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Fiestas Patrias (July 20 – August 15) article[]

for the Minka “collaborative education” section.

We associate Bolivar’s name with the great battles of independence, with his reforming and republican constitutions but not so much with a revolution in education which (eventually) transformed South America and has the potential for radically improving Southwark’s – and indeed Britain’s – schools.

Read on . . . .

Full Article[]

Simon Bolivar, Education and Southwark[]

Press-ganged into a TV interview last Saturday on the subject of Simon Bolivar I searched my mind for some sort of link between the Gran Libertador de America del Sur (Grand Liberator of South America) and the place where the filming was taking place: (Loughborough Junction in) the Borough of Southwark in London. We associate Bolivar’s name with the great battles of independence, with his reforming and republican constitutions and with the setting up of new universities and schools in a wide variety of cities. So if we associate Bolivar - at a time of year when many Latin American communities in London are celebrating national days - with this almost impossibly grand trajectory what link could there possibly be with Southwark in London – the selfsame Southwark which hosted the Peru independence day party on July 26, a Manos Negras concert on July 30 and is hosting the Latin American Carnival on August 3, 2008. Could there be connections and continuity between a visit of Bolivar and the emergence of Southwark – and especially the Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre – as one of the principal focal points for Latin American activity in London. Or is this just one of those felicitous coincidences which authors love to hang a story on?

1810 Bolivar visits Borough Road School[]

Almost two hundred years ago (in 1810), Bolivar visited Britain’s then avant-garde Lancasterian school in the Borough Road (which links St Georges Circus to Borough High Street and not far from the Elephant and Castle). He was accompanied by the MP for Southwark and was shown round the school by Joseph Lancaster who founded the school in 1798. During the nineteenth century over 1000 schools, it is said, were modelled on the Borough Road establishment. These schools were to be found not just in Britain but worldwide – and outside the Empire most notably in Venezuela and other Bolivarian nations. In England there is only one classroom modelled on the design of Lancaster which still remains intact and that is in the British Schools Museum at Hitchin (see photo). In Venezuela there is still one Lancasterian school up-and-running but much changed with the years.

A-spiring schools of South London[]

Now for a slight detour. Travel by train on the lines radiating from Clapham Junction and you will see rows of seemingly humble terraced cottages built for the “respectable not-quite-middle” classes of South London in the nineteenth century. (You will pass through Battersea where present-day yuppies have laid down their colonies. They would be bemused by Ken Loach’s film Up the Junction which portrays Battersea as the working class community of the 1950/60’s.) The only buildings which soar above the rest, even today, are the remaining churches and the magnificent school buildings. Many of these transpiring Victorian public buildings sprout spires as if aspiring to greater heights, or as if inspiring the blessed poor. These buildings, the churches and the schools (add in a few town halls and libraries), command the architectural style of South London and seem to shine out as simple manifestations of belief – belief in God, knowledge, self-improvement and local participation. In the intervening 150 years many of the churches and schools have closed or been converted into flats (apartments). The schools have been replaced with uninspiring school ‘sheds’ but many, if not most, of the humble dwellings have been gentrified (modernised).

British schools in South America[]

Rewind the narrative to 1810 and it seems that what Simon Bolivar visited was the Lancasterian teacher training college part of the establishment in Borough Road. Following that he “resolved to send two Venezuelan teachers to be educated there”. A school was set up in Caracas, and when Simon Bolivar was president he invited or contracted for Lancaster to come there. Lancaster stayed from 1825 to 1827 and got married in Caracas, with Bolivar attending – presumably as guest of honour. Other schools were established by his followers in Bogota, Colombia, in Quito, Ecuador and in Lima, Peru.

South American schools in Britain[]

During the nineteenth century the creole elite of South America were enthusiastic consumers of European culture. British, French and other “European” schools were founded in many of the main cities. Although many of these schools started off with charitable aims they also catered for the rising tide of migration from Britain and Europe. Today with the flow of “personpower” in the reverse direction: South America to Europe, one wonders if there are not (other) education-models which would be better suited to the needs of Southwark. Although there has been a two-hundred year gap, perhaps a white knight in the form of a present-day Bolivar could still ride into London town preceding a troop (troupe) of Bolivian Lancasters. Why not set up a “branch” of Colombia’s best school in Southwark alongside a jointly franchised Eton + “the Eton of Quito”, across the road from a local parents’ run school and let parents, teachers and pupils decide which to use? Heresy, eccentricity or something which might just be better for everyone’s morale? The “independence” schools which Bolivar set up in the 1820’s, partly influenced by the Borough Road of 1810 would find a new role in helping Eton decision-takers to educate Ecuadorians in the Elephant.

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