The educational reform of 1905: State, indigenous y racialized politics in the Aristocratic Republic1


Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú

Abstract. This article seeks to demonstrate that the interest of a sector of Peru’s elite in modernizing public education, and using it as a tool for indigenous modernization, was closely linked with its racial conceptualization of Peruvian society in the early 20th century. This vision is evident in speeches as well as in increases to the education budget, constraints placed on rural education, and the implementation of differentiated teacher-training schools.

Keywords: Educational change; public education; rural education; education policy; racism in the education; 1900-1920; Peru.


Since the country became independent, the Peruvian political class and intellectual elite proclaimed the expansion of education to all sectors of society as one of the nascent state’s main duties. But by the end of the 19th century, there had been practically no real progress on this front. However, during the so-called Aristocratic Republic—the era when the landed oligarchy dominated Peruvian politics, which Jorge Basadre calculated as lasting from the late 19th century through the first two decades of the 20th—a new generation of members of the Partido Civil, the party of the bourgeoisie, promoted a new vision of the role of the state in transforming society. Having witnessed the hardships that followed the war with Chile and aware of the importance of reforming the state and society the better to avert new disasters, this new generation of Civilistas put their trust in free trade as the engine of economic development, and in the need to provide the necessary technical knowledge to elites so that they could lead the process. Thus, they established the School of Agriculture (Escuela de Agricultura) in 1902 and supported the School of Engineering (Escuela de Ingeniería—founded earlier, in 1876), with the aim of creating a highly educated and technically adept ruling class that could spearhead the country’s economic development. But unlike the first Civilistas who governed in the 1870s, this new generation considered it necessary for the state to assume a more active role in regenerating the lower social classes in Peru. And for some of its leaders, one instrument of social change should be the expansion of public education.

Contemporary Peruvian historiography has focused very little on public education, and there are still large gaps in its study. But recent research has shed new light on this area, revealing the struggles and aspirations surrounding the process of public school expansion in Peru. Antonio Espinoza (2011), examining Peruvian education during the first century of independence, shows how different social groups saw, or used, public education according to their own interests or at their own convenience: for the elite, to encourage the social regeneration of popular sectors; and for popular sectors, as a vehicle for social mobility. One of the most important aspects of Espinoza’s study is its emphasis on the importance of prescriptive public education. In specific terms, the educational aims of the Peruvian state differed according to the social groups they catered to, and were conditioned by considerations of race, class, and gender, and on how these, in the view of the ruling class of the day, determined social aspirations and capabilities.

When referring to rural education in the early 20th century, one cannot overlook the now-classic text by Carlos Contreras, Maestros, mistis y campesinos en el Perú rural del siglo XX (1994). Contreras points to the difficulties involved in the expansion of public education during that period, but also to the interest that governments of different persuasions, Civilismo among them, had in education as a means of social regeneration. The school became a battlefield for different political and ideological tendencies, as well as for social groups that were helped or hindered by the emergence of new schools in their communities. This hypothesis also forms the basis of Ximena Málaga’s study of Puno at the start of the 20th century. For Málaga, the ruling class in Lima saw education not only as a tool for social regeneration, but also as an opportunity to “build a new indigenous subject who meets the needs for the definition of a Nation State and for ongoing modernization.” (Málaga, 2014, p. 8).2

On the other hand, academic awareness of racial considerations in public education came about gradually—aided by cultural studies, particularly critical race theory—in the final quarter of the 20th century. These new disciplines centered on the function of racism within the institutional structures of society. The studies of Goldberg (1993) and Stocking (1988) demonstrated how the concept of race shaped society in all its aspects.3 The existence of a “racial state,” according to Goldberg, was not only a consequence of state policies: it was also a product of the central capacity of the state to reproduce and maintain a racial vision in society. Paulo Drinot (2011) focuses on these considerations to identify racialized labor policies in Peruvian society during the first decades of the 20th century. Similarly, Espinoza (2011) applies these concepts to the study of Peruvian educational policy during the 19th century.

The present article argues that the expansion of state education policy at the start of the 20th century was based on a racialized conceptualization of Peruvian society, which defined what was taught to each social group, and its scope. This differentiation was a function not of budgetary or bureaucratic constraints, but of a racial conceptualization of the campesino population, especially in the Andes. The ruling class, educated in accordance with the postulates of late-19th-century social positivism, but also imbued with the racial stereotypes and theories that still predominated in the early 20th century, envisioned a limited education for this group: so-called “indigenous education.” In addition to the limitations imposed on rural schools, evidence of this racialization of education can be found in the path that the young Civilistas mapped out for indigenous people once they completed their education; in line with the principle of educating according to “the intellectual capacities of each individual” (Ministerio de Justicia, Culto, Instrucción y Beneficencia, 1906, p. 5), the Civilistas promoted elementary indigenous education focused on the development of this population group as modern laborers or agriculturalists.

More to the point, this differentiation served as the ideological foundation on which educational policies were developed at the start of the 20th century. Espinoza has studied how notions of race played an important part in discussions about the state’s approach to education in the 19th century (2011, pp. 135-138). This article builds on his work and demonstrates how, at the start of the 20th century, the state furthered this racial vision of education—based, intrinsically, on a policy of expanding public education that went on to endure through the first half of the century.

In turn, this condemned the indigenous population to a lack of meaningful participation in the political sphere. The electoral reform of 1896, promulgated at the start of the Aristocratic Republic, contained a literacy requirement, to the exclusion of most indigenous people. The arguments that underpinned this reform were centered on the need to rid democracy of public vices which, admonished the elite, were the reason for the chaotic state of affairs in Republican Peru in the 19th century. These public vices, in the minds of the elite, were embodied by the ignorant population who turned out to vote and ultimately degraded the system. Thus, the limitations of indigenous education diminished the indigenous communities’ prospects of finding a political voice in the future. For the new generation of Civilistas, the only possible objective of indigenous education was to regenerate this group as a “factor of labor” and thus transform them into a “conscious and active” part of the population (Pardo, 1904, p. 4).

1.“Racializing” education

During the 1870s, Manuel Pardo and the first generation of Civilistas centered their attention on public education as a central element in the process of molding citizens who would be useful for Peru’s economic development (McEvoy, 2007, p. 261), but the economic debacle of that decade and the subsequent War of the Pacific prevented progress on this front. Moreover, after Peru’s defeat in the war, the upper classes were trenchant in their criticism of the “utility” of the indigenous race for national development. According to Marcone, the elites initially saw the indigenous population as an inferior people, almost impossible to improve without cross-breeding with other, more vigorous races. But in subsequent years, the Civilista elite gradually changed their views about the possibilities of their regeneration. This new perspective considered the need to expand education and healthcare services as a means of revitalizing the indigenous population (Marcone, 1995, p. 82).

In short, the new generation of Civilistas who governed during the Aristocratic Republic saw public education as a vital instrument for the economic and social redemption of Peru, and especially its indigenous population.4 Borne of an awareness that they constituted the bulk of the population, and that the country was seemingly condemned to a premodern economy dominated by gamonalismo, the objective of expanding schooling was to “transform the seven eighths of the indigenous population from the miserable social conditions in which they live due to their ignorance into a factor of labor, as is the conscious and active population of any country” (Pardo, 1904, p. 45).

Thus, the question concerned how to educate the indigenous, and to what end. For the governing class, the maximum degree of education worth imparting depended on the race in question. This differentiation was underpinned by racial theory, which regarded certain racial groups as inferior and subject to certain limitations in their capacity to process knowledge. These ideas found acceptance among the intellectual and political elite of the Aristocratic Republic and formed the basis of the “racialization” of public education. But this change came alongside other projects to redeem the indigenous that the Civilista elite was formulating. The “racialization” of labor in the first half of the 20th century (Drinot, 2011, pp. 32 ff) was a clear expression of a new perspective that saw occupational training as a way of overcoming the cultural barriers erected by the indigenous heritage. This approach offered an opportunity for a fresh perspective on the so-called “Indian problem,” and for a solution centered on their advancement in the spheres of education, labor, and health. Thus, in the years that followed, labor education would become a means of civilizing the indigenous population and the path to their redemption. These projects were central components in the racial conception of the indigenous problem, representing a shift away from a racial discourse centered on inherited (that is, immutable) biological characteristics of indigenous people toward another focused on cultural transformation (through the school, work, and personal hygiene) as a means of redemption.

“The intellectual capacity of each individual”

During the 1904 elections, Samuel Ortiz de la Puente (a young member of the Civilista elite) wrote an effusive letter to future president José Pardo asking him to turn his attention to indigenous education. A few days later, Pardo replied to Ortiz stating that he saw public education as one of the primary means of regenerating the country, correcting the error made by the 19th century elite of ignoring indigenous people in their government programs: “The indigenous race, abandoned to their fate in previous eras by governments and legislators, is called upon [...] to constitute the element that represents the strength and the true material value of the Republic.” (Pardo, 1904, p. 4).

When he came to power, Pardo did not forget his campaign pledges regarding public education. To organize the educational objectives of the new Civilista government, Law 162 was promulgated, which divided primary education into two types of units: “elementary schools” (escuelas elementales) where the first grade would be taught over two years; and “scholastic centers” (centros escolares) where both first and second grade were to be imparted over a five year period. The purpose of the elementary schools was to teach “to read, write, and count; the learning of reading serving for the acquisition, in turn, of notions of morality, of national History and Geography, and Hygiene.” (Ministerio de Justicia, Culto, Instrucción y Beneficencia, 1906, p. 4). The law also gave the central government greater sway over municipalities, divesting them of the power to levy the tax used for school maintenance (mojonazgo). Finally, the law provided for schooling for free in order to remove any possible economic barriers that had previously impeded access (Espinoza, 2011, pp. 162ff).

In a speech to Congress, Jorge Polar, the Minister of Justice, Worship, Instruction and Beneficence, established the parameters for deciding on the level of education to be imparted in each part of the country:

Most of the population is very backward intellectually [...] for this backward population only elementary school should be provided, [while] for our more advanced populations, for our cities, something more is needed; scholastic centers have to be established. (Ministerio de Educación Pública, 1906, p. 5)

Thus, the differentiation in the level of primary education to be taught in a given location was determined not only by the urban-rural dichotomy, but by racial considerations. Polar established a radical difference between the urban and rural populations; he felt that while the former enjoyed an intellectual tradition, the latter was completely lacking in one. Even though illiteracy among the urban working classes was still high, as far as the minister was concerned, this was no obstacle to city children having access to the full program of primary education.6

Moreover, when laying the foundations for the draft of what would become Law 162, Polar stated that this distinction was merely to fulfill “the pedagogical precept that provides for teaching according to the intellectual capacity of each individual” (Ministerio de Educación Pública, 1906, p. 6). Thus, for the minister:

The children of the race of illiterates, without an inheritance, without the intellectual accrual that is formed from generation to generation in people who are educated, cannot receive, cannot absorb anything but the most elementary culture, a culture of initiation merely, [since] [...] intellectual levels cannot be raised at a stroke, and, if an attempt is made to do so, they end up out of balance.” (Ministerio de Educación Pública, 1906, p. 6)

In defining indigenous people by their “inheritance” Polar was making explicit reference to the principles of social positivism then in vogue, particularly those of Gustave Le Bon and Jean Marie Guyau. Both Le Bon and Guyau define two stages in the development of the human being: one determined by immutable factors (inherited traits, or character) and another by malleable factors (acquired habits, or thought) (Quiroz, 2010, p 42). For both, education could affect the latter, but not the former. This was central to the differentiation established by the new generation of Peruvian Civilistas, educated toward the end of the 19th century and still adherents of positivism, as part of their approach to the “Indian problem.” Drawing on the proposals of these two thinkers, the Civilistas saw the elementary school (with its two years of primary education) as the maximum level of education that indigenous children were capable of absorbing at that time.

In sum, although the elementary schools ostensibly catered to the lower strata in general, in point of fact the enrollment strategies differed according to race: poor children from the city had better prospects of accessing the full five-year program of primary education available at the scholastic centers, while indigenous children were restricted to the two initial years of primary instruction imparted by the elementary schools. This racial framework, which served as the basis for the discourse of differentiation devised by the Lima elite of the early 20th century, provided the ideological foundations for the creation of a system that was inclusive, yet limited to indigenous people, in the years that followed.7

“Teaching according to their capacities”

In the educational context, racial differentiation was evident not only in the discourses of the senior government officials, but also in the education policies of the day, attesting to how the Civilista educational project was structured around such notions. Continuing with the process of pedagogical modernization, in 1905 Pardo reopened the Normal School for Men (Escuela Normal de Varones);8 its first principal was Isidore Poiry, one of the members of the Belgian mission invited to Peru by the government in 1903. The original aim of the mission was to reform secondary education, using the Colegio Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe as a pilot project. But Poiry was then asked to assume the role of principal of the Normal School for Men, where he was tasked with training a new generation of Peruvian educators to reinvigorate public education during the following years.9 Although he did not receive all the political and economic support he would have desired, Poiry revitalized teacher training through his focus on the professionalization and the academic demands of the educator.

It should be noted that the aim of the school was always to train teachers for the new scholastic centers due to be built in the years that followed. The law establishing the school stipulated that its aim was to “train preceptors for teaching the second grade of primary” (El Peruano, 1905a, p. 58). But the scholastic centers, which offered the full program of primary education (that is, first and second grade), were located chiefly in urban environments. Thus, the graduates of the Normal School for Men went off to exercise their profession in the cities, and not the countryside.

In turn, a different type of teacher was earmarked for rural education. At the school’s opening ceremony, Polar expressed the need to create an institution to prepare teachers for work in rural areas:

But, as well as this Normal School, I aspire to another, in which teachers will be trained for elementary schools, for the schools of reading, writing and arithmetic, for the school of the village, the hamlet, the ayllu. Not much science will be demanded of these teachers, but plenty of kindness, plenty of patience, a pious heart, for they are going to be educating the children of a race that is backward and despondent and miserable, and which needs, therefore, to have its head held up and its heart warmed. (Escuela Normal de Varones, 1905, p. 13; emphasis ours)

As part of this plan, Polar turned to teacher-training schools for women since, by the early 20th century, females already accounted for a sizable proportion of teachers around the country.10 Moreover, their limited opportunities for upward mobility within the profession made women perfect candidates for teaching at rural elementary schools—posts that that were not in the least coveted by male normal school graduates, who were normally sent to scholastic centers in departmental capitals.

In the following years, Polar issued decrees for new teacher-training schools for women in the cities of Arequipa, Trujillo, Puno, and Cusco, in addition to the Normal School for Women (Escuela Normal de Mujeres) already operating in Lima. But only one was opened, in the city of Arequipa. Headed by Luisa D’Heure, the Normal School of Female Preceptors for Mixed Elementary Schools and Scholastic Centers11 (Escuela Normal de Preceptoras para Escuelas Elementales y Centros Escolares Mixtos) was intended for training teachers “preferably, in the Departments of the South,” since, in the words of one minister of education toward the end of the Leguía administration, “such was the purpose of their creation.” (Ministerio de Justicia, Culto, Instrucción y Beneficencia, 1911, pp. 59ff). The Belgian Adela D’Heure—probably a relative of the school’s principal—was hired to teach a course on “educational manual work and domestic economy” (Ministerio de Justicia, Culto, Instrucción y Beneficencia, 1908, p. 625).

With the hope of attracting student teachers in greater numbers, in April 1907, the government issued new regulations for the Normal School for Women in Lima: the age of admission was extended to 22, the number of openings was increased to 200, and the curriculum was adapted to include “object lessons” and “educational manual work,” as well as the addition of one preparatory year to the two years of specialization. Thus, under the new curriculum, the first year was for review of what was supposed to have been studied at the primary level, while pedagogy-specific courses would only commence in the second year. Then, in the third year, subjects would be exclusively pedagogical: “student hygiene,” “domestic economy” and “general and special methodology.” (Ministerio de Justicia, Culto, Instrucción y Beneficencia, 1907, pp. 611-613; 1910, pp. 59 ff). Later, new regulations, approved on January 26, 1907, provided for courses on religion and civic education.

In his report to the minister, Raimundo Morales (who was appointed inspector of the Normal School for Female Preceptors by the Ministry of Justice, Worship, Instruction and Beneficence) expressed his pleasure regarding these changes:

The Curriculum that since last year is applied in the School [...] was for now [sic] the most suitable and convenient for conveying the elements of primary instruction to our rural and indigenous populations, whose intellectual deficiency is very well-known. (Ministerio de Justicia, Culto, Instrucción y Beneficencia, 1905, p. 750)

All of these changes bore fruit. In 1905, the Arequipa school had just 43 students and seven teachers (El Peruano, 1905b, p. 166; 1904, p. 197), but by 1907 there were 63 and two years later, 89. In turn, the Normal School for Women in Lima reached 100 students in the following years.12

“Because he does not understand what education is worth”

On the other hand, getting students into the classrooms was the main aim of the Civilista government. When Law 162 was promulgated in 1905, the outlook for rural primary education was bleak, as the inspector Raimundo Morales warned Minister Polar:

The statistical data [...] prove [...] [that] in the long time in which graduate teachers have led primary education establishments in all Departments of the Republic, they have not been able to ensure that either the Municipalities or the parents consent to students proceeding with any assignments beyond the old second grade. Then, domestic chores, work in the field, and other urgent demands of the pitiful state of that indigenous population, take them out of the school never to return. (Ministerio de Justicia, Culto, Instrucción y Beneficencia, 1905, p. 751)

The ministry’s position regarding indigenous truancy was clear: these students did not go to school because they lacked the minimum necessary conditions and resources to do so. Thus, it fell to the ministry to provide the means for indigenous children to be able to attend their schools. To this end, one government strategy was to provide free primary education, distribute school supplies, and update textbooks (Contreras, 1994, pp.10ff).

However, Civilismo regarded the indigenous people’s ignorance and animosity toward Western culture as another major obstacle. In the words of Polar: “The Indian does not send his children to School because he has no way of spending on books and supplies; but, even if he did, he would not be to blame for not doing so, because he does not understand what education is worth” (Ministerio de Justicia, Culto, Instrucción y Beneficencia, 1906, p. 6).13 In his assertion that indigenous people were unaware of the value of education, Polar overlooked—perhaps deliberately—the attempts to access education that were already being made by indigenous communities in the most far-flung parts of the country.

For example, free schools allowed indigenous communities to overcome the absence of state schools, but they also permitted less government influence over their curricula. One of the first free schools was that founded by Manuel Zúñiga Camacho in the district of Chucuito, Puno, in 1904. “An annual average of 60 to 70 students” of both sexes were taught to read and write at the school, which also “fomented hygiene, health, craftwork and improved farming techniques” (Kapsoli, 1980, p. 138)

Camacho’s free school closed down the following year under pressure from the authorities, but he did not delay in making contact with Protestants from Bolivia, such as Federico Stahl, with a view to recommencing his educational project. During the following decade, the 1910s, the arduous educational efforts of the Adventists were combated in equal measure by the political and ecclesiastical authorities in the area.14

On the face of it, the positive reception of Chucuito’s indigenous community to Camacho’s school had much to do with the use of a pedagogy that was far more student-friendly.15 Knowledge of the indigenous Aymara language was one of the cornerstones of the success of its program. But although the state was not against this measure, it never translated into its acceptance of anything resembling a bilingual education program.16

On the other hand, demands for state schools for indigenous people mounted from the beginning of the 20th century. For example, in January 1907 El Comercio published a notice by inhabitants of Concho (Jauja) calling for a state school for the area, most of whose inhabitants were illiterate. Their petition stated that Peru now had a “truly paternal government that has not been able to extend its beneficent hand around this region, because what is occurring has not been made known” (Palacios et al., 1907, n.p.)

However, the state indigenous schools faced budget constraints and opposition from landowners. In 1924, a Cusco journalist commented on the terrible conditions of the education service and the low school attendance rates at times of agricultural work. In addition, in districts such as Sicuani, “indigenous children in their entirety perform the role of servants and it is natural to assume that the employers refuse [permission] to attend the schools.” (Acurio, 1924, p. 72). The author goes on to refer to the lack of special education for indigenous people:

Any education system to be imposed upon the populations of the Andes will fail just as previous attempts have failed, so long as that they are imposed based on a unilateral criteria, without taking into account the Indian, for whom it is necessary to create a special system adapted to their kind and their scattered population. (p. 72)

The opposition of the landowners to the creation of schools in their locality was, to be sure, a major obstacle for ministry officials; but so too were the prejudices that the Indians themselves harbored toward the educators. In a 1907 memo, Carlos Washburn, Polar’s replacement as Minister of Justice, Worship, Instruction and Beneficence, advised provincial inspectors that they should:

Contribute whatever resources their erudition and zeal suggest to convince parents of the preference that the education female teachers offer to children merits over that provided by male teachers; making them aware that in more advanced and stronger countries the education furnished by women is held in very high esteem, and that the opinion, very widespread in the villages in our highlands, that children, because of female preceptors, are brought up with a timid and irresolute character, is absolutely unfounded. (Ministerio de Justicia, Culto, Instrucción y Beneficencia, 1908, p. 586)

For the Ministry, the rejection of female teachers by part of the population posed a major problem. As noted earlier, women represented a majority of the teaching profession.17 Moreover, the institution that specialized in the training of rural teachers, the Normal School of Arequipa, was composed entirely of women.

On the other hand, besides the state’s limited means of meeting demand, the consolidation of schools in these localities was also stymied by considerations that had little to do with parental prejudices. Upon receiving a request from Filiberto Ramírez—an inspector of primary education in the department of Arequipa—about the possibility of admitting students over the age of 14 to state schools, the Directorate of Instruction responded as follows:

[T]aking into consideration that our masses do not yet find themselves in a desirable state of culture for the introduction of co-education in the Republic, the Supreme Government, overcoming the propaganda that has lately been promoted in favor of that system, and which is undoubtedly due to ignorance of the true state in which our population finds itself in this respect, has announced that male students over the age of fourteen, which is the school age limit, may not attend external mixed schools as students, [...] as well as females over 12 years of age. (Ministerio de Justicia, Culto, Instrucción y Beneficencia, 1912, p. 55; emphasis ours)

The inspector also warned female principals of mixed schools that they could not accept male students over the age of 14 because “at a glance one is cautioned against the inappropriateness of the Schools, which are not under the leadership of male but female preceptors, being attended by male students who have already left childhood” (Ministerio de Justicia, Culto, Instrucción y Beneficencia, 1912, p. 56).

Thus, the prejudices held by ministry officials denied students over the age of 14 the opportunity to attend elementary schools, even though this group comprised a sizable share of the school population; as one young journalist based in the area of Canchis observed, in many parts of the Peruvian Andes indigenous children only began their education at the age of 11, if not later (Acurio, 1924, p. 72). Such limitations cemented the barriers to educational access for indigenous children.

With all these setbacks, it is no surprise that Civilismo’s indigenous educational project yielded meager results. Even though the number of schools grew considerably,18 school attendance and literacy rates rose very little between the first Pardo administration and the start of the second.19 Moreover, by the start of the 1910s the relative proportion of schools in each of Peru’s three geographical areas had changed very little, with the Andes still lagging behind the coast despite being more populous.20

2. Education for work

As Drinot notes, in the first half of the 20th century a new discourse began to take root among the Lima elite: the regeneration of indigenous people through the modernizing effect of work. Charting a course of economic progress based on the expansion of industry,21 the arbitristas of the era began to envisage work as an important step toward solving the Indian problem (Drinot, 2011). Espinoza has detected a similar pattern in the case of public schools in the last quarter of the 19th century. For the liberals of the First Civilismo, when it came to the working classes, vocational education was an instrument for the formation of the citizen-artisan with values such as “industriousness, perseverance, and modesty” (Espinoza, 2013, p. 64). The War of the Pacific and the subsequent collapse of the Peruvian state system disrupted the development of this prescriptive vision of education. But during the Pardo administration, as part of the debate around the expansion of public education, the topic returned to the agenda.

At the start of the 20th century, schools continued to be seen as a “medium invented to accelerate the refinement of civilized peoples,” but the young Civilistas criticized the expansion of traditional schools in rural areas since, in their view, they did nothing to help the indigenous population along the path to rehabilitation. Instead, the Civilistas now centered their efforts on technical education as a medium for social modernization. In a speech to Congress, Polar defended the emergence of a positivist vision of public education: “The school of words must be followed by the school of objects, the school that exercises the senses, that forms the spirit of observation, founded on practical sense” (Ministerio de Justicia, Culto, Instrucción y Beneficencia, 1906, p. XXII). Vocational education would become the means of satisfying the demand for education centered on labor training for the masses.

Some years earlier, Javier Prado, in his book La educación nacional (1899), championed popular education focused on technical practice:

For the laborer’s son, the concept of primary education is inexact. This is a general prejudice, against which it is worth reacting. The school for laborers is independent, should stand in its own right, is neither primary nor secondary instruction but full, complete, centralized within its orbit. [...] General and practical instruction, the book and the workshop, the concept of life and of objects, and aptitude and tools of the trade that make the laborer a useful factor for himself and for society. (Prado, 1899, p. 12)

Prado trusted in labor practice as “an element of order, integrity and life,” and thus trusted in the creation of workshop schools as “one of the main focuses of the state in the education of the laborer.” Properly targeted labor education would mean “instructing, attracting, awakening aptitudes and familiarizing the child, in an educational and recreational way, with the rudimentary tools of the trades which they will have to handle later” (Prado, 1899, p. 12).

Prado thus reasserted the established concept of the social predestination of students according to their racial classification—a fundamental component of the educational thinking developed by the elite. In this view, the laborer had a predetermined position within the social structure, which was defined by his “limited” intelligence. Education was therefore to help the laborer “realize” his role in this predestined position and to do so adequately, for the good of himself and the country. For Pardo:

[Education] must therefore preferably address the most important and useful knowledge for the sciences of nature and of man; and this must lead to practical results and applications in the industries, in commerce, in the professions, in the various positive manifestations of individual and collective activity and interests. (Prado, 1899, p. 15)

The promotion of education oriented toward technical training was, essentially, a complement to the longed-for expansion of industrialization. Although there were calls in the 19th century to create schools for artisans (which only materialized in a few cases), only with the Pardo administration was there evidence of sincere efforts to introduce labor education into state educational policy. One need only consider how the curriculum of the Normal School for Men included courses such as “educational manual work,” which introduced manual techniques such as drafting and figures. Isidore Poiry updated the curriculum after replacing Joseph McKnight as principal of that school, but continued in the same direction.

Moreover, in 1907 a Central School of Educational Manual Work (Escuela Central de Trabajo Manual Educativo) was established, headed by Federico Bierau, who also taught there alongside Ernesto Bejerke and Juan N. Ekstrand (Ministerio de Justicia, Culto, Instrucción y Beneficencia, 1908, p. 633). And in 1908 the first articles of the new General Regulations on Primary Instruction—which clarified and specified the scope of Law 162 of 1905—stipulated that one of the main objectives of primary instruction was to “provide knowledge of practical utility” (Ministerio de Justicia, Culto, Instrucción y Beneficencia, 1908, p. 4). Finally, when it came to rural education, the regulations required that teachers concentrate on “that knowledge related to the conditions and industries specific to the place” (Ministerio de Justicia, Culto, Instrucción y Beneficencia, 1908, p. 131).

But it was not only the Ministry of Justice, Worship, Instruction and Beneficence that was engaged in the expansion of manual work. The new Ministry of Development also implemented its own initiatives. In 1902, this ministry set up the School of Arts and Crafts (Escuela de Artes y Oficios) in Lima. The regulations establishing the school stated its purpose of providing only mid-level technical education, since higher technical education was restricted to the School of Engineers (Escuela de Ingenieros):

Art 9.- The School [of Arts and Crafts] shall provide elementary or primary technical teaching and in all cases shall always provide, in all its varieties, the middle or secondary teaching that forms its special field in the realm of National Education, but in no circumstances shall it provide higher technical education in any of its varieties. (Ministerio de Fomento, 1908, p. 518)

The regulations also provided for the introduction of basic instructional courses, should they be required. Secondary schooling rates were extremely low and only included individuals from the upper strata of society who would go on to attend higher education. Thus, the school’s only entry requirement was full primary education: the target demographic was the lower classes who, at best, had only been educated to this level. The three-year curriculum was centered on occupational training—mechanics, electrics, accounting, etc.—but also included certain theory courses such as physics, history of art, geometry, and others.

The purpose of the School of Arts and Crafts was to train technicians “capable of becoming, with a few years of supplementary practice, teachers or workshop managers, intermediaries between professionals educated by higher education establishments and laborers or apprentices” (Ministerio de Fomento, 1908, p. 502). But both the School of Engineers and the School of Arts and Crafts were aimed at urban populations.22 For rural dwellers, the state provided other schools with more limited objectives. Thus, a course on manual work was also introduced in teacher-training schools for women—whose graduates would teach in the countryside—but it was less extensive in scope than the equivalent course taught at the Normal School for Men in Lima.

During these years, the Ministry of Development founded its own Practical School of Agriculture, Arts and Crafts (Escuela Práctica de Agricultura, Artes y Oficios) in Cusco. The school was entrusted to a religious order, the Salesians, and had an initial enrollment of 135 students. As well as primary education, courses on agriculture and the trades of carpentry, joinery, typography (printing), and tailoring were taught there. Upon completing their studies, the proceeds from the sale of the products they made were shared among the graduates. The Ministry of Development opined that “[t]hese savings must be encouraging for the tender laborers when they leave the educational establishments, not just with the bread guaranteed by their trade but with a little capital that prepares them for an honest workshop” (Ministerio de Fomento, 1908, p. 469). As can be seen, the Ministry of Development’s interest in providing occupational training to the masses was motivated by a discourse that, in common with the Ministry of Justice, Worship, Instruction and Beneficence, sought to redeem the indigenous population through labor.

In 1908, Manuel Vicente Villarán, Leguía’s Minister of Justice, Worship, Instruction and Beneficence and an important figure in Civilismo, announced in the newspapers—before assuming the ministerial portfolio—his objectives in office:

At all Peruvian schools, primary or secondary, half of the time should be dedicated to studying, the other half to working and to hardening the body [...] Let us emulate the English who use as a basis for education the formation of character through the influence of the field of “sport.”23 On the other hand, at all schools and at all institutions, the child, big or small, must work. The urban school has to have something of a workshop; the rural, of a small farm, because since idleness is our greatest evil, an essential part of education is work. (Villarán, 1908, n.p.)24

That same year, Villarán published El factor económico en la educación (1908). In the text, the Civilista minister picked apart the main points of the classical education. He argued, similarly to other positivist pedagogues, that the creation of culture solely through classical education—notwithstanding its contribution to economic progress—would be futile, as education alone would never “be able to substitute the incessant intellectual effort and fecund moral discipline occasioned, in the field of industry, by the vicissitudes, the tests, the obstacles that [industry] offers human activity” (Villarán, 1954, p. 335). Thus, Villarán thought that classical schooling was not the right path to culture for the indigenous masses, since “the primary school is a medium invented to accelerate the refinement of civilized peoples, not to initiate them in the uses of civilization.” For indigenous people, there could only be scope for “the objective education of work and employment” (Villarán, 1954, p. 331).

If work was the great maker of culture, Villarán understood it in primarily material terms. “The most vital part of the culture of humanity is incorporated in furniture and utensils, [...] in domestic customs and social rules, and all of this is acquired easily, spontaneously, by way of imitation and contact, not of the school” (Villarán, 1954, p. 330). In Villarán’s view, culture was borne of contact with the material and, essentially, of efforts to create the material. Thus, the economy was the basis for the development of culture. “Wealth is valuable not only because of what it represents once produced, but because of the mental energies and the virtues that are developed in the effort to produce it” (Villarán, 1954, p. 328). From there came the idea that everyone was capable of cultural redemption, including indigenous people: it was just a question of providing them with the means of creating that material culture.25

The Special Commission on Instruction, formed in 1909, of which Villarán was a member after leaving the ministry, took its lead from these ideas. It ratified the commitment to a practical education centered on exploration of students’ technical vocation (Comisión Especial de Instrucción, 1910, p 23). John Lockey, one of the commission’s members,26 also championed these proposals. Lockey reasserted the need for a technical education to be imparted at the schools, although he saw the workshop schools strategy as impracticable due to the costs involved in popularizing the model. Thus, Lockey proposed that instead of workshop schools, it should be factories that provided occupational training:

The learning of a trade would necessarily be acquired in the factory itself. And this is how it is with many industries. The State cannot directly provide the preparation they demand. However, it would be possible for the proprietors of such industries to cooperate so that their apprentices have sufficient time to finish special schools, sustained by the treasury, the education whose manual part they acquire in the factory, and in this case it would be recommendable that said education be related intimately to the special needs of the trainee operators. (Lockey, 1913, p. 264)

To be sure, the commission’s proposal did not represent a radical departure from that of Polar, the ex-minister; rather, it complemented it. However, the organic education law drafted by the commission had yet to be promulgated, and it was not until the return of Leguía in 1919 that it was reviewed and approved (in 1920).

In sum, the vocational education proposals did nothing to conceal, from inception to implementation, objectives that alternated according to a student’s race. The path mapped out for indigenous people was that of the technically trained agricultural laborer, capable of executing the orders of the property-owning employer; and here too, according to the governing class, education would help them to understand the contracts they signed (and thus avoid exploitation and mistreatment). The urban masses, on the other hand, were earmarked for work in the factories, and were to be trained by the school in the proper use of the modern machinery found in these workplaces. Even with, or perhaps because of, the start of the Oncenio de Leguía, with its airs of indigenismo unprecedented in government, these racial distinctions in education policy were retained.

3. Conclusions

Following the disastrous aftermath of the War of the Pacific, academic positivism provided the theoretical basis for understanding social conditions in Peru. Alongside positivism, liberalism and other progressive doctrines provided a template for imagining an alternative to the mercantile development model preponderant in the caudillo-dominated 19th century—that focused instead on developing the modern economy (industry and agroexports) and expanding education (Castro, 2008, pp. 139-137). In particular, the focus on expanding schools to the masses became one of the main proposals for societal reform of positivist liberal intellectuals in the early 20th century.

A new generation of Civilistas, versed in the new doctrines of social positivism but aware of the need for an elite that introduced sweeping changes to Peruvian society, drove education as a key tool for transforming and strengthening the capacities of the indigenous race, whom they classified as “ignorant” and “backward.”

However, the aims of the educational proposals that Civilismo introduced in rural areas were framed by precisely those same positivist doctrines that imagined little potential for development of “inferior” races, such as indigenous people. These doctrines, and their application through public policies, created a framework for early-20th-century politicians to begin the incorporation of the indigenous population into the state. As a result, elementary education was envisaged for indigenous communities (in accordance with their limited “intellectual tradition”), while the urban masses, with their supposedly greater capacity for intellectual development, would receive common education.

This differentiation was rooted in modern theories that expounded the existence of certain inheritable habits, and other malleable ones, within human races. With this as their starting point, the young Civilistas took elementary schools to the countryside in the belief that this was the only type of education that could be imparted to indigenous people. In turn, they reserved the scholastic centers, comprising a full primary education, for city dwellers. But despite the great emphasis that the Civilistas placed on this project, the end result was one of resounding failure. Whether because of problems with the landowners or prejudices held by the educated or the educators, and despite an increase in schools, the crux of the matter was that in the highlands there was no change in the rates of illiteracy and school attendance. It was this outcome that prompted the Civilistas to revert to another old prejudice about the indigenous: that they did not understand the value of education.


Table 1
Elementary schools (ES) and scholastic centers (SC) between 1902 and 1920





Budgeted for


Did not operate





















No data
















































Source: compiled by author based on Dirección de Primera Enseñanza (1903), Ministerio de Justicia, Culto, Instrucción y Beneficencia (1906), and Gardini (1914, p. 15).

Table 2
Students at public schools between 1906 and 1915





Ability to read

Ability to write


1st grade

2nd grade

< 6

From 6 to 14

> 14











































































































Source: compiled by author based on Ministerio de Justicia, Culto, Instrucción y Beneficencia (1906, 1907, 1908, 1910, 1916), and Gardini (1914, pp. 17-18).

Table 3
Schools budgeted for by the ministry, by geographical regions (1902-1918)

Number of schools


























Percentage distribution of schools





















Percentage variation in the number of schools



















Source: compiled by author based on Dirección de Primera Enseñanza (1903, 1906, 1912, 1918).

Table 4
Graduates of normal schools in Peru, 1905-1915


Normal School for Men, Lima

Normal School for Women, Lima

Normal School for Women, Arequipa




























































Source: compiled by author based on Ministerio de Justicia, Culto, Instrucción y Beneficencia (1905, 1906, 1908, 1916).

Table 5
Public school teachers nationwide, 1906-1920


Normal school graduates

Graduates of other institutions*




Should have served


Did not serve








































































































































Note: *graduates of scholastic centers and schools who took an exam to receive a preceptor’s diploma.
Source: compiled by author based on Ministerio de Justicia, Culto, Instrucción y Beneficencia (1906, 1907, 1908, 1916), Dirección Nacional de Estadística y Censo (1922, p. 60) and Gardini (1914, p. 15).


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1 This article is an updated version of the third chapter of the author’s thesis presented in 2013 for a Bachelor’s Degree in History at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú.

2 All translations from the Spanish are by Apuntes.

3 For an analysis of the concept of race and its influence on science, see Stocking (1988). On how the concept of race was an essential component of the modern state, see Goldberg (1993).

4 Of course, not all leaders of Civilismo had the same views. In fact, some were deeply convinced of the worthlessness of public education as a means of social regeneration. For a detailed study of differences within the elite, see Kristall (1991), and on how these disputes played out within Civilismo, see Ccahuana (2014).

5 El Comercio, June 12, 1904.

6 Studies such Orlove (1993) clearly demonstrate how, in the minds of the urban elites of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the geographical association between the indigenous race and the rural environment—and specifically, the Andes—had already taken root. For Jorge Polar, indigenous people did not live in cities, even though data from the 1908 Lima census plainly shows that large numbers did. On the indigenous population in Lima, see Cosamalón (2011) and on the process of association between Indians and highland geography, see (Méndez, 2011, pp. 85 ff).

7 In a certain way, what Goldberg has called the “internalization of exclusion” also occurred (quoted in Drinot, 2011, p. 50).

8 Although a teacher-training school, the School of Preceptors (Escuela de Preceptores), existed previously, it was short-lived and its results were meager. According to Barrantes, the School of Preceptors ultimately awarded degrees to just two teachers (1989, p. 79).

9 As Gonzales (2009) points out, the first generation of graduates of the Normal School for Men included figures who would go on to become leading lights in Peruvian education: José Antonio Encinas, Luis E. Galván, Amador Merino Reyna, César Oré y Luque, Humberto Luna, Benedicto Cevallos Chávez, Luis H. Bouroncle, etc.

10 See Ministerio de Justicia, Culto, Instrucción y Beneficencia (1910, pp. 59ff).

11 Hereafter, the Normal School of Arequipa

12 See Table 4 in Appendix.

13 Emphasis ours.

14 Juan Fonseca has focused more than anyone else on the phenomenon of Protestantism in Puno. For Fonseca, the Protestant movement found broad acceptance among Peru’s indigenous population given its “selfless” work in the education of their children. Moreover, the Protestant concentration on literacy (by making use of the Quechua language) and its struggle for the moral reformation of indigenous people (by distancing them from alcohol and coca) created a favorable disposition toward this movement within indigenismo (Fonseca, 2005).

15 Bilingual education became the predominant system at the schools founded by Evangelicals in the department of Puno (Fonseca, 2005, pp- 297-298).

16 Some Lima intellectuals, such as Javier Prado, called for the introduction of a Quechua course within the Pedagogy department at the Universidad de San Marcos, but this had more to do with erudite knowledge of a “dead language” than with any need to incorporate it into the teaching program (Prado, 1915, pp. 19-20).

17 In 1908, women accounted for 59% of teachers, and in 1915, 63%. See Table 5.

18 Between 1902 and 1906, there was an extraordinary increase of 42%, but by 1912 this had fallen by 13%. Yet by the end of the decade, the number of schools had recovered, with a 77% growth from the initial 1902 figure. In sum, between 1902 and 1907, there was an increase of 78% (see Table 1). The data contained in the tables in the appendices were taken from the administrative budgets of the Ministry of Justice, Worship, Education and Beneficence. It is highly likely that the actual number of schools that operated in a given year was lower than the number of schools budgeted for, but these data at least allow us to observe the trend in terms of the overall number of schools year-on-year.

19 See Table 2.

20 For more information, see Table 3.

21 Exchange-rate depreciation and the expansion of internal demand, fueled by the export sector, saw some businessmen turn to import substitution industrialization (Thorp & Bertham, 1978, p. 37). However, most of this nascent manufacturing industry was based in Lima and Callao, and was focused primarily on textiles. For the other cities, growth—if it occurred at all—was much more limited, and in many cases the export economy was the only source of economic modernization (Blanchard, 1982, p. 8).

22 Also worth mentioning are the night schools for laborers. With the aim of providing “facilities for workers to complete the practical knowledge they acquire at the workshops, with scientific notions more indispensable and of more immediate application,” night schools for laborers were founded in Trujillo and Arequipa, followed later by Callao, Chiclayo, and Cusco. (Ministerio de Fomento 1905: 55). The only entry requirement to these schools was the ability to “read, write, and know the four basic mathematical operations.”

A night school was also opened in Cusco in July 1907, receiving 55 students in its first year. In that same period, another night school was established in Chiclayo, with 49 students (Ministerio de Fomento 1908: 474-482).

23 Translator´s note: “sport” is in English in the original.

24 He also criticized the fact that in “a recent reform” of primary education that had been attempted, the US high school model was misguidedly copied, with the objective of a simple and balanced education overlooked in favor of courses on “philosophy, a little theology and legal principles” (Villarán, 1908).

25 Climate and geographical environment were the conditions required to create material progress, which, according the Villarán, was the essence of national culture. Following the postulates of Le Bon, he asserted that geography was the “physical element of nationality.” Only in this way was it possible to understand how problematic the expansion of nationality had proven in Peru, “due to the narrowness of our valleys”—the only places, according to Villarán, with an environment conducive to the country’s development (Villarán, 1922, p. 59). This perspective was even espoused by eminent indigenistas such as Humberto Luna (1911, pp. 8-11).

26 Pedagogues from the United States such as Lockey and Joseph McKnight were invited to join the commission of 1909. This attested to the desires of Leguía and Villarán to adapt the US model of popular and labor education in Peru. As mentioned earlier, McKnight went on to become principal of the Normal School of Men (Basadre, 2005, p. 54).