influx of migrants from Ireland into the Argentine Confederation
began in the 1840s as Ireland was experiencing a considerable
agricultural crisis. The Great Famine led its rural population
to migrate to towns and cities and abroad. According to
Juan Carlos Korol and Hilda Sabato, this migration had
all of the characteristics of a massive exodus. The Irish
settlers were driven as much by hunger and poverty as
by their yearning to make their fortunes in the Southern
Cone. For them, Argentina was a land of promise, albeit
a faraway one. A large proportion of the Irish immigrants
gravitated toward rural agricultural production as farm
workers and many later became part of the expanding Argentine
rural bourgeoisie (Korol and Sabato 1981).
the majority of Irish immigrants dedicated themselves
to the agricultural field, an important group chose instead
to work in education. Some founded scholarly institutions
while others took up jobs in the emerging Argentine State
sector - this article examines the latter group. Santiago
FitzSimon worked in the Argentine public educational sector.
He approached his work with a pioneering spirit in several
educational fields. He is responsible for the inclusion
of technical, commercial and physical education in national
schoolbooks. What follows is a review of Santiago FitzSimon’s
working life and his contributions to the ontology of
the Argentine education system.
FitzSimon and Technical Education
The educator Santiago (born James) FitzSimon was born in Ennis, in County Clare, Ireland, on 15 April 1849. His father, who also worked in the educational sector, was the lawyer Patrick FitzSimon. The latter arrived in Buenos Aires on 12 October 1862, and settled in the town of Lobos (province of Buenos Aires) with his wife Bidelia Kelly and their children.
In the district of Lobos, his father founded the Irish
College (where Santiago himself studied). In 1867,
Santiago began his teaching studies, first at the Paraná
School and later at the National School of Corrientes. In the latter school President Domingo F. Sarmiento, appointed Patrick FitzSimon as rector. Besides this, Patrick FitzSimon was also professor of history and of mathematics. Santiago’s first forays into the teaching world followed in his father’s footsteps, who had also had a distinguished career in Argentine education. As such, when Patrick FitzSimon died of yellow fever in 1871, his son was appointed rector in the same school to replace him. It was in this first position that Santiago FitzSimon began to excel in his educational pursuits, developing a reputation as a virtuous, simple and austere man.
the earliest phases in Argentine nation-building, the
construction of the educational system was much debated.
In dispute was the direction that the nation should take
in developing public education. A large debate developed
over the relative roles of moral and scientific education,
the subject of much discourse among Argentine intellectuals
at the time. One of the main proponents of a technical-practical
orientation was Juan Bautista Alberdi (1),
who considered that this strategy would present a unique
opportunity to counter the country’s underdevelopment.
Alberdi argued for an educational system based on the
arts and on the sciences supporting industry. By basing
the system on these pillars he hoped that the knowledge
thus disseminated could offer immediate and concrete benefits.
Although the activities of Santiago FitzSimon post-date Alberti’s writings, his activities in the educational sector closely parallel this jurist’s writings. Under the Presidency of José Evaristo Uriburu (1895-1898) the Minister of Justice and Public Instruction Antonio Bermejo entrusted to FitzSimon the direction of the Industrial School of the Nation, later better known as the Otto Krause School.
Before founding that industrial educational establishment, FitzSimon was part of the group commissioned to set out their ideas on technical education, by evaluating the relative benefits offered by this form of education. Furthermore they were asked to formulate a programme by which this form of education could be incorporated into the school system. The advantages of incorporating manual labour skills were such that the commission presided over by FitzSimon considered the possibility of beginning this educational activity at the primary level. According to FitzSimon,
labour-orientated education should be adapted to the requirements of educating all subjects.
The Irish educator claimed that children showed a natural tendency towards manual labour. This inclination, demonstrated by their love of games, was for FitzSimon
an indication of the advantages that could be gained by
the adoption of a rational plan for labour-orientated education. As a result of this report presented by FitzSimon and his fellow commissioners, the President of the Republic decreed on 2 May 1895, in the capital Buenos Aires that a workshop be created in manual education. This new establishment would have as its aim the preparation of teachers in the skills of manual education. Again FitzSimon was commissioned to develop this new institution for which he resigned his position of director of the National School of Commerce. One of his responsibilities was the search for a suitable building in which to carry out these activities and the preparation of the budget for the necessary equipment for its launch.
The curriculum for the Normal School of Teachers of the Capital was to be based mainly on the Swedish system
Slojd (meaning manual labour or small industry). According to feedback from the teachers who had applied that system, it was the best among the proven systems (FitzSimon and Pizzurno 1896). Undoubtedly Santiago FitzSimon believed that the best way to educate children was manually. With such a methodology it was specifically hoped that the child’s ability for manual labour would be developed. By building up the muscular tone of the bodies of the children it was assumed that the child would be convinced that order and exactitude were essential requirements for a future in which they would excel and prosper. The aspirations for education in manual work were such that it was postulated that it might awaken in the pupil the praxis and even love for manual labour, and that it would promote spontaneity and originality. Manual education was much more than the mere preparation of the child for the workforce; it also entailed aspects which were designed to awaken a taste for the aesthetic and to stimulate the imagination, without leading the child astray.
Years later, having implemented courses for manual labour in Argentine schools, FitzSimon was sent to the United States of America and to Europe to acquire new study materials and to contract teachers to give classes in Argentine schools. This intention was never realised, as FitzSimon considered that Argentina already had an adequate supply of educated teachers to develop this education. As part of this study trip, FitzSimon visited the city of London so as to inform his Government as to the characteristics of their local educational systems. Having visited numerous primary, secondary, normal, technical and commercial schools in London, FitzSimon emphasised and applauded the industrial tendency of the London colleges, and also the excellent organisation demonstrated in the city’s education system. He lamented the fact that the Argentine schools did not follow this same path (FitzSimon 1903-1904).
As to the Argentine system, FitzSimon drew attention to the lack of certain subjects in the curricula such as the lack of physics and chemistry. Although the state of national labour education presented challenges, he approved of the fact that the new curriculum of the Minister Juan Fernández allocated six hours to sciences and hoped that those hours would indeed be used in that manner. However, for FitzSimon the fact that students received sufficient hours of laboratory and workshop experience was the exclusive responsibility of the principals of the schools, because both teachers and students in Argentina demonstrated a great capacity to bring this to fruition.
Spheres of Activity
Santiago FitzSimon held positions in public service, spanning several Government administrations. Besides being responsible for the foundation of labour education in Argentine schools
under the second Presidency of Julio A. Roca (1898-1904),
the educator was responsible for reorganising young men’s correctional establishments. His work influenced the foundation in 1904 of Marcos Paz, a model institution for abandoned children (Albornoz u/d).
demonstrable competence in the field won him the confidence
of several Ministers of Education who called on him for
various tasks. During the administration of José Figueroa
Alcorta (1906-1910) FitzSimon performed the functions
of Chief Inspector for Secondary Education while continuing
in the role of Director of the School of Commerce (2).
FitzSimon conducted several reforms to modernise the School of Commerce. He changed the curricula and educational methodologies. Besides technical education, the Irish educator was a great promoter of commercial education. Towards end of the nineteenth century, and even more so in the early years of the twentieth century, industrial production in Argentina experienced considerable growth. FitzSimon hoped that the education imparted in these institutions would further the needs of industry. Technical and commercial schools were redirected to the preparation of children and teenagers for the working world. With signs of economic growth and material progress, numerous commercial schools were opened throughout Argentina. FitzSimon was tasked with their foundation and their organisation. One of the more important and prestigious commercial schools, the above-mentioned School of Commerce was put under the direction of FitzSimon.
Apart from technical and commercial education, Santiago FitzSimon was also an innovator in physical education. At the Corrientes National School, which he directed from the death of his father, he contracted Professor Thomas C. T. Reeve in 1888 to give classes in physical exercise. This teacher had undertaken his studies at the University of Cambridge, England. In the Corrientes National School, under the auspices of FitzSimon, Reeve practised the first outdoor games with his students in much the same way as in English schools at the time.
The introduction of physical education (started by FitzSimon when he was principal of the Corrientes National School) was repeated when he held the position of Chief Inspector of Public Instruction, with the support of Minister of Education Juan Balestra. Physical exercise, especially in athletics and soccer, was incorporated into the curricula of all national schools.
It is interesting to note that besides his public functions, FitzSimon developed various activities in different aspects of national culture: he was a member of the National Committee of Boy Scouts in Argentina, and was for many years the head of the English Literary Society. He organised the Library of the Corrientes National School, and in addition founded the Buenos Aires Popular Library.
The figure of Santiago FitzSimon was a favourite among the national political leadership, especially those connected with education, as is evident in the speeches of various civil servants on the occasion of his death on 22 August 1925. During his funeral, the Argentine jurist José Leon Suárez delivered a speech emphasising his austerity, simplicity and virtues (Cutolo 1985).
Like many Irish founders of Argentine schools, Santiago FitzSimon
contributed to improving the education service and he also
engaged in public service. His reports on
labour-orientated education led directly to the development of technical education in Argentina, rapidly developing throughout the twentieth century. His contributions to the Argentine education system in the fields of technical, commercial, and physical instruction
bear witness to the modernising spirit of the Irish educator. He developed a remarkable career in public service, starting as the rector of the Corrientes National School and reaching its peak in his highest position: General Inspector for Secondary Education.
Nancy R. Escobar
Juan Bautista Alberdi was an Argentine intellectual, who
with his best-known work Bases y puntos de partida para
la organización política de la República Argentina provided
inspiration for the Argentine Constitution of 1853.
Translator’s note: Escuela Superior de Comercio, a secondary
level school now administered by the University of Buenos
Aires and known as Escuela Superior de Comercio Carlos
Pellegrini. Website: http://www.cpel.uba.ar/ (accessed
13 March 2009).
- Albornoz, Oscar Orlando. ‘El fútbol y la educación física de la mano de un Correntino (Dr. Enrique José Romero Brest)’, undated. Available online (http://www.portalfitness.com.ar/articulos/educacion_fisica/albornoz/futbol_ed_fisica.htm), accessed 13 March 2009.
Cutolo, Vicente Osvaldo, Nuevo diccionario biográfico
argentino 1750-1930 (Buenos Aires: Editorial Elche,
- FitzSimon, Santiago H. and Pizzurno, Pablo A. ‘El trabajo manual’ (1896) Available online (http://www.bnm.me.gov.ar/ebooks/reader/reader.php?mon=1&vt=n&dir=90019037&num_img=579), accessed 14 March 2009.
FitzSimon, Santiago H. ‘La educación en Londres: informes
interesantes’ in Consejo Nacional de Educación, Monitor
de la Educación Común, 23:361-380 (1903-1904). Available
accessed 14 March 2009.
Korol, Juan Carlos and Hilda Sabato, Cómo fue la inmigración
irlandesa en Argentina (Buenos Aires, Editorial Plus
Lionetti, Lucía. ‘La función republicana de la escuela
pública: la formación del ciudadano en Argentina a fines
del siglo XIX’ in Revista Mexicana de INVESTIGACIÓN
EDUCATIVA (Mexico), September 2005, 10:27.
Roger, María José. ‘The Children of the Diaspora. Irish
Schools and Educators in Argentina, 1850-1950’ in Irish
Migration Studies in Latin American, available online
(http://www.irlandeses.org/0304.pdf), accessed 14 March
Uriburu et al., Enseñanza manual educativa: Decretos
y Documentos relativos a su introducción en la Escuela
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