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icon-book2 Domingo Faustino Sarmiento (1811 - 1888)

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Early Years

Sarmiento was born on February 15th, 1811 in one of the poorest neighborhoods of San Juan. His father, José Clemente Sarmiento, and uncle were his first teachers. They taught him how to read at the age of four. In 1816, he started school in one the “Homeland Schools”, funded in the time of the Revolution.

As soon as he finished elementary school, his mother, Mrs. Paula Albarracín, encouraged him to study for priest in Córdoba, yet Domingo refused the proposal and applied for a scholarship for studying in Buenos Aires. Since he did not get the scholarship, he had to stay in San Juan and witness the civil wars that arose in the province. He then went into exile in San Francisco del Monte, San Luis, along with his uncle José de Oro. There, they built a school, being that the first contact of Sarmiento with education. Shortly after that, he went back home and started working in his aunt’s shop.

His Time in Chile

In 1831, after numerous battles resulted from Facundo Quiroga’s invasion of San Juan, Domingo decided to go into exile in Chile. He worked as a teacher in a school in Los Andes. His innovative ideas worried the governor. Upset, he chose to move to Pocura and build his own school. There, he fell in love with a student and had his first child, Ana Faustina.

In 1836, he managed to go back to San Juan and start his first newspaper, “El Zonda”. But a few years later he was forced to go back to Chile, due to governmental pressures. Back in Chile, he started to succeed as a journalist and education counselor for the government, being able to begin a more tranquil stage of his life. He married Benita and adopted his son Dominguito. He also published his most remarkable piece of work: “Facundo, Civilización y Barbarie”. He chose journalism as his trench for fighting Juan Manuel de Rosas. He started two other newspapers: “La Tribuna” and “La Crónica”, using them to continue his attacks against Rosas. Finally, sent by the Chilean government, he had the chance to travel around the world and to study the educational systems, teaching technics and communications of different countries.

Political Activity

In 1862, Mitre was elected President of the Republic, proposing a unification of the country. Under the same circumstances, Sarmiento was elected Governor of San Juan. Shortly after taking over the government, he enacted an Organic Law of Public Education, which imposed compulsory elementary education and created schools for the different stages of learning. In only two years, Sarmiento changed the physiognomy of his province. He opened new roads, widened streets, built new public buildings and hospitals, encouraged agriculture and supported mining companies in the territory.

Due to a presidential request, Domingo Faustino Sarmiento travelled in 1864 to the United States as a Minister Plenipotentiary. There, he got in touch with the North American academic circles and was honored with the “Honoris Causa” Doctorates by Michigan University and Brown University. While Sarmiento was still in the United States, presidential elections in Argentina were approaching and a group of politicians presented Sarmiento’s candidacy. The elections were held in April 1868 and in August 16th, as Sarmiento was flying to Buenos Aires, Congress confirmed his triumph.

During his presidency, Sarmiento kept encouraging education, creating about 800 new schools around the country and the military institutions: “Liceo Naval” and “Colegio Militar”. In 1869 was completed the first National Census. According to that, the Argentinians were 1.836.490, 31% of which lived in the Province of Buenos Aires and 71% was illiterate. The population was low, poorly educated and, as it also happened with the wealth, was unevenly distributed. For that reason, Sarmiento stimulated the arrival of English and Northern European immigrants, discouraging that from Southern Europe. He thought that the arrival of Saxons to the country would promote industrial development and culture.

Sarmiento thought that the main problem that Argentina was facing was the lack of development, summarized by the phrase “civilization or barbarism”. As many other people at that time did, Sarmiento identified civilization with the city, the urban, and the European-like; in other words, what they saw as progress. On the other hand, barbarism was equal to the countryside, the rural areas, the low growth, the Indians and the “gaucho”. Such dilemma, as he put it, could only be solved by the triumph of the civilization over the barbarism. His model for organizing the country was the Constitution of the United States, reason why he advocated for more immigration, promoted agriculture and encouraged foreign investment.

As soon as he finished his government in 1874, Sarmiento left his presidency behind, but he did not forget about politics at all. In 1875 he became General Director of Schools in the Province of Buenos Aires and continued his career as a journalist from the newspaper “La Tribuna”. A little after, he was elected senator for San Juan.

Importance of Education

At the time Sarmiento promoted Common Education, the illiteracy index was really high. There were only a few schools in the countryside, due to the fact that most of the owners of the “estancias” (big farms or ranches) had no interest in taking the workers and their children out of ignorance. What Sarmiento tried to tell them is that an education imparted according to the ideas and values of the dominant group, far from jeopardizing their interests, reproduced and established them. In his own words, “… we need to turn the Republic as a whole into a school.”

This idea notwithstanding, it took him a great effort to convince the powerful that Common Education was the solution, and only in 1884 he accomplished the sanction of his old project of free, secular and compulsory education, which will be known as the “1420 law”.

His Work

  • Mi defensa (1843)
  • Facundo o Civilización y Barbarie (1845)
  • Vida de Aldao (1845)
  • Método gradual de enseñar a leer el castellano (1845)
  • Viajes por África, Europa y América (1849)
  • Argirópolis (1850)
  • Recuerdos de provincia (1850)
  • Campaña del Ejército Grande (1852)
  • Las ciento y una (1853)
  • Comentario a la Constitución de la Confederación Argentina (1853)
  • Memoria sobre educación común (1856)
  • El Chacho (1865)
  • Las escuelas, bases de la prosperidad (1866)
  • Conflicto y armonías de las razas en América (1884)
  • Vida de Dominguito (1886)

Extract from Felipe Pigna's text, in “El Historiador”.
Available online: http://www.elhistoriador.com.ar/biografias/s/sarmiento.php