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“Millions of illiterates”: an Approach to the History of Quantification of Education in Mexico (1895-1921)

« Des millions d’analphabètes » : une approche historique de la quantification de l’éducation au Mexique (1895-1921)
Ana Medeles
p. 189-216

Résumés

Cet article étudie le rôle des recensements nationaux dans le renforcement de l’influence des statistiques officielles au Mexique. Il met en lumière l’impact des statistiques de recensement sur la mesure de l’alphabétisation au cours des premières décennies du xxe siècle. Après avoir examiné les débats pédagogiques et politiques qui contextualisent la réception des statistiques de recensement relatives à l’éducation, il analyse la classification de l’analphabétisme et montre, dans le cas spécifique de l’instruction primaire, comment les chiffres ont été perçus comme une contribution aux progrès dans l’éducation, avant de progressivement devenir une référence pour les projets éducatifs du xxe siècle.

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Texte intégral

This research was made possible by a post-doctoral scholarship from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) for 2020-2021 at the Instituto de Investigaciones sobre la Universidad y la Educación (IISUE/UNAM) and the Coordinación de Humanidades, under the advisership of Dr. Héctor Vera, a researcher at that Center.

  • 1 The Dirección General Estadística (DGE) was created in 1882 to gather national-level data on the p (...)
  • 2 While school statistics are produced in the school environment, census statistics provide a genera (...)
  • 3 See Censo de Población de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos, 1918; Resumen del Censo General de Habitan (...)
  • 4 See M. Barbosa, 2014 on the formation of public administration in Mexico at the beginning of the 2 (...)

1On 20 October 1895, Mexico’s Dirección General Estadística (DGE, General Statistics Office),1 conducted the first Censo General de la República Mexicana (General Census of the Mexican Republic). While the stated goal of that immense undertaking was to count the nation’s population, it marked the first time that the State apparatus quantified primary instruction as a criterion of literacy. By applying the simple categories, “can read” and “can write”, the exercise showed that 10,445,620 of Mexico’s 12,631,558 inhabitants could do neither, and that another 328,007 only knew how to read. That census constituted the first stage of what would become a tradition of quantifying “educated subjects” in the country.2 This was followed by the censuses of 1900, 1910, and 1921,3 carried out in the tumultuous context of the Mexican Revolution (1910) that led to a reorganization of state administrative bodies. The production of census data in the first decades of the 20th century signaled a reconfiguration of the practices of the Mexican State. One purpose of post-revolutionary Mexico was to redefine the educational question and the application of government policies in this area. This study explores the technical-political practices of the administration and how they impacted Mexican society.4

  • 5 L. Mayer, 1999.
  • 6 See the historiometric study on the word “illiteracy” by M. Miranda Noriega, 2020.

2The consolidation of statistics was based on a principle of authority that arose from the numerical tradition established in the 18th and 19th centuries.5 In the 20th century, however, this principle filtered through spheres that went beyond the discourse of specialists to coexist in the space of society that re-signified, reproduced and incorporated it into the social imagination. We begin with the idea that illiteracy became a social problem when census figures on education were first disseminated. The concept of “illiteracy” went beyond the simple inability to read and write and became associated with the idea of being a “bad citizen” or “uncivilized”.6 Drawing on the history of statistics and social studies of quantification, this article reflects on the contribution of census statistics to the development of a system to count educated subjects in Mexico in the first decades of the 20th century.

  • 7 Before the first national census of 1895, statistics had already acquired a certain legitimacy in (...)
  • 8 INEGI, 2009b.

3We take as a starting point the figures produced in the first national census, with the purpose of reviewing the classifications that gave rise to the statistics on education with which, for the first time in Mexico, the literate population was measured.7 As will be seen below, this information was collected using classification methods whose conception was somewhat unclear, but which, once the figures were produced, ordered the country’s population into literates and illiterates. We then analyze the discussions that, in the context of population enumeration, focused on the conceptualization of public education and the shaping of illiteracy as a political problem. We examine the political practices associated with the application of census figures on education, in a public policy project that shows the permeability of numbers in the conceptualization of illiteracy. The study ends with the case of the educational project of the Instrucción Rudimentaria (1911) that preceded the transformation of the DGE into the Departamento de la Estadística Nacional (DEN, Department of National Statistics) in 1921, and the creation of the Secretaría de Educación Pública in the same year. These institutional changes were a consequence of the revolutionary process of the first decade of the 20th century, which resulted in the departure of a large part of the Porfirian bureaucracy and in a change of ideas about national statistics.8

1. Illiteracy as a political problem: humanism versus science

  • 9 In the press of the time: see the article by R. A. Acosta comparing illiteracy in Mexico and Spain (...)

4In the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Mexico, illiteracy came to be conceived as a social problem. Contemporary public discourse reflected unease about this deviation from the image of the “ideal citizen”, citing other countries’ efforts to measure “literates” and “illiterates” and the nation’s entry into an early phase of industrialization that demanded “educated” workers:9

  • 10 La Voz de México, 16 December 1902, p. 276 (my translation).

“Many good people may not be aware of the ravages this evil is producing. The corrupted air that comes with custom influences its development […] penetrating into even the most insignificant villages, it will lead to a general state so depraved that it will produce dissolution through decay. But what is the remedy? Those who imagine that the printed word contains such extraordinary virtue that no malady can resist its sovereign curative power shout vociferously: Schools! Schools! The scandalous number of illiterates is the cause of our maladies10.”

  • 11 R. Grew, P. Harrigan & J. Whitney, 2017; N. Meusnier, 2006.
  • 12 The Reglamento (Regulations) established by the Secretaría de Fomento, Colonización, Industria y C (...)

5This concern reflected a worldwide tendency11 that alerted the Mexican State to the need to determine “precisely” the situation of its population in relation to the characteristics of “elementary education”12 and thereby justify its educational policy.

  • 13 Censo General de Población, 1898; F. Larroyo, p. 363.
  • 14 Justo Sierra and other Mexican intellectuals adhered to positivism. Although it was an influential (...)
  • 15 The Porfiriato is the name given to the period of government of President Porfirio Díaz between 18 (...)

6One of the criteria that guided legislative reforms on educational policy in the early 20th century was based on the deplorable figures from the 1895 census which revealed just how few Mexicans knew how to read and write.13 For certain liberal political circles whose political and social approach to teaching was influenced by positivism, a scientific vision was needed for decision-making in educational matters.14 During the Porfiriato,15 debates over which teaching method was best for the country raged between the opposing conceptual interpretations of educationalists and politicians of education, with liberal tendencies expressed in a positivist model for action.

  • 16 F. Larroyo, 1947, p. 289.
  • 17 The distinction between “Barandists” and “scientificists” arises from the division between “classi (...)
  • 18 Ricardo Flores Magón characterized Joaquín Baranda’s group in his journal: R. Flores Magón, 1901.

7Over time, and reflecting the political tensions of the period caused by shifts in the organization of public power, those discussions became so closely linked to conflicts in the administrative corridors of power that the limits of the principles of Comtian positivism became blurred and distorted.16 By the early 20th century, proposals for education in Mexico wavered between implementing a system of humanist inclination and a more political project based on scientificist-positivist rationality.17 The Ministro de Instrucción Pública y Justicia (Minister of Public Instruction and Justice) in the 1882-1901 period was Joaquín Baranda. Upon taking office, he championed the latter posture and opposed the postulates of “radical scientificism” that, he believed, impugned humanism as the principle of progress and wellbeing. In stark contrast, Yves Limantour, the Ministro de Hacienda (Minister of the Treasury) from 1895 to 1911, was a widely recognized leader of the so-called “scientists” who argued that education should serve science and administrative modernization. While it is true that the debate between these two groups – barandistas18 and científicos – centered on specific features of two visions of education, the backdrop was marked by their respective positions in the country’s educational administrative structure.

  • 19 In the midst of a media attack, Baranda was asked by Diaz to evaluate Limantour as a possible pres (...)
  • 20 The census showed significant increases in the population that “could read” and “write” (2,179,580 (...)
  • 21 The Congresos Nacionales de Instrucción Pública (National Congresses on Public Education) (1889, 1 (...)
  • 22 This was preceded by the Ley de Instrucción Pública (Law of Public Instruction) of 1867. Although (...)
  • 23 Article 50 establishes that the Supreme Power of the Federation is divided into Legislative, Execu (...)
  • 24 More information in M. Dublan & J. M. Lozano, 1906, pp. 127-128 (my translation).
  • 25 Ley Reglamentaria de la Instrucción Obligatoria…, 1891, p. 24.

8In 1901, Baranda was accused of espousing ideas that were “retrograde” for the progress of the nation19 and was forced to resign. He was succeeded by Justino Fernández, who served from 1901 to 1905. Shortly after taking office, Fernández presented a proposal to the Governing Council (Consejo Superior) to separate the Ministry’s judicial activities in the a from those of public instruction by creating two new State agencies (Oficialías Mayores) that later became Ministries. His proposal was ratified in the Law of 12 October 1901 that, among other consequences, resulted in Justo Sierra being appointed to a position in the Subsecretaría de Instrucción Pública (Sub-secretariat of Public Instruction) in that year. Around that time, government officials received with alarm the data from the 1900 census.20 While the figures showed an increase in the number of people who could read and write since the previous census, the improvement was not significant. To solve what was now called the “education problem”, the bureaucracy at the Ministry of Public Instruction and the Governing Council responded to experts’ recommendations by building more ordinary and supplementary schools (the latter for adults) and hiring more teachers.21 Legislation on elementary and compulsory primary education contributed to the supposed increase in schools and school enrollment. The Ley Sobre Instrucción Primaria en el Distrito Federal y Territorios Federales (Law on Primary Instruction in the Federal District and Federal Territories), issued on 23 May 1888,22 stated in Article 1: “At least two elementary schools will be established in the Federal District, one for boys and the other for girls, for every four thousand inhabitants. This ratio may be altered at the discretion of the Executive23 in the federal territories.”24 This provision was accompanied by the presence of itinerant teachers in sparsely populated areas, as administratively specified in the 1891 regulation.25 To increase the number of schools and guarantee enrollment, municipal authorities were required to carry out a series of actions. Article 30 of the regulation specified that for each of major city district, a Supervisory Council should be established to administer information on attendance and enrollment. For its part, City Councils became responsible for organizing a census of school-age children. The Board of Directors of Public Instruction were to obtain the necessary statistics from the electoral roll, and the City Council was then required to guarantee the creation of a school for the stipulated number of inhabitants. The school statistics produced by both the DGE and the Secretariat incorporated categories for recording educational situations that legitimized measures to guarantee compulsory education:

  • 26 Statistical records and tables can be seen in “Libreta de Estadísticas de la DGE de la República M (...)

“Number and type of – ‘Establishments’: ‘Male’, ‘Female’ and ‘Mixed’ –; ‘Total enrollment’, ‘Total attendance’; ‘Male’, ‘Female’ –; ‘Ages’: ‘Under 12 years’, ‘Over 12 years’ –; ‘Advancement status’: ‘Pupils examined’, ‘Pupils passed’, ‘Pupils who completed their studies’ –; ‘Employees’: ‘Principals and Assistant Principals’, ‘Prefects and Wardens’, ‘Professors and Teachers’, ‘Assistants and Preparators’, ‘Other employees’, ‘Servants’ –; ‘Total salaries received’ –; ‘Expenses’.”26

  • 27 F. Larroyo, 1947, p. 353.
  • 28 Archivo Histórico de la UNAM; Boletín de Instrucción Pública, 1910, p. 464.
  • 29 No. 1. “TABLE summarizing the state of Primary Education in the Mexican Republic in 1874, deduced (...)

9Measuring enrollment in mandatory education was controversial because the persons responsible for minors aged between 6 and 12 could be sanctioned or fined for non-compliance.27 The statistical offices of the Secretaría de Instrucción (Secretariat of Instruction) tried to disseminate information on school enrollment. In 1904, Professor Miguel E. Shulz was appointed head of the Archivo, Estadística e Información de la Secretaría de Instrucción Pública y Bellas Artes (Archive, Statistics and Information Section of the Secretariat of Public Instruction and Fine Arts). From the time of his appointment, the Secretariat’s Bulletin of dissemination systematically included statistics on primary education. In addition to compiling statistics on enrollment and school characteristics, they would show that the number of schoolchildren was increasing. This is illustrated in the Secretariat’s Bulletin of 1910.28 Unusually for this Bulletin, the document presents the official data on instruction in the country for the year 1874 and those of 1907. Using a comparative strategy, a series of four different tables29 comparing information on the state of education in both years is shown. Some of the most striking statistics calculated in this publication are the number of schools per square kilometer and the number of schools in relation to population size (Table 1).

Table 1. Summary of the categories of the tables presented by the Boletín de Instrucción Pública of 1910, showing the comparison of the state of instruction in 1874 and 1907

No. 1 “TABLE summarizing the state of Primary Education in the Mexican Republic in 1874 (…)” No. 3 “TABLE summarizing the state of Primary Education in the Mexican Republic in 1907 (…)”
Area in square kilometers
Population Population in 1900
Probable School Population
(Boys and Girls)
Probable School population
No. of Official Primary Schools
No. of Private Primary Schools
Total number of Primary Schools
Average Student Attendance
in Official Schools
Student Enrollment in Official Schools
Average Attendance of Students
in Private Schools
Student Enrollment in Private Schools
Average Attendance
in Elementary Schools as a Whole
Total Enrollment in Elementary Schools
PROPORTION IN RELATION TO THE AREA (Square kilometers)
One Official School for each:
One Private School for each:
One Primary School, in general, for each:
PROPORTION IN RELATION TO POPULATION
One Official School for each:
One Private School for each:
One Primary School, in general for each:
COST OF PRIMARY EDUCATION
Sum of expenditures in Official Schools
Expenditure data for Private Schools
Total expenditures in primary schools in general

Note. The textual translation of the categories presented by States, Territories and Federal District of the country in Tables 1 and 3 is transcribed for each titled column. The categories in the center are those in which both tables coincide. In Document 1 “TABLE 1874”, the data source is the 1875 text by José Díaz Covarrubias on La Instrucción Pública en México, although the only data drawn from this source are the total number of primary schools per State of the Federation, on p. LX and the number of students that “attended” the primary schools of the Republic, on p. LXXX. The origin of the other data is unclear, but they were most likely extracted from the Memorias de Gobernación for the 1870s. In 1956, the DGE made a compilation of historical statistics, taking these documents as a reference but, unfortunately, we were unable access to them. See more on these figures in M. González Navarro, 1956, pp. 42-62.

Source. Own elaboration based on the tables published in the Boletín de Instrucción Pública, 1910, p. 464.

10This statistical information, while showing numerical increases – a rise in the number of primary schools from 8,022 in 1874 to 10,910 by 1907, for example – also showcased the authority and technical capacity of the DGE as an administrative office in compiling and processing figures. The publication also highlighted the capabilities of each State of the Republic in achieving the goal of increasing the number of schools and primary education enrollment in accordance with the legislation on compulsory education. Thus, as a complement to the information for each period (1874, 1907), the publication presents a table for each one that includes a list, in descending order, of the best positions achieved by each entity (Table 2).

Table 2. Summary of the first places in the list corresponding to each entity of the Republic in relation to the lists of 1874 and 1907

No. 2 “Places corresponding to each of the entities of the Federation, with reference to the data in the preceding TABLE relating to 1874” No. 4 “Places corresponding to each of the entities of the Federation, with reference to the data in the preceding TABLE relating to 1907”
In relation to the number of Primary Schools in general Puebla 1,008 schools Puebla 1,191 schools
In relation to the school enrollment in them Mexico 43,735 students Jalisco 84,431 students
In relation to the territorial area proportional to the number of Schools. One School for each Federal District 3.3 sq. km Federal District 2.3 sq. km
In relation to the population figure proportional to the number of Schools. One School for each Tlaxcala 459 inhabitants Morelos 582 inhabitants
In relation to the expenditure on support for primary instruction Federal District 167,300 Federal District 2,638,981.48

Source. Own elaboration based on Tables 2 and 4, published in the Boletín de Instrucción Pública, p. 464, 1910.

  • 30 M. Bazant, 2006, p. 20.
  • 31 M. Bazant, 2006, p. 20.

11Despite the information provided, which shows a notable increase in the number of schools and students enrolled, as well as an increase in the country’s education budget, the figures were received with little enthusiasm by some figures in the teaching profession and in politics. For example, Alfredo Chavero,30 former director of the Vizcaína school, took part in the debates on compulsory primary education. Although he was in favor, he criticized the sanctioning of non-compliance with compulsory education, stating that it did not guarantee literacy. He noted that only a quarter of those enrolled attended regularly.31

  • 32 Roumagnac is considered one of the first criminologists to participate in public life as a journal (...)
  • 33 C. Roumagnac, 1904, p. 35.

12The increase in school construction and the training of more teachers was also harshly criticized by Carlos Roumagnac.32 He considered it absurd to attribute delinquency and high crime rates to the shortage of schools and low literacy levels and refused to increase spending on school construction for that reason. He recognized that education was key to reducing crime, but he did not believe that “each new school will mean one less jail”. He also argued that “learning the alphabet [was] useless” as a means of counteracting rising crime rates.33

  • 34 C. Féré, 1899.
  • 35 There was an intense pedagogical debate about “instruction” and “education” that influenced educat (...)

13He was inspired by the studies of criminologists such as Dr. C. Feré,34 a Frenchman, who claimed that there was no statistical correlation between increased elementary school education and a decrease in crime rates. For Roumagnac, learning to read was pointless in the absence of a “true” education, and he challenged the idea that literacy provides a remedy for moral and ethical problems.35 He agreed with public opinion that “learning to read and write” did not guarantee that individuals were “morally acceptable”,

  • 36 La Voz de México, “El Remedio Deseado”, 16 December 1902, p. 276.

“We need parish schools for both sexes in each town – each parish – [with] the priest in the middle, directing them; that is, direct, constant, and efficacious intervention by religion in ‘educating children…’ Understand that education without this may give ‘instruction’ that is more harmful than fruitful. Education [is not effective] if it does not etch into the human soul the eternal laws of morality […]”36

  • 37 On the Lancasterian method for teaching reading, writing and basic arithmetic see A. Martínez, 197 (...)

14For decades, education was the responsibility of religious institutions and was dispensed using the Lancasterian (Monitorila)37 method, based on directed instruction. The foundations of official and compulsory education emerged at the end of the 19th century. Education based solely on “scientificism” and limited to elementary instruction did not meet the requirements of Christian morality.

2. From pedagogical studies to statistical output

15At the end of the 19th century, Mexican intellectuals were interpreting, analyzing and proposing explanations of the country’s social problems, as the catalog of the Sociedad Mexicana de Geografía y Estadística (Mexican Society for Geography and Statistics, SMGyE)38 shows. These analyses, based on different “empirical” research methods, lacked a national dimension. Hence, the development of census statistics on education provided the impetus for the institutionalization of educational projects.39

16Until 1895, there were no nationwide counts or estimates of the number of people who could read and write. The first national censuses, on the other hand, presented for the first time in figures the impact of public education projects on the number of literate people in the country (Table 3).

Table 3. Percentage of literates with respect to the total population according the 1895, 1900 and 1910 censuses

Year “Know how to read and write” Total population Literates as a percentage
of total population
1895 1,817,414 12,631,558 14.39%
1900 2,179,588 13,607,259 16.02%
1910 2,992,026 15,160,369 13.33%

Source. Own elaboration based on the tabulators and summaries of each census. Archivo Histórico Digital del INEGI, URL: https://www.inegi.org.mx/​app/​archivohistorico/​.

17These accounts laid the foundations for educational policy projects and helped shape the idea of the massification of education. Illiteracy came to be conceived as a problem that implied recognizing the “illiterate” as a group that, despite all the government’s efforts to produce educated citizens, remained outside the limits of “normality” that the “elementary instruction” projects embodied.

  • 40 According to Larroyo’s account, the late nineteenth century witnessed the prominence of various Me (...)

18Now that this reality – so undesirable for “social progress” – had become visible, illiteracy was turned into an educational “phenomenon” to be studied by educationalists,40 and a social problem for politicians and élites. Their knowledge would be utilized to justify legislative initiatives and reforms and the creation of additional administrative structure. Academic ideas and bureaucratic ideas thus coexisted between two models of the country that formed part of a liberal political culture with a reformist character and a liberal political culture with scientificist aspirations.

“Measuring” schools

  • 41 R. González Villarreal & A. Arredondo, 2017.
  • 42 J. Granja, 2009.

19Record-keeping on schools was an undertaking of the Ministry of Public Instruction. It was implemented in the final three decades of the 19th century, after the secularization of schools, when responsibility for education passed into the hands of a State still in a process of formation.41 The State agencies entrusted with public education in this initial stage worked with municipal authorities to produce information through school reports drawn up by teachers in the nation’s schools.42 The objective of this early venture in producing information on schools was to compile records of the educational environment by classifying school practices.

  • 43 J. Granja, 2009.

20Teachers kept records that provided the municipal authorities with information on class attendance, students’ grades, and examination results.43 These reports were accompanied by another series of documents in which teachers and principals informed the school inspectors about the material conditions of their schools, including the number of schools, the number of girls and boys enrolled and the number of teachers. The figures collected in offices dedicated to public instruction generated a type of information different from that produced by agencies specifically set up to produce national statistics.

  • 44 J. Díaz Covarrubias, 1875, p. LIX.

21One of the most exhaustive works in this regard, is that of Díaz Covarrubias (1875), who attempted to provide a count of “the number and classification of primary schools in the Republic”.44 His “special census work” – the product of the collation of reports submitted by State Governors – gives an official figure of 8,103 primary schools (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Classification of the primary schools of the Republic, according to authorities, corporations or individuals that support them

Figure 1. Classification of the primary schools of the Republic, according to authorities, corporations or individuals that support them

Source. J. Díaz Covarrubias, 1875, p. LXIV.

22The author points out that these data compare favorably with those of 1870 and 1871, when it was known that there were 5,000 private and public primary schools. Although this comparison points to a significant increase in the number of schools, he warns that they remain insufficient to meet the needs of the national population.

  • 45 J. Díaz Covarrubias, 1875, p. LXII

“Calculating, not by special census, which does not exist, but by the general rules of statistics and by the results obtained in other countries, that the number of children of school age and aptitude represents one fifth of the population, that is, one million eight hundred thousand children in the Republic, it will be observed that it is necessary to double the number of schools that currently exist, so that all eligible children can attend, assuming that each school can enroll between one hundred and one hundred and twenty-five pupils.”45

23Covarrubias backs up his argument by presenting the number of primary school students in the Republic for 1875: a total of 349,001. This was another figure that he considered insufficient, given that the estimated number of boys and girls in the country at that time was around 1,800,000. This focus on the number of schools and enrolled children, costs, and expenses in primary education – found in this and other works – reveals that concern about public instruction was seen more as an administrative than an educational problem.

  • 46 J. Baranda, 1894.
  • 47 A term from the late 19th and early 20th centuries referring to administrative forms whose purpose (...)
  • 48 A. Ayala, “Circular Relativa a la Manera de Llevar Documentos Escolares Referentes a la Inscripció (...)

24In 1894, Joaquín Baranda – under President Díaz’ orders – announced the “official” production of “statistical news” on “Primary Instruction” throughout the country with the aim of obtaining an “exact measure of the […] culture of the Mexican people, of the efficacy and dedication of the authorities in propagating it and, finally, of the new efforts that will be necessary to perfect it”.46 The more-or-less systematic collection would be carried by means of a “skeleton” forms (esqueletos)47 distributed to state authorities. The most important items to be recorded were the number of students enrolled, their gender, attendance, and the number of teachers. By 1900, a special office for statistics had been created inside the Ministerio de Instrucción Pública y Bellas Artes (Ministry of Public Instruction and Fine Arts) to receive the information on the general situation of the school population. Through orders issued by the General Office of Primary Instruction (Dirección General de Instrucción Primaria), it sought to collect information in a homogeneous way through various “school documents” (documentos escolares). Its records incorporated information on reasons for absence, student departures and dismissals of school personnel, unjustified absences, behavior scores, hygiene, and academic performance.48

  • 49 INEGI, 2005, p. 26.

25It was this process of collecting statistics on education that ultimately gave education agencies their capacity to influence decision-making and public policy. Indeed, one of the main responsibilities of the agencies in charge of education at the national level – first the Ministerio de Instrucción y Justicia, then the Secretaría de Educación Pública (Public Education Secretariat, created in 1921) – was to produce school statistics that would provide information on the nation’s schools.49

Statistical censuses on education

  • 50 Diario Oficial…, 1882.
  • 51 A. Medeles, 2016, p. 157.
  • 52 INEGI, 2009a, p. 29.
  • 53 L. Cházaro, 2016.
  • 54 A newspaper that reported on topics like agricultural production, administration of wealth, and st (...)

26The agency responsible for producing official figures and generating statistical knowledge was institutionalized in the presidential decree that created the Dirección General Estadística (DGE) in 1882. Originally affiliated with the Secretaría de Fomento (Ministry of Development),50 its purpose was to “solicit, compile, classify, and publish, periodically in comparative charts, all data concerning the branch of statistics”.51 During that early stage, and up until 1888 at least, this included publishing the Boletín Semestral (Semestral Bulletin).52 Under the direction of Dr. Antonio Peñafiel,53 the office cemented its social legitimacy and authority as the gatherer of national statistics by formulating regulations and editing monographic and periodic studies. One of its specific tasks was to organize a national census. However, the overall conditions of the country, its rugged geography, poor communications among state authorities, and the lack of experience of the DGE’s staff of just 12 employees, all presented huge obstacles. To establish the nascent agency’s legitimacy, Peñafiel’s sought to develop relations with important national figures by, among many other activities, contributing to La Economista Mexicano (The Mexican Economist), publishing the Semanario de Asuntos Económicos y Estadísticos54 (Weekly Economic and Statistical Affairs), presenting statistical evidence on conditions in Mexico at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1889, and frequenting elite bureaucratic circles.

  • 55 See J. M. L. Mora, 1837; also, the case of the requests and debates of physicians in Mexico City, (...)

27Since very early in the 19th century, and more urgently in the second half, members of political life and of different sectors had been discussing the need for well-organized statistics as a basis for modernizing the nation.55 However, creating one administrative agency to contribute to that goal proved insufficient for the task of organizing and carrying out national censuses, an endeavor that demanded much more than just legislative initiative. In fact, statistics-based censuses like the ones the government envisioned required an enormous bureaucratic apparatus with specialized knowledge to ensure the validity of the information gathered, referred to at the time as “statistical news”. Due to all these circumstances, the strategic task of organizing national censuses took 13 years from the founding of the DGE to the first survey in 1895. The operational challenges also called for a series of decisions that would reveal the interests that lay behind the government’s efforts to gather information on the country’s population.

  • 56 See, among other publications, the vast work written or directed by Antonio Peñafiel on the prepar (...)
  • 57 A. Peñafiel, 1883.
  • 58 A. Peñafiel, 1883, p. 3.

28Striving to establish his credentials as an expert authority, A. Peñafiel made several statistical studies.56 In 1883, with Dr. Francisco Ramírez y Roja, he published what could be considered the first precursor of a plan for a national census in a document entitled Preliminares Para la organización de la Estadística General de la República Mexicana (Preliminary Work for Organizing General Statistics for the Mexican Republic).57 The first of its kind, Preliminares was, in all likelihood, the starting point for national censuses in Mexico. It expounded the thematic organization to be followed and provided an epistemic justification founded upon the notion that “The current state of science […] is not content with the simple arithmetical collection of data on the moral, intellectual, and physical order but demands, as well, useful deductions and consequences for application in public administration”.58 Clearly, the aim was to collect the kinds of data that would have practical utility and directly impact “all branches of the economy and public administration”. The document also stated the two principal justifications for taking censuses: first, to organize statistical administrative services; second, to classify the “divisions of science” that correspond to the Republic, that is, to determine the topics to be included in the national census survey, as well as the categories to be used. A comparative evaluation of census practices in other countries served to determine the classificatory categories to be applied. Based on that analysis, bureaucrats proposed an instrument that would collect information on the following areas: property, agriculture, industry, internal and external commerce, navigation and the sea, the administration of justice, and education.

  • 59 At the local level, the Censo de la Municipalidad de México de 1890 (Census of the Municipality of (...)

29“Public education and instruction” was seen as an especially important category in a nation like Mexico where political upheavals of different kinds had damaged the interests of all sectors of society. Another result of the comparative study was a census format designed to gather statistics relevant to public education by asking people if they “knew how to read and write”. Despite the arduous efforts of Peñafiel and his staff at the DGE, the actual census-taking work was delayed.59

  • 60 See 1905 speech to the Academia de Profesores de Instrucción Primaria de Distrito Federal (Academy (...)
  • 61 See, on this topic, M. K. Vaughan, 1982; G. Ordoñez, 2017.

30As additional exercises were carried out, figures became arguments in support of educational policy projects.60 The DGE’s first attempts at educational enumeration were based on figures provided by educationalists, teachers and bureaucrats, but were potentially biased by different viewpoints and social actors. Even so, a space was being created for the production of official statistics on instruction to influence social policies.61

  • 62 In 1908, the Proyecto de Reglamento (Proposal of Regulations) by Ezequiel Chávez declared a mandat (...)
  • 63 Diario Oficial…, 1882.

31At first, the DGE’s production of figures on education was limited to records that schools were required, more-or-less systematically, to submit to the state agencies.62 We can assume that those sources of information fell short of the agency’s goal of obtaining daily, standardized, “exact” records.63

  • 64 See Boletín de Instrucción Pública, 1911, p. 150.
  • 65 For example, González Navarro states that the statistical figures on literacy, language, mortality (...)

32The annual records compiled for the DGE by the Departamento de Instrucción y Bellas Artes on the different types of schools and grades – kindergartens, primary, secondary, and high schools – showed differences in the registration process in each State.64 When the records of active school communities were compared with the figures of the first national censuses, they were found to be inaccurate and below the expected standards.65

  • 66 Like the criminologist C. Roumagnac (1904), Ezequiel Chávez opposed the idea that the solution to (...)

33Moreover, they did not reflect the national “culture of the population” because they were purely local in nature. The DGE faced harsh criticism from several fronts for its “cold” analyses of data as a reflection of reality and their minimal relevance for improving national life.66

  • 67 Consult the following documents: Memorias de la Secretaría de Fomento, Ramo de la Dirección Genera (...)
  • 68 Several contemporary newspapers referred to the alarming conditions of illiteracy in the country. (...)

34By the time census figures began to appear, the production of statistics on education had achieved a certain legitimacy. Though restricted to local “universes”, statistics from schools brought to light basic issues in the systematic recording of the educational environment.67 The DGE’s first national censuses caused astonishment and concern due to the high number of people who “could not read or write”.68 Some observers could not conceive that 80% of the population had not received even the minimal level of instruction needed to become literate. With this, the social phenomenon of “illiteracy” began to take shape.

35Educationalists and the educational bureaucracy objected that, in the strict sense, the shortcomings in elementary instruction reflected in the number of people who “could not read and write” revealed problems that went beyond the number of schools or increasing student numbers and constituted an educational challenge.

  • 69 This demonstrates that school quality appears to be determined in quantitative terms. J Sierra, 18 (...)

“Many authorities, whether municipal or state-level, see salvation in sustaining the largest number of schools possible, but fail to consider if conditions are optimal for fulfilling their mission. They easily forget that education is more concerned with the quality of schools than their number.”69

36This suggested that the specific condition of an individual as “literate” or “illiterate” was not necessarily due to a lack of instruction, the nature of teaching methods, or the number of schools and teachers. Rather, based on the massive phenomenon revealed by statistics, “the illiterate” were seen as a social problem. By grouping all individuals who lacked elementary instruction in one figure, the early censuses discovered the problem of “illiteracy”, which made it clear that the challenge of teaching did not involve only teachers, but the entire administrative structure of elementary instruction as public policy.

  • 70 See F. Larroyo, 1847, pp. 349-360; M. Bazant, 2006, pp. 130-131.
  • 71 Press editorials frequently referred to the “mass of illiterates”, correlating it with the indigen (...)

37The DGE’s statistics also raised suspicions among teachers who were aware of the distrust that their publication provoked in the educational sectors. During Baranda’s term as Minister of State and Minister of Public Instruction and Justice (1882-1901), educational practice promoted a form of instruction designed to nurture students’ patriotic sentiments and achieve moral progress. Like many educators in the early Porfiriato, Baranda argued that education would be a means for transforming Mexico into a more modern, democratic nation. But the data in the late 19th century censuses cast a dark shadow over the educational crusade implemented in the final two decades of that century.70 More than a simple questioning of the status of statistics as science, this entailed a process of evaluating statistical data as an instrument that revealed the reality of the level of education of Mexican society. At the same time, concern over the small size of the literate population and more hopeful data on this issue arose in various sectors, accompanied by pronouncements that stressed the urgent need to reduce the number of illiterates.71

3. Millions of illiterates

  • 72 The Congreso General promulgated this law. The objective was to establish schools throughout the c (...)
  • 73 Until 1921, censuses did not link “race” to “illiteracy”, but educators and intellectuals linked s (...)

38The Ley de Escuelas de Instrucción Rudimentaria72 (Law for Schools for Rudimentary Instruction) was enacted on 1 June 1911. Its principal goal was to provide teaching in reading, writing and basic arithmetic, to indigenous peoples especially. The question of why that law specified that illiteracy was concentrated in the country’s indigenous population deserves separate study. The first three national censuses showed no significant increase in the numbers of literate people, but nor did they present empirical evidence that most of the illiterate population was indigenous. In fact, the data on the small number of literate people in the country captured in the censuses between 1895 and 1910 contain no statistical evidence that relates the problem of illiteracy to any condition, be it ethnic, socioeconomic, or cultural.73 This did not, however, prevent various contemporary educators, politicians, economists, and journalists from using those census numbers to justify distinct visions for public policy in the field of education and literacy.

  • 74 Sierra stated that “millions of men, most of them belonging to the savage races, were submerged in (...)
  • 75 The Mexican Indianist society was born in 1910 out of interest in Mexico’s aboriginal groups. Alth (...)
  • 76 Founder of the Partido Evolucionista, last Minister of Education of the Porfiriato. He saw illiter (...)

39Participants at the 1906 Congreso de Educación (Congress on Education) debated the need to create more schools to “dignify the race” through education,74 and Justo Sierra often used a discourse based on imprecise, non-contextual statistics to refer to “millions of men” in conditions of illiteracy, most of them indigenous. One proposal discussed at the Primer Congreso Indianista (First Indian Congress) in 1910 was to train teachers to give classes in Spanish, reading, and the rules of arithmetic.75 That initiative was rejected by the Porfirian administration but was taken up again years later when the Secretary of Education, Jorge Vera Estañol, cited the need to instruct “the millions who are ignorant of Spanish”.76

  • 77 G. Torres Quintero, 1913, p. 53.

“The problem of public instruction must be resolved for now by expanding the school system. Many schools in the largest possible number of places where, to date, illiteracy has been the norm, organized with study programs limited to… shining the light of the alphabet and numbers upon those millions of souls who sleep under the cloud of the most complete ignorance.”77

40Official discourse was filled with references to those “millions of illiterates”. Estañol’s Rudimentary Schools project (Escuelas Rudimentarias) was based on the formula “more schools, less social backwardness”, and the expectation that as more indigenous people learned how to speak, read, and write Spanish, and count, greater “national integration” would be achieved through education. Census statistics appear to have achieved legitimacy among public functionaries, the education statistics served as an argument and reinforced the nationalist vision.

  • 78 E. Loyo, 2006, p. 359.
  • 79 Subsecretary of Public Instruction and Fine Arts in Madero’s government, and the engineer and poli (...)
  • 80 A. Pani, 1912, p. 5.
  • 81 A. Pani, 1912, p. 13.
  • 82 A. Pani, 1912, p. 14.

41While the number of illiterates was cited as justification for the law, its aims were objects of discussion and debate, and those same official numbers were even used to challenge it. The ensuing polemic reopened old disputes over compulsory education and on the perceptions of indigenous people held by authorities and teachers, among others.78 In 1912, for example, Alberto J. Pani79 published a study of Rudimentary Schools that gave an account of problems that, he claimed, derived from what he called an over-simplification of the educational problem and an over-literal interpretation of the June 1911 Law. According to Pani, the difficulties stemmed from “the special conditions of our people, the extreme limitations of our resources, and the law itself, where the germ of failure seems to move with vigorous palpitations of life”.80 He went on to produce an analysis based mainly on the official figures on literacy that attributed the problems of the Rudimentary Schools project to three underlying factors: the mental level and nature of the population, inadequate budgets, and imperfections in the law. In support of his first allegation, he cited statistics on the “illiterate masses” to demonstrate the “ethnic-linguistic heterogeneity” of the Mexican population. Using numbers from the 1910 census, he compared the total population (15,139,855) to the number of illiterates (10,324,484). It was clear to him that “the simple expression of the figures […] gives a measure of the difficulty to be faced”.81 From the outset, he considered that the large share of illiterates in the population posed a problem, but that it was surpassed in importance by the “lack of ethnic homogeneity”. Without additional census arguments, but adding new quantitative evidence, he affirmed that inequalities arose from the existence of three “ethnic” groups – whites, mestizos, indigenous – and their numerical and distributive proportions; “whites and Creoles of pure or slightly mixed European origin, mestizos, the product of crosses of varying degrees of all the other elements that constituted them, and the pure Indians”, a classification that corresponded to the idea of colonial castes.82

  • 83 The instrument that Pani used was novel in the period in terms of both educational matters and the (...)
  • 84 G. Torres Quintero, 1913.

42Pani further argued that favoring school expansion in the countryside over urban areas was unjustified, and that attempting to address the needs of the entire illiterate population of all ages would require a budget far beyond the capacity of the State. Although Pani cited figures in his treatise, he also raised an objection to them, stating that “the imperfections that plague our statistics are well-known”. Both the legitimacy and of census statistics and their contestation were key issues in debates of the time. Pani applied an instrument to empirically verify their validity: a nationwide survey designed to gauge the opinions of teachers on rudimentary education.83 Results showed that many of the respondents held “unfortunate” views on the nation’s indigenous peoples, considering them ill-suited for learning. Moreover, experts’ views, subjective opinions, and professional experience all indicated that the Rudimentary Instruction program needed to be rethought. In 1913, Gregorio Torres Quintero published a study entitled La Instrucción Rudimentaria de la República (Rudimentary Instruction in the Republic84), based on his earlier participation at the Primer Congreso Científico (First Scientific Congress) organized in 1912 by the Sociedad Antonio Alzate. His text refuted Pani’s work, arguing that the number of illiterates would indeed decrease in proportion to the expansion of the school system. His argument was also arithmetical, for at various points he mentions the high percentages of illiterates and refers to figures from national and state-level censuses to respond to the objections raised by the governors of Coahuila and Colima, principally to the size of the education budgets. He compared the total number of inhabitants to that of illiterates in those two states – 115,592 and 246,500, respectively – to demonstrate that Coahuila clearly had sufficient resources to build new schools. He broke down the total number of illiterates using the mathematical decomposition to exclude children aged 1-5 years (62,002) but include those over 12 (46,086) and those aged 6-12 (138,412). In this way, the original number of illiterates decreased from 246,500 to just 46,086. Later, he referred to school statistics on attendance and examinations:

  • 85 A. Pani, 1918, p. 5.

“The state has 49,077 children aged 6-10 years and 37,217 aged 11-15. Not today, but in better times (before the Revolution), 28,424 children were enrolled in official schools (many fewer among those over 12) [but] only 20,425 [presented] examinations. Thus, while the state of Coahuila cannot attend to the needs of even 25 per cent of children aged 6-15, it has opposed installation of rudimentary schools.”85

43In Quintero’s view, the best way to refute Pani’s allegations and the governors’ opposition was to use arguments based on figures: census data, school statistics, and budget information. Like Pani, his demonstration was arithmetical, but strengthened by an analysis of the situation of education in Mexico compared to other countries. He considered his diagnosis, apparently more solidly founded, to be a positive demonstration of the great potential and benefits of rudimentary instruction.

44Official numbers seem to have been accepted and employed – usually uncritically – by public officials to the degree that they meshed with political, economic, and social interests. It was believed that figures provided the means to demonstrate the viability of their objectives. In the confrontation between diverse interests in, and ideas on, education, numbers served as discursive evidence. While teachers, physicians, and educators focused their gaze and their record-keeping on schools, functionaries in the administration of statistics collected “first-hand” data. Together they constructed a quantifiable vision of education.

  • 86 I am currently working on the statistical model that was developed for the literacy campaign, the (...)

45By 1914, the schools of rudimentary instruction ceased to function – their failure was evident in the diagnoses made by the offices of instruction – and the educational project of federalization was dismantled. Nevertheless, the census figures and the education statistics produced by the educational offices would become a reference for public policies. Statistics on illiteracy would accompany the founding of the Secretaría de Educación Pública (SEP) (Secretariat of Public Education) in 1921. A new task for the administration of education and statistics was being prepared, that of founding a new education system; the Campaña de Alfabetización (Literacy Campaign) (1920-1924).86

Conclusions

46This article deals with the production of education statistics in a period when the Mexican State was consolidating its power to administer the population through the first national censuses. In their varied dimensions, statistics, and their use by the public administration in its efforts to measure the characteristics of the Mexican population, established bureaucratic practices as the basis of legitimacy. This study describes how the production of demographic data by the first national censuses – conducted by offices in each state – contributed to the conformation of public power in the administration of the Mexican people. Educational institutions and the actors involved, meanwhile, gave shape to the spectrum of social meanings of the “subject of education” and the conditions of education in the early years of the post-revolutionary State.

47The first decades of the 20th century in Mexico were marked by social, political, and economic turmoil. The concept of “illiteracy” as a synonym for a political concern was incorporated into public discourse to justify a whole series of policies adopted initially as banners of revolutionary struggle, but later as elements of the social policies of the post-revolutionary governments. “Rural School” initiatives were products of the recognition of the problem of mass illiteracy concentrated in specific sectors of the population, namely the indigenous, peasant, and rural populations in general.

48The need to teach those people the triad of reading, writing, and arithmetic emerged in relation to the figures generated by the 1895, 1900, and 1910 censuses and their social and political representation of the indigenous populations. As well as demonstrating the phenomenon of “illiteracy” as a national condition, those census figures were interpreted as a natural reflection of ethnic origin and ignorance. That association was not only a product of empirical evidence of the number of people who had never received primary education, but also of the association of the “ethnic” variable with “illiteracy”. This contributed to the consolidation of the idea that Mexico’s indigenous populations were mentally deficient. The ideas and prejudices held by functionaries were determinants of the cultural, educational, and scientific policies adopted in the ensuing two decades, in which the dignity of those peoples was undermined, and their fundamental rights ignored.

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Meusnier, Norbert, “Sur l’histoire de l’enseignement des probabilités et des statistiques”, Journal électronique d’histoire des probabilités et de la statistique (online), vol. 2, no. 2, 2006, pp. 1-20.
URL: http://eudml.org/doc/117566

Miranda Noriega, Marino, “El Surgimiento del Analfabetismo como Problema Educativo”, Nexos (online review), July 2020.
URL: https://educacion.nexos.com.mx/el-surgimiento-del-analfabetismo-como-problema-educativo/

Ordoñez, Gerardo, El Estado Social en México. Un Siglo de Reformas Hacia un Sistema de Bienestar Excluyente, Mexico City, Siglo XXI and El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, 2017.

Vaughan, Mary K., Estado, Clases Sociales y Educación en México, Mexico City, SEP, Dirección General de Publicaciones y Bibliotecas, 1982.

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Notes

1 The Dirección General Estadística (DGE) was created in 1882 to gather national-level data on the population and to deal with the social challenges to government administration that emerged in response to efforts to achieve institutional stability, modernization, and urban growth, and other issues that arose in the late 19th century. A. Medeles, 2016, pp. 157-159.

2 While school statistics are produced in the school environment, census statistics provide a generalized view of education in the country. I have developed this topic in more detail in another article currently under editorial review. On school categories, see J. Granja, 2009.

3 See Censo de Población de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos, 1918; Resumen del Censo General de Habitantes…, 1928; INEGI, Historical Archives and Historical Census Series (URL: https://www.inegi.org.mx/app/archivohistorico/).

4 See M. Barbosa, 2014 on the formation of public administration in Mexico at the beginning of the 20th century.

5 L. Mayer, 1999.

6 See the historiometric study on the word “illiteracy” by M. Miranda Noriega, 2020.

7 Before the first national census of 1895, statistics had already acquired a certain legitimacy in 19th century Mexico. Statistical exercises were conducted by scientific societies and certain governmental offices. For more information see M. Lozano, 1991; L. Mayer, 1999; A. Medeles, 2011; id., 2018; L. Cházaro, 2016, among others.

8 INEGI, 2009b.

9 In the press of the time: see the article by R. A. Acosta comparing illiteracy in Mexico and Spain, refuting stereotypes, “Viaje a América”, La Patria, 8 September 1895. Debates on basic education versus moral education are also frequent, as in“Hipocresías Masónicas”, La Voz de México, 7 December 1905. Other alarming debates on illiteracy appear in “Educación” in La Patria, 25 October 1902 and “Escuelas para Obreros”, La Voz de México, 14 September 1905.

10 La Voz de México, 16 December 1902, p. 276 (my translation).

11 R. Grew, P. Harrigan & J. Whitney, 2017; N. Meusnier, 2006.

12 The Reglamento (Regulations) established by the Secretaría de Fomento, Colonización, Industria y Comercio de la República (Ministry of Development, Colonization, Industry, and Commerce of the Mexican Republic), issued on 10 June 1883 by President General Manuel González, recommended including statistics on elementary education as part of the general statistics of the nation. Reglamento para Organizar la Estadística…, 1883.

13 Censo General de Población, 1898; F. Larroyo, p. 363.

14 Justo Sierra and other Mexican intellectuals adhered to positivism. Although it was an influential philosophy, there was no single movement of Mexican positivism because it was constantly changing, coexisting with liberalism, romanticism, modernism, socialism, and anarchy. G. Hurtado, 2009, p. 235.

15 The Porfiriato is the name given to the period of government of President Porfirio Díaz between 1876 and 1911.

16 F. Larroyo, 1947, p. 289.

17 The distinction between “Barandists” and “scientificists” arises from the division between “classical liberals” and “positivist liberals” according to F.-X. Guerra, 1988, pp. 171-172, 380-381. The same author observes that these men of the 19th century, when speaking of education, “do not speak essentially of knowledge, literacy or useful sciences”; rather, they were referring to a liberal archetype, ibid., p. 395.

18 Ricardo Flores Magón characterized Joaquín Baranda’s group in his journal: R. Flores Magón, 1901.

19 In the midst of a media attack, Baranda was asked by Diaz to evaluate Limantour as a possible president. After a negative verdict, Limantour may have tried to malign Baranda. R. Flores Magón, 1901.

20 The census showed significant increases in the population that “could read” and “write” (2,179,580 and 347,903, respectively, out of a total of 13,545,462, but the figures were still below the levels required for national progress. See Censo General de la República, “Tabulados Básicos”, 1905.

21 The Congresos Nacionales de Instrucción Pública (National Congresses on Public Education) (1889, 1891) advocated education legislation, school construction, and textbook production. In 1889, Baranda emphasized the importance of observation and experience as a valid scientific means of evaluating educational systems, in El Siglo Diez y Nueve, Discurso del Señor Ministro de Justicia, Mexico, 1889.

22 This was preceded by the Ley de Instrucción Pública (Law of Public Instruction) of 1867. Although the law was promulgated in 1888, it was not until 1891 that it was accompanied by the regulations that defined, at administrative level, the implementation of the seven articles originally established.

23 Article 50 establishes that the Supreme Power of the Federation is divided into Legislative, Executive and Judicial powers. Article 75 states that the Executive function is assigned to the President. See, Constitución de 1857. Con sus Adiciones y Reformas hasta el Año 1901, pp. 177, 196.

24 More information in M. Dublan & J. M. Lozano, 1906, pp. 127-128 (my translation).

25 Ley Reglamentaria de la Instrucción Obligatoria…, 1891, p. 24.

26 Statistical records and tables can be seen in “Libreta de Estadísticas de la DGE de la República Mexicana para Recoger Datos Sobre Instrucción Secundaria y Preparatoria”, Fondo de Instrucción Pública y Bellas Artes…, 1899, Caja 1. Exp. 40.

27 F. Larroyo, 1947, p. 353.

28 Archivo Histórico de la UNAM; Boletín de Instrucción Pública, 1910, p. 464.

29 No. 1. “TABLE summarizing the state of Primary Education in the Mexican Republic in 1874, deduced from the data contained in the work related to said matter, written by Mr. José Díaz Covarrubias, Official Mayor and in charge of the Secretariat of Justice and Public Instruction at that time”; No. 2 “Places that correspond respectively to each of the Political Entities of the Federation with reference to the data of the Table related to 1874 that precedes”; No. 3 “TABLE summarizing the state of Primary Education in the Mexican Republic in 1907, formed in view of the data supplied by the Governments of the States and by various official publications of the same and of the Federation” and No. 4 “Places that respectively correspond to each one of the political entities of the Federation with reference to the data of the Table relative to 1907 that precedes” in Boletín de Instrucción Pública, 1910, p. 464.

30 M. Bazant, 2006, p. 20.

31 M. Bazant, 2006, p. 20.

32 Roumagnac is considered one of the first criminologists to participate in public life as a journalist and chief of police. His important works include Los Criminales en México (1904); Crímenes Sexuales y Pasionales (1906); and Matadores y Mujeres (1910). He was jailed on four occasions for publishing criticisms of the structure of Díaz’ government, and for acts of corruption involving soldiers and governors. See Y. Arellano, 2018.

33 C. Roumagnac, 1904, p. 35.

34 C. Féré, 1899.

35 There was an intense pedagogical debate about “instruction” and “education” that influenced educational policy. This distinction centered on literacy and the goals of schooling in the late 19th century. The tendency was to associate “educación” with “physical” skills, and “instrucción” with the accumulation of knowledge. According to the 1889 Congress of Instruction, educación implied the perfection of faculties, instrucción the accumulation of knowledge. For further information on the subject consult the Debates del Congreso Nacional de Instrucción Pública, 1889, pp. 14, 15-33, 34; see also M. Flores, 1887, among others.

36 La Voz de México, “El Remedio Deseado”, 16 December 1902, p. 276.

37 On the Lancasterian method for teaching reading, writing and basic arithmetic see A. Martínez, 1973, p. 530.

38 See Instituto de Investigaciones Históricas (IIH), URL: https://hmpi.historicas.unam.mx/listado-boletin-smge.

39 Previous to the censuses, studies such as that of J. Díaz Covarrubias (1875) evaluated progress after the 1867 instruction law, proposing improvements based on data on education, schools, and enrollment. See J. Díaz Covarrubias, 1875.

40 According to Larroyo’s account, the late nineteenth century witnessed the prominence of various Mexican pedagogues. Miguel F. Martínez and E. Rodríguez, as documented in Revista Pedagógica, explored educational facets in Monterrey. G. Torres Quintero and V. Guzmán delved into the Pacific coast’s educational landscape in La Educación Contemporánea. The pedagogical scene in Mexico City was illuminated by R. Manterola, E. Chávez, and M. Cervantes Imaz in La Revista de la Instrucción Pública Mexicana. Yucatán’s educational discourse found expression through R. Menéndez in the pages of La Escuela Primaria, while J. Barroso enriched the understanding of Guerrero’s educational scenario in La Educación Artística. Further insights into regional pedagogical nuances were provided by José J. Zapata in Guadalajara, E. Cabrera in Puebla (El Estudio), B. Martínez in Durango, J. Pedroza in Zacatecas, E. Paniagua in Guanajuato (Boletín de Instrucción Primaria), J. Díaz León in Aguascalientes, and A. Correa in Tabasco (La Revista Escolar). Additionally, the works of reformists such as E. Rébsamen and Carlos A. Carrillo add depth to the understanding of the educational landscape of the time. All cited in F. Larroyo, 1947, p. 348.

41 R. González Villarreal & A. Arredondo, 2017.

42 J. Granja, 2009.

43 J. Granja, 2009.

44 J. Díaz Covarrubias, 1875, p. LIX.

45 J. Díaz Covarrubias, 1875, p. LXII

46 J. Baranda, 1894.

47 A term from the late 19th and early 20th centuries referring to administrative forms whose purpose was to collect certain types of information. It can be considered as an advance towards standardized information.

48 A. Ayala, “Circular Relativa a la Manera de Llevar Documentos Escolares Referentes a la Inscripción y Asistencia de Alumnos de las Escuelas de Instrucción Primaria”, in Boletín de Instrucción Pública, 1905a.

49 INEGI, 2005, p. 26.

50 Diario Oficial…, 1882.

51 A. Medeles, 2016, p. 157.

52 INEGI, 2009a, p. 29.

53 L. Cházaro, 2016.

54 A newspaper that reported on topics like agricultural production, administration of wealth, and statistics on Mexico, among others.

55 See J. M. L. Mora, 1837; also, the case of the requests and debates of physicians in Mexico City, see in L. Cházaro, 2000; or the discussions on the need for census data at parliamentary and electoral law level, see in A. Medeles, 2011; id., 2018.

56 See, among other publications, the vast work written or directed by Antonio Peñafiel on the preparation of censuses: A. Peñafiel, 1883; as an example on the subject of medical statistics: id., 1883b. Also the collection of publications of the official periodical of the Dirección General Estadística (DGE): Estadística General de la República Mexicana (1884-1893) and the also official: Boletín Semestral de la Dirección General de Estadística de la República Mexicana (1888-1893). For a deeper analysis of Antonio Peñafiel’s work, see L. Cházaro, 2016.

57 A. Peñafiel, 1883.

58 A. Peñafiel, 1883, p. 3.

59 At the local level, the Censo de la Municipalidad de México de 1890 (Census of the Municipality of Mexico, 1890), could be considered as a trial run for the 1895 census, though its justification was to gather data on vital statistics. It was divided into fifteen sections, including “elementary instruction”. Peñafiel was the Director of the DGE. He was promoted by the Consejo Superior de Salubridad (Superior Health Council) chaired by Dr. Eduardo Licéaga and confirmed by General Carlos Pacheco, the Ministro de Fomento (Minister of Development). See Boletín de la Estadística General de La República Mexicana, 1890.

60 See 1905 speech to the Academia de Profesores de Instrucción Primaria de Distrito Federal (Academy of Primary Instruction Teachers of the Federal District) on the usefulness of statistics for “moral education” by Ezequiel Chávez, Secretario de Instrucción y Justicia (Minister of Instruction and Justice) from 1895 to 1900, commissioned to the Secretaria de Estado (Ministry of State) and the Despacho de Instrucción Pública y Bellas Artes (Office of Public Instruction and Fine Arts) from 1903 to 1909, Subsecretario de Instrucción Pública y Bellas Artes (Subsecretary of Public Instruction and Fine Arts) from 1905 to 1911, Boletín de Instrucción Pública, 1905b.

61 See, on this topic, M. K. Vaughan, 1982; G. Ordoñez, 2017.

62 In 1908, the Proyecto de Reglamento (Proposal of Regulations) by Ezequiel Chávez declared a mandatory school census to register children from 6 to 14 years of age. He sought to improve attendance records and to know the reasons for absences. This census was part of the educational project of the 20th century and its aspiration to professionalize administrative activities and compile school statistics. See Boletín de Instrucción Pública, 1911. For more on processes of schooling, see J. Granja, 2010.

63 Diario Oficial…, 1882.

64 See Boletín de Instrucción Pública, 1911, p. 150.

65 For example, González Navarro states that the statistical figures on literacy, language, mortality and diseases given in the first three national censuses, are “inaccurate” compared to the reliability of statistical figures on the “total population numbers” in the same censuses, M. González Navarro, 1956, pp. 5-6.

66 Like the criminologist C. Roumagnac (1904), Ezequiel Chávez opposed the idea that the solution to the problem of low school attendance was to increase the number of schools or massify education by focusing on literacy. His proposal on education was not restricted to the teaching of reading and writing but included a broader vision of children’s lives. See Memorias del Congreso Nacional de Educación Primaria, 1910, p. 138; J. Granja, 2010.

67 Consult the following documents: Memorias de la Secretaría de Fomento, Ramo de la Dirección General Estadística (1882-1903), Boletín de la Secretaría de Instrucción Pública y Bellas Artes (1903-1913), and Boletín de la Secretaría de Educación Pública from 1922 onwards.

68 Several contemporary newspapers referred to the alarming conditions of illiteracy in the country. See, for example, Regeneración, “La Despoblación en México” Editorial, México, 11 February 1905, p. 2.

69 This demonstrates that school quality appears to be determined in quantitative terms. J Sierra, 1889, p. 71.

70 See F. Larroyo, 1847, pp. 349-360; M. Bazant, 2006, pp. 130-131.

71 Press editorials frequently referred to the “mass of illiterates”, correlating it with the indigenous, peasant and working-class sectors. See M. Miranda Noriega, 2020.

72 The Congreso General promulgated this law. The objective was to establish schools throughout the country to teach the entire population – but mainly the indigenous population – to speak, read, and write Spanish and do basic arithmetic. E. Meneses Morales, 1998b, pp. 632-633.

73 Until 1921, censuses did not link “race” to “illiteracy”, but educators and intellectuals linked statistics on illiteracy with those of speakers of indigenous languages; the 1895 census included the subject of “habitual language” in the census form, those of 1900 and 1910 “mother tongue or spoken language”. The “racial” dimension as a criterion for quantification was developed in this practice. On racialization and education, see the thesis of G. García Rojas, 2021.

74 Sierra stated that “millions of men, most of them belonging to the savage races, were submerged in the shadows and the lack of schools”. E. Meneses Morales, 1998a, p. 359.

75 The Mexican Indianist society was born in 1910 out of interest in Mexico’s aboriginal groups. Although they promoted the idea of education among the indigenous population, many were not in favor of the Ley e Instrucción Rudimentaria of 1911. Francisco Belmar, José L. Cosío and Esteban Maqueo Castellanos, were cautiously in favor of providing rudimentary education to the indigenous populations. However, Abraham Castellanos condemned the notion of rudimentary schools with a simplified curriculum; for him, education had to be complete. See G. García Rojas, 2021, pp. 142-151.

76 Founder of the Partido Evolucionista, last Minister of Education of the Porfiriato. He saw illiteracy and inability to speak the Spanish language as evidence of “subcivilization, lack of culture, personal ignorance and unsociability”. E. Loyo, 2006, p. 362; E. Meneses Morales, 1998b.

77 G. Torres Quintero, 1913, p. 53.

78 E. Loyo, 2006, p. 359.

79 Subsecretary of Public Instruction and Fine Arts in Madero’s government, and the engineer and political financier to whom the economic modernization of post-revolutionary Mexico is attributed.

80 A. Pani, 1912, p. 5.

81 A. Pani, 1912, p. 13.

82 A. Pani, 1912, p. 14.

83 The instrument that Pani used was novel in the period in terms of both educational matters and the application of qualitative methodologies in public administration. The work consists of a series of extracts from the opinions of various functionaries, politicians, and teachers in the study of rudimentary instruction by the same author. A. Pani, 1918.

84 G. Torres Quintero, 1913.

85 A. Pani, 1918, p. 5.

86 I am currently working on the statistical model that was developed for the literacy campaign, the results of which will be presented in another paper.

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Titre Figure 1. Classification of the primary schools of the Republic, according to authorities, corporations or individuals that support them
Crédits Source. J. Díaz Covarrubias, 1875, p. LXIV.
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Ana Medeles, « “Millions of illiterates”: an Approach to the History of Quantification of Education in Mexico (1895-1921) »Histoire & mesure, XXXVIII-2 | 2023, 189-216.

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Ana Medeles, « “Millions of illiterates”: an Approach to the History of Quantification of Education in Mexico (1895-1921) »Histoire & mesure [En ligne], XXXVIII-2 | 2023, mis en ligne le 01 mars 2024, consulté le 17 avril 2024. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/histoiremesure/20073 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/histoiremesure.20073

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Ana Medeles

Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Departamento de Modelación Matemática de Sistemas Sociales (DMMSS), Instituto de Investigaciones en Matemáticas Aplicadas y en Sistemas (IIMAS), postdoctoral at National Council of Humanities Science and Technology (CONAHCYT). E-mail: amedeles@aries.iimas.unam.mx

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