecise about its program and character. The objectives of the reform are not sufficiently defined nor are they fully understood. Discussion and study proceed slowly. Reaction cannot conquer youth intellectually and spiritually; its victories are only conditional. The reform, on the other hand, continues to act on student spirit and, despite momentary lapses, keeps alive the ardor that fired youth in the days of 1919-1923.

If the reform movement is in a precarious situation in Lima, it nevertheless flourishes in the University of Cuzco, where the most distinguished faculty members accept and approve the principles maintained by the students. Proof of this is the project to reorganize the University of Cuzco, which was drawn up during its recess by a committee appointed by the government for this purpose.

This project, signed by Professors Fortunato L. Herrera, Jose Gabriel Cosio, Luis E. Valcarcel, J. Uriel Garcia, Leandro Pare-ja, Alberto Aranibar P., and J. S. Garcia Rodriguez, undoubtedly is the most important official document produced to date on university reform in Peru. It represents the first time university teachers have spoken on this problem at so high a level, as well as a break with tradition and with official routine. The plan envisages the transformation of Cuzco into a great cultural center capable of supervising and directing the social and economic development of the Andes region. Its statutes incorporate the cardinal principles of the university reform in Spanish America.

The committee includes among its “basic proposals”: open courses to complement those taught by regular professors; elimination of the final examination as the deciding grade; full-time professors; participation of students and alumni in the election of university authorities; student representation on the university council and on every faculty; democratization of teaching.[31] The report also emphasizes the necessity of organizing the university in such a way as to give it a broad practical application and a complete scientific orientation. The University of Cuzco hopes to become a true center of scientific research, wholly dedicated to the betterment of society.

In order to understand the growing conflict between the principles of university reform, as they have been formulated and subscribed to by student assemblies in various Spanish American countries, and the situation of the University of Lima, these principles may be compared with the corresponding aspects of teaching and administration in the latter university.

Participation of students in the government of the university. Reactionary forces are determined to reestablish the old, rigid concept of discipline, understood as absolute deference to the judgment and authority of the teaching staff. The Council of Deans, or the rector on its behalf, frequently refuses to give students permission to hold meetings. For the first time, it is possible to deny the right of students to use the university for discussion. Student delegates who are not acceptable to the faculty are not recognized. The last committee of the Student Federation could not begin work or even make up its membership because it lacked approval of the council. The crisis of the federation thus depends on a factor beyond the students’ control. Student opinion has lost not only its influence in the council but even the possibility of expressing itself freely and in an orderly fashion. In these conditions, student representation in the government of the university would be a farce.

Modernization of teaching methods. With the exception of innovations introduced by one or two professors, the old methods reign supreme. A short time ago, a high official of the Department of Education, Dr. Luis E. Galvan, demanded in an article: “What does our university do for scientific research?”[32] In spite of his feelings of loyalty to San Marcos, Dr. Galvan was obliged to give a totally negative answer. Changes in methods and studies have been minimal and left to the initiative of a few responsible professors. Courses continue to be given orally and dogmatically. Reforms that were begun in the 1922-1924 period have been suspended or have been bungled, as in the case of Zulen’s projected reorganization of library methods.

Reform of the teaching system. Open courses still have not been properly tried out and conditions do not favor their introduction. The oligarchy in control of education is opposed to open courses. Academic chairs continue to be filled by means of the “hereditary levy” denounced: by Dr. Sanguinetti of the old University of Buenos Aires.

All the formal gains of 1919 are therefore nullified. Despite the mild purge brought about by the students at that time, the percentage of incompetent teachers is certainly no lower now. The School of Literature, where the reform was initiated, shows almost no improvement in teaching methods and curricula.

The provisions of the reform, as established by the Organic Law of 1920, are still largely unimplemented, and the University Council apparently has no intention of carrying out the program outlined in that law.[33]

Nor has any progress been made in creating full-time teachers. The university professor is typically a dilettante for whom teaching is a very secondary activity. To a large extent, this is actually an economic problem. University teaching will remain in the hands of dilettantes until professors capable of dedicating themselves exclusively to research and study can be offered a decent salary. But even within its present economic resources, the university should begin to find a solution; for, as long as scientific research and specialization are not encouraged, this problem will not be solved automatically by a share of the university budget.

The crisis at San Marcos is reproduced on a smaller scale in the provincial universities. The reactionary assault began in the most inadequate and weakest of them all, the University of Trujillo. An institution that expels twenty-six of its students, when its enrollment is perilously low, reveals how deeply committed it is to the reactionary spirit. I am told that, in order not to appear deserted, this university sends out its staff every year to recruit students. Using local pride as an argument, the professors try to persuade fathers not to send their sons to the University of Lima. If, in spite of its scarcity of students, the University of Trujillo was prepared to lose twenty-six, the extent of conservative intransigence can easily be imagined.

The University of Arequipa traditionally has been resistant to modernization. The conservative atmosphere of the city shields it from any outside influence that might disturb its repose. The reformist element, which in recent years has given hopeful signs of growth and activity, is still in the minority. Only the University of Cuzco is making serious efforts to transform itself. I have already referred to the reorganization scheme presented to the government by its leading professors; it is obviously the most advanced project for university reform in Peru.

The concept of reform, meanwhile, is daily gathering strength and substance. The problem of education is defined by the student leaders of La Plata in the following terms:

(1) Education is only one aspect of the social problem; for that reason, it cannot be solved separately. (2) The culture of all societies is the ideological expression of the interests of the class in power. The culture of society at present is therefore the ideological expression of the interests of the capitalist class. (3) The last imperialist war, by upsetting the bourgeois economy, has produced a crisis in the corresponding culture. (4) Only the advent of a socialist culture can put an end to this crisis.[34]

Whereas the new generation’s message, which began as a confused announcement from Cordoba in 1918, reaches its clearest and most significant revolutionary expression in Argentina, the signs of reaction multiply on our university scene. The university reform is constantly threatened by the determination of the teaching oligarchy to regain full control.

Conflicting Ideologies

In the stage of practical trials and theoretical digressions that slowly led to the importation of North American systems and methods, Dr. Deustua represented the reaction of the old aristocratic spirit, more or less dressed up in modern idealism. Dr. Villaran used the language of liberalism to present the program of bourgeois and, therefore, liberal civilismo. Dr. Deustua, in the modern guise of a university professor and philosopher, embodied the mentality of feudal civilismo, of the viceroyal landholder. (There had to be a reason why one sector of the party was called “historical civilismo”).

The real meaning of the controversy between Deustua and Villaran escaped the reporters and public of that period. The so-called popular parties were incapable of taking a position in the debate. The Pierola party was reduced to railing against government taxes and loans—which by no means constituted all the economic policy of civilismo—and to proclaiming periodically that it stood for liberty, order, fatherland, citizenship, et cetera. The self-styled liberals were no different from the pierolistas, to whom they were linked in a sporadic, masonic anticlericalism and a vague, romantic, federalist vindication. (The ideological poverty and intellectual vulgarity of this opposition, clinging to the stale glory of its caudillo, permitted civilismo to monopolize discussion of one of the most weighty national problems.)

Only now is it historically possible to understand the meaning of that university debate, in which Francisco Garcia Calderon, in his usual prudent and somewhat skeptical fashion, tried to play an eclectic and conciliatory role.

The ideological position of Dr. Deustua, in the discussion of public education, was decorated with all the rhetoric needed to impress our shallow intellectuals. In his metaphysical dissertations on education, Dr. Deustua represented himself as a defender of idealism against the positivism of his cautious and complaisant opponents. And the latter, instead of baring the antidemocratic and antisocial spirit behind his philosophical facade, preferred to declare their respect for his high ideals.

It would have been easy to demonstrate that the ideas of Dr. Deustua on education were based not on contemporary idealism but on the old aristocratic mentality of the great landholders. But no one undertook to reveal the true nature of Dr. Deustua’s resistance to a reasonably democratic reform in education. University oratory was mystified by the abstruse doctrine of the reactionary civilista professor. The debate, furthermore, was conducted exclusively within the civilismo party, which was divided between feudalism and capitalism, with the latter spirit reformed and weakened by the former.

In order to identify the thought of Dr. Deustua and to perceive its medieval and aristocratic foundation, we need to study the prejudices and superstitions that sustain it. Dr. Deustua’s ideas are contrary not only to the principles of modern education but to the essence of capitalism itself. His concept of work, for example, is in open conflict with the concept that for some time has governed human progress. In one of his philosophical studies of education, Dr. Deustua is just as disdainful of work is those who formerly considered that the only noble and worthwhile occupations were the military and the literary.

Values and work, virtue and self-interest [he wrote], are essential to the formation of character. But they play very different roles in that process, just as they play different roles in the process of education. Freedom is a value that educates; education consists in the realization of values. Work does not educate; it enriches and instructs; with practice it confers skill. But it is motivated by self-interest, which enslaves the soul. Even if work is inspired by a vocation, which brings to it happiness and joy, that motive is as egoistic is the others. Freedom does not spring from self-interest, but from moral and aesthetic values. Even in science, which in a way educates by disciplining the mind either through the orderly exercise of deduction or through the intuitive action of induction, the so-called value of logic does not bring to work the freedom that is the essence of the human personality. Work can contribute to spiritual expansion through the material wealth it produces. But that expansion may be and usually is a sign of blind egoism. And so it does not signify real freedom, freedom within, moral and aesthetic freedom, the freedom that is the goal and content of education.[35]

This concept of work, although advanced by Dr. Deustua only a little over a decade ago, is absolutely medieval and aristocratic. Western civilization is based entirely on work. Society strives to organize itself as a society of workers and producers. Therefore, work cannot be thought of as servitude; it must be given stature and dignity.

The dignity of work should not be interpreted as an egoistic sentiment peculiar to Western civilization. Scientific research enlightens us as much as spiritual intuition. Man’s destiny is to create. Work is creative, liberating. Man fulfills himself in work.

Man’s enslavement by the machine and the destruction of his crafts by industrialization have distorted the meaning and purpose of work. From John Ruskin to Rabindranath Tagore, reformers have denounced capitalism for its brutalizing use of the machine. Work has become odious because mechanization and especially Taylorism have degraded it by robbing it of creativity.

Pierre Hamp, in his epic writings on labor—la peine des hommes—has given this exact description: “The grandeur of man consists in doing his work well. Love of work, in spite of society, is the health of society. Man always takes pride in the skill of his hands, even when using them for the lowliest labor. If, like the idle rich, all men scorned labor, and if all men worked only because they were forced to, without any pleasure, slothfulness and corruption would destroy a desperate people.”[36]

This is the principle that should be adopted by a society that is heir to the spirit and tradition of the Inca society, in which idleness was a crime, and work, performed with devotion, the highest virtue. The archaic thought of Dr. Deustua, rejected by even our fearful and confused bourgeoisie, descends directly from the viceroyal society, which a moderate civilista like Dr. Javier Prado described as a flabby society dedicated to sensual pleasures.

It is not just his concept of work that reveals the aristocratic and reactionary sentiment of Dr. Deustua and defines his ideological position in the debate on public education. Above all, his basic concept of teaching identifies his inspiration as feudalism.

Dr. Deustua was concerned almost exclusively with the education of the upper and ruling classes. For him, the whole problem of teaching was to educate the elite, which naturally was an elite of inherited privileges. Therefore, he cared only about university teaching.

No attitude could be more opposed to the modern approach to education. Dr. Villaran, from an orthodox, bourgeois standpoint, held up the example of the United States to Dr. Deustua. He reminded him that “there, primary school was the introduction to and the historical antecedent of the secondary school; and that college was the precursor of the university.”[37] Today we could hold up to him, as an example closer to home, Mexico, a country where, as Pedro Henriquez Urefia says, culture is not understood in terms of the nineteenth century.

No thought is given to the culture prevailing in the era of capitalism disguised as liberalism, the culture of a select group of dilettantes, an enclosed garden where artificial flowers are grown, an ivory tower where dead science is kept in museums. Mexico thinks of a social culture, offered and really given to all, based on work. To learn is not only to learn to know but also to learn to do. There should be no superior culture because it would be false and ephemeral where there is no popular culture.[38]

Need I say that I entirely agree with this concept, which is in open conflict with the thesis of Dr. Deustua.

Dr. Deustua placed the problem of education on a purely philosophical plane. Experience shows that on this plane, where reality and history are disregarded, the problem cannot be solved or understood. Dr. Deustua is indifferent to the relationship between education and the national economy. In fact, in this respect he is an absolute idealist in his lack of comprehension.

His argument, therefore, besides being antidemocratic and antisocial, is antihistorical. The problem of education cannot be understood in our time if it is not considered as an economic and social problem. The mistake of many reformers has been their abstract and idealistic methods and their exclusively pedagogical approach. Their proposals have ignored the close bond between economics and education, and they have tried to change the latter with no knowledge of the laws of the former. For that reason, they have not succeeded in reforming anything except to the extent permitted by the scorned or simply neglected socio-economic laws. The controversy between classicists and modernists in education has been just as subject to the rate of capitalist development as the debate between conservatives and liberals in politics. The program and systems of public education in this era that now draws to a close have depended on the interests of the bourgeois economy. The realistic or modern approach has been imposed by the needs of industrialism. Industrialism is the phenomenon peculiar to this civilization which, under its influence, demands that schools produce more technicians than ideologists, more engineers than orators.

The unscientific and uneconomic approach in the discussion of teaching claims to represent a higher idealism. But it is actually the metaphysics of reactionaries, opposed and alien to the stream of history, and it therefore lacks any value as a force in human progress and reform. The lawyers and writers who come from the halls of the humanities, prepared by a rhetorical and pseudo-idealistic education, have always been far more immoral than the technicians who come from the faculties and institutes of science. Whereas the practical and theoretical or aesthetic activities of the latter have followed the path of economics and civilization, the practical and theoretical or aesthetic activities of the former, under the influence of the basest conservative interests and sentiments, have frequently blocked that path. Furthermore, the value of science as a stimulus to philosophical speculation cannot be disregarded or underestimated. The intellectual climate of this civilization owes much more to science than to the humanities.

Economics is specifically associated with education in the work of educators like Pestalozzi and Froebel, who have undertaken to reform the school system, bearing in mind that modern society tends to be a society of producers. The trade school represents a new concept of teaching, a principle peculiar to a civilization of workers. Although adopted and put into operation by the capitalist state, it has been limited to the primary schools, where it is presented as a class in “manual training.” In Russia, the trade school is in the forefront of educational policy. In Germany it has been encouraged mainly by the rise of the Social Democrats during the revolutionary period.

Thus, the most significant reform has erupted in primary schools, whereas secondary schools and universities, dominated by the conservatism of their rectors, are still hostile to any attempt at reform and are indifferent to economic reality.

A modern concept of the school places manual and intellectual work at the same level, an equation that is not acceptable to the vanity of the aristocratic humanists. Contrary to the pretensions of these men of letters, the trade school is the authentic product of a civilization created by work and for work.

In the course of this essay I have not attempted to do more than outline the ideological and political basis of public education in Peru. I have omitted its technical aspect, which, besides not being within my competence, is subject to theoretical principles and to political and economic requirements.

I have stated, for example, that our Spanish and colonial heritage consisted not of a pedagogical method but of an economic and social regime. French influence later entered the picture, to the approval of those who regarded France as the Jacobin and republican fatherland as well as of those who admired the Restoration. North American influence finally prevailed as a result of our capitalist development together with the importation of American capital, technicians, and ideas.

In the last period of the conflict of ideologies and influences there can be distinguished the contrast between a growing capitalist affirmation and an obstinate feudalist and aristocratic reaction, the former advocating a practical approach in education and the latter defending a pseudo-idealistic orientation.

The emergence of a socialist movement and of a class conscience in the urban proletariat introduces a new factor in the debate that substantially modifies its terms. The creation of the popular universities “Gonzalez Prada,” the support by university youth of the principle of the socialization of culture, the impact of the new educational philosophy on teachers, conclusively interrupt the erudite and academic dialogue between the liberal-bourgeois spirit and the aristocratic-landholder spirit.[39]

The accounts of the first century of the republic are closed, with an enormous liability in the field of public education. The problem of Indian illiteracy has hardly been touched. To date the government has failed to establish schools throughout the republic. The disproportion between resources and the size of the undertaking is huge. There are not enough teachers for the implementation of the modest program of popular education authorized in the budget and given the present number of graduates from normal schools, there is little possibility of solving this problem in the near future. A primary school teacher in Peru is still harassed by the most overbearing and stupid gamonalismo and bossism. He has no assurance of even a relative economic security. When a representative complains to Congress, which has come to regard the teacher as a servile instrument to round up votes, this complaint carries more weight in official circles than the record of the services of an honorable and dedicated teacher.

The problem of Indian illiteracy goes beyond the pedagogical sphere. It becomes increasingly evident that to teach a man to read and write is not to educate him. Primary school does not redeem the Indian morally and socially. The first real step toward his redemption must be to free him from serfdom.[40]

This is the thesis maintained by the authors of reform in Peru. Among their leaders are many young educators whose points of view are already far removed from those held a quarter of a century ago by Dr. Villaran when he was so ineffectual in his mild but categorical opposition to colonial ideology, as we have seen in our examination of the origin and development of the reform of 1920.


  1. The participation of Belgian, German, French, Italian, English, and other foreign educators in the development of our public education has been episodic and contingent, and does not imply an orientation of our educational policy.
  2. Circular by the Minister Matias Leon, dated 19 April 1831.
  3. “Las reformas de la instruction piiblica,” a speech delivered at the beginning of the academic year 1919 and published in the Revista Universi-taria, 1919.
  4. See the essays on the national economy and the land problem in this book.
  5. Manuel Vicente Villaran, Estudios sobre education national, pp. 8-9.
  6. It is interesting and significant that French reactionaries call France a bourgeois rather than a capitalist nation.
  7. Villaran, Estudios sabre education national, p. 27.
  8. Spain is the country of the Counter Reformation and therefore the anti-liberal and antimodern state par excellence.
  9. Cesar Antonio Ugarte, Bosquejo de la historia economica del Peru.
  10. See the essay on the religious factor in this book.
  11. Edouard Herriot, Creer (Paris: Payot, 1919), p. 95.
  12. Ibid., p. 125.
  13. Ibid., p. 127.
  14. Ibid., pp. 120, 123-124.
  15. Villaran, Estudios sobre education national, p. 74.
  16. Ibid., p. 33.
  17. Dr. Bouroncle, “Cien afios de politica educacional,” La Prensa (Lima), 9 December 1924.
  18. In 1926 the budget expenditures were Lp. [Libras peruanas] 10,158,960 with Lp. 1,000,184 for education but only Lp. 859,807 for primary education.
  19. Ley Organica de 1920. Edition oficial, p. 84. [There is no footnote no. 20 in the original. Ed.]
  20. La reforma universitaria, 6 vols. (Buenos Aires: Publicaciones del Cir-culo Medico Argentino y Centro de Estudiantes de Medicina, 1926-1927).
  21. Ibid., I, 55-
  22. Ibid., p. 44.
  23. Ibid., pp. 58, 86.
  24. Ibid., p. 125.
  25. Ibid., p. 130.
  26. Ibid., pp. 140-141.
  27. Victor Andres Belaiinde, La vida universitaria, p. 3.
  28. Alfredo L. Palacios, La nueva universidad.
  29. Amauta, no. 3 (November 1926).
  30. Repertorio Americano, vol. 15 (1927), p. 145.
  31. Revista Universitaria del Cuzco, no. 53 (1927).
  32. Amauta, no. 7 (March 1927).
  33. After this book went to the printer, the government, with the express authorization of the legislature, announced a new statute on university teaching that goes into effect in the academic year 1928, which therefore will begin late. This reform concerns almost exclusively the organization of university teaching, placed under the authority of a superior council presided over by the Minister of Education. The character, the concept, of that teaching has not been altered: it could only be altered within an integral educational reform that made university teaching the highest level of professional instruction, reserving it to the most capable and selecting them independently of economic privilege. The reform, which is above all administrative, tends in spirit to follow the principles of the 1920 law, although at some points it adopts different means. The speech by the president of the republic inaugurating the academic year assigned to the reform the mission of accommodating university teaching to the practical needs of the nation in this century of industrialism, and, by way of underlining this statement, explicitly condemned the orientation of those who favor an abstract, classical culture exempt from utilitarian preoccupations. But the rectorate, in the university’s new era (which seems so much like the old one), has been conferred upon Dr. Deustua, who, if he is a concientious scholar and university man, is also the most conspicuous of those who support the very tendency on which the president’s speech passes summary judgment. This contradiction could not be easily explained in any of the countries where ideological and doctrinal consistency is habitual. But Peru, we know, is not one of those countries. The statute—there is not room for a general discussion of it in this brief note—establishes the means for creating university careers, specialized teaching positions. In this sense it is a legal instrument for a technical transformation of teaching. The efficacy of this instrument depends on how it is used.
  34. Sagitaria (La Plata), no. 2, 1925.
  35. “A proposito de un cuestionairo sobre la reforma de la ley de instruc-cion.” Collection of articles published by M. A. Davila, 1914, p. 56. See also La cultura superior en Italia (Lima: E. Rosay, 1912), pp. 145 ff.
  36. F. Lefevre, Une heure avec, 2nd series, p. 172.
  37. Villaran, Estudios sobre education national, p. 52.
  38. Pedro Henriquez Urefia, Utopia de America.
  39. The renovative orientation of the normalists is expressed in publications that have appeared in Lima and the provinces in recent years: La Revista Peruana de Education, Lima, 1926; Revista del Maestro and Revista de Education, Tarma; Ideario Pedagogico, Arequipa; and El Educador Andino, Puno.
  40. The Minister of Education, Dr. Oliveira, in a speech to the congress in 1927, recognized the connection between the problem of indigenous education and the land problem, accepting a reality that had invariably been evaded by his predecessors in that post.