Simón Rodríguez

Our generation was not the first to recognize the value of adult education for the individual as well as the broader community, and to take up its cause. In a fictitious interview with the historic figure Simón Rodríguez, tutor and mentor of the Latin American liberator, Simón Bolívar, Raúl Léis points out that many of the ideas which are current today have a long tradition in history. Raúl Léis is a Panamanian author and adult educator. He is currently Secretary General of the Latin American Council for Adult Education CEAAL.

Without Popular Education There Will Be no True Society


Simón Rodríguez (1769-1853), who was born in Caracas, Venezuela, was the teacher and mentor of Simón Bolívar, the great South American liberator. As an educator and philosopher with extensive knowledge of Latin American society, he wrote many articles and books on history, education, and sociology. “La Carta” is the virtual newsletter of CEAAL, the Latin American Council of Adult Education.

The questions in this imaginary interview are fiction, but the answers are excerpts from the writings of Simón Rodríguez.

La Carta: Don Simón, is popular education important?
Without popular education there will be no true society.
La Carta: What is the aim of popular education?
SR: To instruct people and accustom them to working; to create useful people, people
who are capable of contributing to building the nations in which they live…. In general,
governments must provide the ways and means…and must give careful consideration on
how to proceed.

La Carta: Should there be equal education for everyone?
Everyone in general needs education. Without kindling the first lights of education,
man is blind to the rest of knowledge. The aims of education are laudable and interesting:
to instil the spirit in children to receive the best of impressions, and to make them capable
in all their endeavours.

La Carta: How does popular education relate to the construction of a better society?
SR: No one can do something well unless he knows how to do it. It follows that a republic
cannot be built together with people who are ignorant, whatever the plans may be...
Consider this well: If you want to build a republic, educate your children.

La Carta: What is the relationship between public education and poverty?
SR: A person is not ignorant because he is poor. The opposite is true!.... He who knows
nothing can be deceived by anyone. He who has nothing, anyone can buy.

La Carta: What, to your mind, is the purpose of education?
SR: To instruct is not to educate. Instruction is not education, although education is fostered
through the process instruction.

La Carta: An interesting observation! And what is the role of the educator?
SR: An educator should be a wise, enlightened, communicative philosopher. His function
is to prepare individuals for their role in society.... Teach children to be inquisitive so that,
asking the reasons for what they are told to do, they learn to obey reason, not author-
ity like limited people, nor custom like stupid people. There is no interest on the part of
individuals who do not grasp the “why” behind an action. What they do not feel, they
cannot understand, and what they do not understand, does not interest them. Three parts
of the art of learning are bringing something to the attention of learners, capturing their
attention, and holding it. Not every teacher excels in all three.

La Carta: Is it a question of motivating students to learn how to learn?
SR: The title “teacher” is one that should only be given to those who know how to teach,
in other words to those who know how to teach others to learn – not to those who order
others to learn or tell them what to learn. The teacher who knows how to initiate the process
of learning continues to teach virtually everything that is learned later on because what he
taught is how to learn. Teaching leads to understanding. It is about using understanding
and not about making others recite from memory.

La Carta: What values should be promoted?
SR: Accustom children to being truthful, loyal, helpful, temperate, charitable, appreciative,
consistent, generous, amiable, diligent, careful, and neat, to respect reputation, and to
honour their promises. Leave them in charge of their skills; when they are young, they will
know how to look for teachers. Teachers should help children to learn the value of work
so that they can appreciate the value of things. Teach, and you will have people who
know; educate, and you will have people who do.

La Carta: How do you define the art of education?
SR: We need social instruction to create a prudent nation; physical education to make it
strong; technical education to make it expert; and scientific education to make it thinking.

La Carta: On 15 August1805 in Rome, Simón Bolívar climbed Monte Sacro with you. Can you tell us part of the oath made by your disciple that day – an oath that was to change the destiny of this continent?
“I swear by the God of my fathers, I swear on their graves, I swear by my honour and my Country that I will not rest body or soul until I have broken the chains binding us to the will of Spanish might!”

La Carta: What problem do you consider the affliction of your century?
SR: The insatiable appetite for wealth is the affliction of the century.

La Carta: The desire for wealth continues to plague our countries, Don Simón. As our revered teacher, what final message would you want to convey to the readers of CEAAL’s newsletter, “La Carta”?
SR: Where should we look for models? Spanish America is unique. Its institutions and governments must therefore also be unique. And we require unique approaches to construct them. Either we invent or we fail.

The foregoing interview was elaborated by Raul Leis R.