Accepted paper:

Uruguay's Reforma Vareliana: an attempt at positivist frontier modernisation


Jens R Hentschke (Newcastle University)

Paper short abstract:

For the architects of Uruguay's Reforma Vareliana, education was vital to erase frontier backwardness. This paper explores their gradual move from liberal 'popular' to positivist 'scientific education' between 1876 and the 1882 International Pedagogical Congress in Buenos Aires.

Paper long abstract:

In the late 1870s, Jose Pedro Varela, highly mythologized in Uruguay but little studied outside his country, embarked on a profound reform of primary education, which his brother Jacobo extended to the normal school sector during the following decade. Both saw no alternative to 'civilizing' war-torn Uruguay but lending their services to reform-willing military rulers. For Jose Batlle y Ordonez and his followers, who established Latin America's first welfare state democracy after 1903, this decision represented a mortal sin. While building upon the school reform of the 'militarist' era, batllistas distanced themselves from not only the Varelas but also the political philosophy that had guided them, positivism. Yet, varelistas with their rationalist roots never propagated a Comtean enlightened dictatorship but adhered to the more liberal English school and placed emphasis on the establishment of a nation-wide school system, the reconstruction of curricula, and scientific (often dogmatic) pedagogy. Their overriding concern was the very survival of their country in a perceived Darwinist competition of nation-states. This paper will explore the evolving normative ideas behind school reform and nation-building in Uruguay from the publication of Jose Pedro Varela's 'La legislacion escolar' in 1876 to the 1882 International Pedagogical Congress in Buenos Aires that helped spread the varelistas' doctrines in Argentina and Brazil.

panel P25
Positivism and education reform in late nineteenth-century Latin America