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A Venezuelan Educator: Don Feliciano Montenegro Colon

  • Mary Watters (a1)


Among the Hispanic-American States, Venezuela has not been notable for achievement in the field of education measured in terms of popular literacy. Venezuelans are, indeed, the first to recognize and to deplore a lack of such achievement. The writer is convinced, however, that no country of Hispanic-America can present a more interesting or exceptional list of educators, whether philosophers and critics, educational statesmen and administrators, or class-room teachers are proposed. Such outstanding figures as Simón Rodríguez, the radical reformer of the revolutionary era, sometimes called the “Rousseau of Hispanic-America”, or Andrés Bello, philosopher and teacher, or the Liberator himself, who might well be called the Jefferson of Hispanic-America in the field of educational statesmanship, are generally recognized.



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1 On January 24, 1848, President José Tadeo Monagas suppressed parliamentary rights and immunities by military force. González, through the instrument of a physician’s certificate, retired from Congress and public life, for some years ( Luis, Correa, “Temas para una Biografía de Juan Vicente González”, Boletín de la Academia Nacional de la Historia, Tomo XI (1928), 360).

2 Eduardo, Blanco, Venezuela Heroica (Caracas, 1883), an epic in prose of the War for Independence in Venezuela.

3 Montenegro said that his school was the first established in Spanish America after independence without support from the public treasury for teaching “primary studies, languages, pure mathematics, geography, physics, drawing, and music”. (Geografía General, 4 tomos, Caracas, 1833–1837, Tomo IV, 646.)

4 They, too, exaggerated our advancement in education. Montenegro emphasized the incomparable interest in education in the United States and its generous protection by public and private agencies, at a time (1833) when such protection was far from general or adequate. (See Geografía General, I, 523. On the United States, see Reisner, E. H., Nationalism and Education since 1789, New York, 1936).

5 Cap. 8. Art. 4. (Gil Fortoul, José, Historia Constitucional, edición segunda, 2 tomos, Caracas, 1930, includes this Constitution and others mentioned here in the Appendix to Vol. II.)

6 Cap. 9.

7 Tit. 1, Art. 24; Tit. 7, Art. 8.

8 Comment is made below (footnote no. 61) on Bolívar’s ideas on education.

9 Tit. III, Sec. II. Art. 55, No. 19.

10 El Correo del Orinoco, Dec. 1, 1821; Cuerpo de Leyes de la República de Colombia, 1821–1827, (Caracas, 1840), 439–450.

11 El Libro Nacional de los Venezolanos, Actos del Congreso Constituyente de Venezuela en 1811 (Caracas, 1911), 145.

12 Reports from the provinces to the Ministry of the Interior in 1831 give descriptive surveys of the history and status of their schools.

13 The Church, during the Revolution and afterwards lost much of its influence on Venezuelan life. See the author’s, History of the Church in Venezuela, 1910–1930, Chapel Hill, 1933). The school has not provided an adequate force for social integration and control. Hence Venezuelan society has suffered.

14 La Academia Nacional de la Historia, Documentos para los Anales de Venezuela, (Caracas, 1889–1890), Vol. III, 62–63.

15 Ibid., passim. See, for example, the pronunciamento of Barinas, ibid., 185. Other communities sanctioned this notable statement of Barinas.

16 Nucete-Sardi, José, “El Prócer Miguel Guerra y la Instrucción Pública Obligatoria en Venezuela”, Revista Nacional de Cultura, (July, 1940), 3640.

17 Documentos de Secretaría de lo Interior y justicia, Tomo XXXIII, Folios 325–330.

18 Caracciolo, Parra, La Instrucción en Caracas, 1567–1725 (Caracas, 1932), 197199.

19 Art. 161, Sec. 17.

20 Memoria de lo Interior (1842), 8–12. The Memorias of the Secretary of the Interior and unpublished documents in the National Archives in Caracas contain much information on these colegios.

21 See, for example, the Memoria de lo Interior, (1840), Exposición de la Dirección General de Instrucción Pública, XXI-XXIX.

22 Ibid., (1831), 90–94.

23 Ibid., (1840), Exposición de la Dirección General de Instrucción Pública, XXI-XXIX.

24 Memoria de lo Interior, (1839), 32–33.

25 Laureano, Villanueva, Biografía del Doctor José María Vargas (Caracas, 1883), 160.

26 See especially the Exposición … de la Dirección General de Instrucción Pública, (1841), 97–102.

27 Páez, J. A., Autobiografía del General José Antonio Páez, 2nd edition, (New York, 1871), 2 vols., Vol. I, 192.

28 Bentham’s writings were exceedingly popular here.

29 Agustín, Codazzi, Resumen de la Geografia de Venezuela, 3 vols. (Caracas, 1940).

30 Antonio, Arráiz, “Agustín Codazzi”, Revista Nacional de Cultura, June, 1940, 1535.

31 Ordenanzas de la Provincia de Caracas, (Caracas, 1849), 42 et seq.

32 José, Gil Fortoul, Historia Constitucional, II, 124125.

33 Memoria de lo Interior, (1834), 38–39.

34 Ibid., (1844), 25–26; El Venezolano, May 23, 1843.

35 Memoria de lo Interior, (1844), 25–26.

36 Díaz, J. A., El Agricultor Venezolano, 2 vols. (Caracas, 1861).

37 M Ministerio de Agricultura y Cria, Informe del Doctor J. A. B. Nolle, (Caracas, 1936), 20.

38 Ramón, Azpurúa, Biografías de Hombres Notables de Hispano-América, 4 vols., (Caracas, 1877), IV , 92–95. Azpurúa did not give the date of Montenegro’s birth, but recorded that he died in 1853 at a very advanced age.

39 Parra-Pérez, C., Historia de la Primera República de Venezuela, 2 vols. (Caracas, 1939), I, 62.

40 Páez, Autobiografía, I, 189.

41 Robertson, W. S., Life of Miranda, 2 vols., (Chapel Hill, 1929), II, 104; also Parra-Pérez, op. cit., II. 34.

42 Colón, Montenegro, Geografía General, IV, 270271, footnote; 377–380, footnote.

43 Ibid., IV, 377–3 80, footnote.

44 Baralt, Rafael María y Ramón Díaz, Resumen de la Historia de Venezuela desde 1797 basta 1830, 2 vols., 2nd edition, (Caracas, 1941), I, 361, 371.

45 Colón, Montenegro, Geografía General, IV, 270271, footnote.

46 Páez, Autobiografía, I, 189.

47 Páez, op. cit., I, 189.

48 Letter of Montenegro, 1842, in Documentos, Secretaría de lo Interior, Tomo 63, Folios 11–12.

49 See, for example, Gonzalo, Picón-Febres, La Literatura Venezolana en el Siglo XIX, (Caracas,1906), 106108,

50 Páez, op. cit., I, 190.

51 Geografía General, I, IV, foreword. Rafael, Domínguez, José María Vargas, (Caracas, 1930), 215.

52 Secretaría de lo Interior, Documentos, Tomo 122, Folios 41–58.

53 Memoria de lo Interior, (1873) II, 25 passim.

54 Fortoul, Gil, Historia Constitucional, II, 133.

55 Baralt’s work was published in 1841 in Paris. In 1840, Francisco Javier Yanes published in, Caracas, his Compendio de la Historia de Venezuela desde su Descubrimiento hasta que se declaró Estado Independiente.

56 Geografía General, IV, foreword.

57 Geografía General, IV, foreword. It might be noted that this work, printed by Antonio Damirón, has all the fine qualities of superior workmanship that the books and newspapers of that period made by Damirón and by Valentín Espinal possessed.

58 Codazzi, Resumen de la Geografía de Venezuela, I, advertencia.

59 El Venezolano, April 12, 1841.

60 Guzmán, A. L., Datos Históricos Sur-americanos, 4 vols., (Brussels, 1878–1882), III, 519.

61 For the constitution of this Moral Power, see Gil Fortoul, op. cit., II, 543 et seq. For Bolívar’s ideas on education, see also his Constitution for Bolivia proposed in 1826 (Gil Fortoul, II, 587 et seq.), in which he proposed a Council of Censors on education and morals; and “Papeles sueltos e incompletos”, a document found by Vicente Lecuna and published in the Nuevo Diario de Caracas, December 19, 1915. The latter shows, it would seem, the influence of Rodríquez or Rousseau. Bolívar was less severe, more urbane, considerably less puritanical than Montenegro.

62 For utilitarian ends, the maintenance of order and stability, the Conservative Oligarchy came to recognize the services of the church in the 1840’s, but with considerable caution and restraint; see the author’s History of the Church in Venezuela, 160–162.

63 For example, he noted with approval (Geografía General, III, 115, footnote) that Chile had reduced the number of feast-days, which had only encouraged idleness and dissipation, and regretted the fact that Venezuela had not done the same. Such a reduction was made in Venezuela in 1837.

64 Ibid., I, 522.

65 Secretaría de lo Interior, Documentos, Tomo 63, Folios 53–56.

66 Páez wrote later (Autobiografía, 188, footnote) of the problem and the need of securing texts, stating that Achermann of London, with the aid of Americans residing there, had published books for South Americans, but that the great undertaking had failed for want of support.

67 Public schools supported by local authorities were poor and few, and those able to pay welcomed private schools. Montenegro had criticized the system of public instruction as it operated in Caracas. (Geografía, IV, 576–577, footnote). With two one-teacher schools for a city of 3 5,000, he thought instruction was spread so thin as to be practically worthless, even worse, corrupting through bad social influences in poorly supervised schools. He favored a national system with primary schools closely integrated with the national colegios and these with the universities (Caracas and Mérida); also the establishment of normal schools. Asked later to inspect the public schools of Caracas and make recommendation for a reform (El Liberal, July 16, 1839 and August 27, 1839), he recommended, in view of the existing system of support, that the two schools be combined, the numbers admitted limited to 100, and three teachers employed.

68 Montenegro had no personal fortune with which to establish his school, and he had rather exacting ideals of essential physical accommodations required. These factors delayed the undertaking. He declared that Dr. Vargas was the person most interested in its success and that he loaned the money for the first year’s rent. Then the Conde de Tovar (Manuel Felipe Tovar) remodelled his house to accommodate the school and delivered it to him rent-free for the first six months. (Geografía, IV, 646). Páez sent his sons to Montenegro before the school opened to help him in securing funds for its foundation. (Autobiografía, I, 189.)

69 Memoria de lo Interior, (1839), 22–26.

70 El Liberal, November 28, 1837.

71 El Venezolano, May 17, 1842.

72 Ibid., November 30, 1841. The government loaned him 12,000 pesos, which it later cancelled and granted him 20,000 pesos in addition in recompense for his expenditures and for his services to public instruction. Cuerpo de Leyes, 1830–1850, (Caracas, 1851), Decree of May 26, 1846.

73 El Venezolano, March 3, 1843.

74 El Liberal, March 28, 1837; Gaceta de Venezuela, February 17, 1839; El Venezolano, September 27, 1842.

75 Francisco, González Guiñan, Historia Contemporánea de Venezuela, 15 Vols., (Caracas, 1909–1925), II, 273.

76 El Venezolano, September 27, 1842.

77 Memoria de lo Interior, (1842), 10; 16.

78 Montenegro had criticized the old methods, still used by some, of teaching “a bad Latin and what is called philosophy, whether the pupils know their own language or not”. Such a system of instruction would produce, he insisted, “presumptuous young men, with habits often pernicious, idle, eager for offices on which to live and disposed always to take a decisive part in questions they do not understand”. He saw in the foundation of the School of Mathematics the one constructive achievement in education in the years up to 1837. (Geografía, IV, 575.)

79 Geografía General, IV, 646.

80 El Venezolano, February 8, 1941.

81 El Liberal, August 6, 1839.

82 See the article on Victor Cousin in the Encyclopedia Britannica (Eleventh edition). Cousin’s translation of the Prussian system established during the Regeneration and his praise of it (“to carry back the education of Prussia into France afforded a nobler (if a bloodless) triumph than the trophies of Austerlitz and Jena”) led to its becoming the basis for the French reform of primary education. It also had great influence on educational thought and action in England and the United States. One hundred years and a few more later we talk of reforming Prussian education ! The article on Cousin stated that one of his disciples was J. P. Damiron. Perhaps he was a relative of the Antonio Damirón who taught French in the Colegio de la Independencia.

83 El Venezolano, April 4, 1843.

84 El Liberal, April 21, 1840. The library was likely made up of the books collected by the club El Liceo, which later became the Biblioteca Nacional. It was located in the convent and open to the public.

85 Palacios, Feliciano, Marvarte, Andrés, Gual, Ignacio, Espinal, Valentín, Damirón, Antonio, Urbaneja, D. B., Soublette, Carlos, Mendoza, Cristobal, Briceño, M. de, Correa, Luis, Paúl, Felipe Fermín de, Manrique, J. M., Lecuna, Vicente, Tovar, Manuel Felipe, Calcaño, J. B., de Rojas, José María, Tejera, Miguel, Yanes, Francisco Javier and others (El Venezolano, May 10, 1841). Páez was also a patron.

86 María, Rojas José, Biblioteca de Escritores Venezolanos, (Caracas, 1875), 734735 ; Luis, Correa, Terra Patrum, (Caracas, 1930), 71 et seq.; El Liberal, August 25, 1840 .

87 The writer has not discovered a statement of cost of instruction and living in the Colegio de la Independencia, but it was probably the same as the cost in certain similar schools which opened soon after it did—22 pesos (El Liberal, November 14, 1837). D. F. O’Leary wrote the Conde de Aldercreutz, Swedish representative in Venezuela, whose sons were there, asking the price in order to compare it with his son Simon’s education in England, which was 500 pesos a year or £80. ( Parra-Pérez, C., La Cartera del Coronel Conde de Aldercreutz, (Paris, 1928), 152, 155.

88 Páez, op. cit., I, 191; Correa, Luis, “Temas para una Biografía de Juan Vicente González”, 360.

89 Lecciones de Buena Crianza, 171 et seq, on discipline in colegios.

90 Secretaría de lo Interior, Tomo 63, Folios 13–14.

91 Páez, op. cit., I, 191.

92 El Liberal, November 14, 1837.

93 Reports of schools to the Ministry of the Interior contain references to its use, especially in Maracaibo.

94 El Liberal, September 17, 1839.

95 El Liberal, September 17, 1839.

96 Ibid., May 26, 1840.

97 El Liberal, May 5, 1840.

98 Páez, op. cit., I, 191.

99 El Venezolano, May 17, 1842; Secretaría de lo Interior, Tomo 63, Folios 11–12.

100 Secretaría de lo Interior, Tomo 63, Folio 22–23; 28–38.

101 El Liberal, November 7, 1843.

102 Memoria del Gobernador de la Provincia de Caracas, (Caracas, 1848), 15.

103 Secretaría de lo Interior, Tomo 63, Folios, 39–40.

104 Ibid., Folios 28–38. These folios contain the rules of the school.

105 Reisner, E. H., Nationalism and Education Since 17Z9, 137138 .

106 Ibid., Folios 53-76.

107 Ramón, Azpurúa, Biografías, IV, 95 .

108 Quoted in Gonzalo, Picón-Febres, La Literatura Venezolana en el Siglo XIX, (Caracas, 1906), 106.

109 Ibid., 107.

110 María, Rojas José, Biblioteca de Escritores Venezolanos, 734735 .

111 Luis, Correa, Terra Patrum, 72 .

A Venezuelan Educator: Don Feliciano Montenegro Colon

  • Mary Watters (a1)


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