It’s gratifying to find, so far, the source document referenced in the two books I’m currently working on – Burn’s The Catholic School System in the United States and Parish School by Timothy Walch – are more often than not readily available online. There are a couple of books so far that I’m going to need a good library to find for me, as they are either unavailable or expensive on line. But I’ve got plenty of reading material.
On the downside, that means that I get a few pages into Walch or Burns before I find something I’ve just got to look up, aaaaand, hours later, I’m neck deep in some obscure document or other. Come to think of it, that’s how I came to read Burns’ epic in the first place…
Today’s rabbit hole is being provided by the Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association, Volume 6, July 1902 – April, 1903, made available online by the noble people at The Portal to Texas History website. In his chapters on the Spanish, French and English Catholic efforts at schooling in America, Burns has a footnote linking to this document:
Well, can’t pass up a chance to read up on the schools under the Spanish and Mexicans in San Antonio in the early 1800s, especially their ‘curriculum, and curious disciplinary rules.’
It seems one Mr. Cox has obtained and translated from the Spanish a number of documents related to the founding, funding and structuring of the Public Free School of San Antonio, including a government document from 1828 laying out the details.
The curriculum is what one would expect: reading, writing, Spanish grammar, basic math and above all Catholic catechesis.
Not sure that’s a very cogent translation, but the gist seems pretty clear: each day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon, the children were to memorize questions and answers from a standard catechism. Also, the Teacher was charged with teaching the children proper behavior at school, in the home, in church and on the street.
The school was designed for 70 students, and was to run 4 years, starting around age 12. The school’s structure is a military riff on the basic one-room school. Kids are divided up into groups – called Romans and Carthaginians! – in three ranks: Officers, who have mastered the bulk of what is being taught; Captains, who can at least read and write; and the remainder, who can at least read. It seems to be assumed that the kids all learned to read before going to school. The officers, in conjunction with the Teacher, would assign lessons, assign kids to deliver the lessons, and maintain order. Age is nowhere mentioned as a consideration – groupings were based on what you knew or needed to learn, and a kid could move up or down in rank based on his performance.
The Teacher’s role was one of management. He (it is simply presumed to be a man, and was in San Antonio) had at most 2 hours a day during which he, himself, might deliver lessons. He would be unlikely to use all of that time for that purpose, since he was also supposed to ‘hear lessons’ then as well.
Hearing lessons, or recitation, was the main tool used in one room schools to see how each child was doing. In the American one-room schools, the teacher, after having assigned kids as teachers and learners as needed, would then spend the day having each child come up and recite what they’d learned. Based on these recitations, future lessons would be assigned. Age didn’t figure into it. Learning what you needed to learn was the criterion. The San Antonio school seems to have been designed to operate in a similar way.
70 students is twice or more the enrollment of a typical American one-room school. It’s interesting that the Spanish in San Antonio would think 70 students needed to be divided into 2 groups, each of which would then be near the maximum of an American one room school. I wonder if they had any contact with the American rural schools?
The Teacher, then, must first manage the kids put in charge:
Cox is very dismissive of the efforts of the Spanish in Texas, pointing out the problems they had in getting these schools up and running and how obviously they fell short of their goals. Graft and theft are assumed at every turn, as is the indolence of the Spanish. When Walch reviews the efforts of the Spanish, he seems to agree with Cox and not so much with Burns, who has at least a few kinder words to say. Walch even repeats with qualified approval a quip by Francis Parkman:
Spanish civilization crushed the Indian, English civilization scorned and neglected him, and French civilization embraced and cherished him.
Hmmm. One might point out an inconvenient truth here: today, in the Americas where the Spanish once ruled, the populations are almost always made up of a large minority or even majority of people with Indian blood, including many purebred Indians; where the English ruled, Indians were all but exterminated. It would be hard to reconcile Parkman’s words with this reality. Perhaps he was not the impartial observer one would hope for in an historian? Here’s another Parkman quotation:
The monk, the inquisitor, and the Jesuit were lords of Spain,— sovereigns of her sovereign, for they had formed the dark and narrow mind of that tyrannical recluse. They had formed the minds of her people, quenched in blood every spark of rising heresy, and given over a noble nation to a bigotry blind and inexorable as the doom of fate. Linked with pride, ambition, avarice, every passion of a rich, strong nature, potent for good and ill, it made the Spaniard of that day a scourge as dire as ever fell on man.
You be the judge.
I’ll get to the California Missions and the French and English Catholic education efforts in America soon.