Colonial Mexico, Education
Juana Ines, Native American languages, don Carlos, New Spain, private tutors
According to royal decree, every municipality in New Spain had the obligation to operate a primary school; most did not do so. People with sufficient resources sent their children to church schools; in a small village a priest might offer some instruction. Young girls sometimes attended convent schools or private secular schools operated by women, and secondary schools for young women opened shortly after the conquest. Secondary education for males was largely in the hands of Jesuit missionaries, who arrived in Mexico in 1572. Only a limited number of students attended school at any level, however. In general, wealthy individuals employed private tutors and the lower class remained illiterate. Blacks, Native Americans, people of mixed ethnicity, and women of any race had limited educational opportunities. Nevertheless, a determined individual could acquire a basic education, regardless of class.
Higher education began with the founding of the University of Mexico in 1551. Theology and law dominated the curriculum, but the university had chairs in medicine and Native American languages. Mexican-born don Carlos de Siguenza y Gongora, who held the chair of mathematics and astronomy, demonstrated the high intellectual achievement made possible by the colonial educational system. Women could not attend the university, however. The great 17th-century Mexican intellectual, Juana Ines de la Cruz, begged to be allowed to enter the university, even offering to attend dressed as a man.
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