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“COME now, my little daughter, school begins to-day, and it is high time you were up and getting ready for it.”
These were the first words Juanita heard on the Monday morning following New Year’s Day. As she opened her eyes, she saw her mother’s smiling face over her.
The girl knew that, though the face was pleasant and the tone a cheery one, her mother’s words were not to be lightly regarded. So she quickly hopped out of bed and got ready for breakfast. She was the more willing to do this because, though she liked to play as well as any one, she loved to go to school and enjoyed there the companionship of other children of her own age. She also appreciated the opportunity which was afforded her to learn those things which would help to make her life useful to herself and to others. Juanita was able to see how by faithful application to her studies she would be better enabled to carry out her new year’s resolution of helpfulness to the less fortunate.
With a good-bye kiss from mamma, Juanita started in good season for the schoolhouse, which was only a few blocks distant. She went a little out of her way, however, to call for her friends, Rosa and Panchito.
There were about fifty children at the opening day. As they went in each boy or girl ran up to the teacher to salute her. The girls kissed her, and the boys bowed and said, “Buenos dias.” They all brought her lovely flowers, from the elegant and expensive camellias and gardenias down to the poppies, dahlias, and daisies. Rich or poor, each pupil brought some floral offering to the teacher.
On this opening day the children found it hard to get down to routine work. That they might not get too uneasy, and thus disturb the order of the school, the teacher took a little time to tell them something about the early heroes of Mexican independence.
She said the spirit of independence, which is so manifest in England and America, was born in Mexico nearly as early as in its northern neighbour, with, perhaps, far greater reason for it.
One of the earliest and most famous of our heroes,” said the teacher, “was Hidalgo. His father was a farmer of Guanajuato, where Hidalgo was born in 1753. The boy was educated for the priesthood, and took holy orders in young manhood.
“Hidalgo set a good example to you children by improving his opportunities for education, and, strangely enough, considering his surroundings, he acquired many liberal and advanced ideas. As he was a fearless man, he did not hesitate to make public his views concerning vital questions. For this he was denounced by his conservative and narrow-minded religious superiors.
“In 1810, Hidalgo, in company with Allende, a kindred spirit with similar notions of independence, at the head of eighty men, raised the cry, ‘Down with false government!’
“A mob-like army of fifty thousand men or more was soon formed, and succeeded in taking possession of Hidalgo’s native city. Independence was declared, but this raw, undisciplined, poorly equipped army was no match for the forces of the Spanish government. The revolution was finally put down, and ended in Hidalgo’s execution in the year 1811.
“Can any of you tell me,” asked the teacher, “where Hidalgo’s body lies ?”
Up went several hands.
“You may tell us, Francisco.”
“In the great cathedral in this city,” was the boy’s response.
“Yes, years after his execution, Hidalgo’s body was raised and given solemn burial in Mexico’s grandest shrine —just as in London Westminster Abbey has received the mortal remains of England’s kings and heroes.
“But though crushed for the time being,” continued the teacher, “the spirit of independence was not destroyed, and in later years other brave and intrepid leaders arose and led Mexico on in the march toward freedom.
“Many of them met shameful death at the hands of the Spanish rulers, but to-day Mexico honours their memory. Over the door of the birthplace of one of these martyrs, Agustin de Yturbide, who was shot as a traitor, there is now placed the inscription:
“LIBERTADOR DE MEXICO.”
“A later liberty-loving hero, who accomplished much, was President Benito Juarez. He is sometimes called the Lincoln of Mexico. He will always be held in reverence for his sublime career, and his life is a standing inspiration to Mexican boys. Until he was twelve years of age Juarez was a barefooted, bareheaded boy among the mountains of Oaxaca. He was born on a couch of straw in 1806, his cradle rocked by breezes and canopied with skies of eternal summer.
“But this Indian boy was good, and had the genius of gentleness as well as the armour of honesty and the courage of his convictions. Forced to the front by natural-born ability, the boy became a man upon whom the nation rested, a rock upon which the republic built.
“As the Magna Charta was forced by the best thought of England from a conservative king, so the Laws of Reform, proclaimed by Juarez in 1859, accomplished much for the poorer classes of our country.”
Much more than this the teacher told to the school-children, who were so interested in the stories that they took no notice of the passing time. Nevertheless, they were glad when the closing signal was given, and, after filing to the street in an orderly manner, rushed to their homes to repeat to admiring parents the wonderful tales of Hidalgo and Yturbide and Juarez.
Happy days followed for the children, made joyous by their studious application and their ready obedience to the teacher. At half-past ten every day the boys had recess, after which the girls were given theirs.
For the information of the young reader, it may be said that education was made compulsory in Mexico by President Diaz in 1891. Until that time there was no systematic work of the kind among the Mexican Indians.
The Aztecs had two classes of schools: the Calmecac, where the nobles received instruction in arts of war, and the Telpuchalhi, where the people received instruction in history, eloquence, picture-writing, geography, and astronomy, highly tinctured with astrology. The discipline was very strict. These were mixed schools.
In the sixteenth century the Roman Catholic priests introduced writing and arithmetic along with their catechisms, a sort of forced growth. In the eighteenth century Viceroy Revillagigedo showed Mexico to have a population of four million, with only ten schools.
Later the Compañia Lancasteriana made an effort for uniform education in Mexico, and in 1896 their schools were taken up by the government of the republic. In 1895 in the Federal District there were but three hundred people to the thousand who could read and write.
Schools of the primary grade are free, and children from six to sixteen years of age are obliged to attend. The compulsory studies are morals, civic duties, arithmetic, Spanish, reading, writing, elementary geometry, geography, elementary sciences, history of Mexico, and drawing and objective lessons. Corporal punishment is prohibited by law, and the teachers use moral suasion, detention after school-hours, lowering of marks, and suspension for a few days. There is scarcely any permanent expulsion.
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