Gabino Barreda and the Moral and Ethical Formation of Mexicans

The educator and philosopher Gabino Barreda was one of the people who brought positivism to Mexico and raised in various public forums the need for the moral and ethical formation of citizens.

Gabino Barreda and the Moral and Ethical Formation of Mexicans
Gabino Barreda, Dr. and Director of the National Preparatory School, lithograph, portrait. Image: INAH

Gabino Eleuterio Juan Nepomuceno Barreda was born on February 19, 1818, in the city of Puebla; he was a physician, teacher, and philosopher, whose approach to the European positivism of Augusto Comte, allowed him to establish in Mexico educational models that were in harmony with the liberalism proclaimed by the Juarista government when the restoration of the Republic took place in 1867.

Gabino Barreda studied jurisprudence at the Colegio de San Idelfonso but did not graduate as a lawyer due to his particular rejection of knowledge not subject to verification. Because of this, he was inclined toward different branches of the natural sciences; he studied chemistry at the Colegio de Minería, and later enrolled in the School of Medicine; during the military conflict between Mexico and the United States, he served in the military corps of our country.

After studying medicine in Mexico City, Barreda sailed to the French city of Paris in 1849 to further his studies. Pedro Contreras de Elizalde -pioneer of the positivist philosophical current in Mexico and father-in-law of Benito Juarez- took him to the lectures that Comte gave at the Palais Royal; the "Course of Philosophy on the General History of Humanity" dictated by the French philosopher, had a deep impact on Barreda's thought who, after obtaining his doctor's degree at the School of Medicine of Paris in 1851, returned to Mexico.

Upon his return to his native country, Gabino Barreda taught medical physics in 1854 and, the following year, natural history and anatomy. During the establishment of the Second Mexican Empire, he decided to move his residence, so he retired to Guanajuato, where he practiced as a physician and deepened his reflections on the positivist current.

In 1867, when the Second Mexican Empire fell at the hands of the liberals commanded by Benito Juarez, Gabino Barreda pronounced in Guanajuato his famous "Civic Oration to the Republic" on September 16 of that year. In his speech, he referred to three stages of Mexico's history up to that moment: the colonial era, independence, and the era he had to witness: the Reform.

According to his vision of Mexican history, Barreda saw the first two stages overcome and predicted the establishment of the last positivist period, in which the Constitution of 1857, the Reform Laws, political liberalism, together with the establishment of the capitalist system would condemn the grave the dogmas and archetypes that justified the existence of the ecclesiastical structure; the development of the country would be possible only through knowledge and positivism would be the "lever" that would drive it.

After his speech, Benito Juarez summoned him to be part of a commission that would be in charge of drafting a plan to reorganize education in the country. Along with him, there were people such as Pedro Contreras Elizalde, Ignacio Alvarado, Francisco Díaz Covarrubias and Eulalio María Ortega.

The work of the commission concluded and, on December 2, 1867, the law that would regulate education in Mexico during that time was published; in this normative body, it included primary to professional education, including high school, and instituted free and compulsory elementary education, eliminating religious education.

The Public Instruction Law of 1867, drafted by Gabino Barreda, in addition to making education in Mexico compulsory and secular, ordered the creation of an educational institution that survives to this day: the National Preparatory School. Its curriculum was replicated in other educational institutions in the states of the federation.

The scientistic spirit of Comte's encyclopedia of positive sciences was evident in the beginnings of the ambitious program of public instruction, however, the role of logic was privileged; in the ontological aspect, of the nature of man, the objective of the institution was to provide individuals with a common fund of truths that would allow them to reflect on the phenomenon of their integrity, which would also harmonize with the Juarista liberalism of the time.

The National Preparatory School began its academic activities on February 1, 1868, and was under the direction of Barreda until 1878.

To Barreda's pen we owe works such as: De la educación moral (Moral Education) (1863); Oración Cívica (Civic Prayer) (1867) and Opúsculos, discusiones y discursos (Opuscules, discussions and speeches) (1877).

In 1978, the government of Porfirio Díaz appointed him minister in Berlin, Germany. Gabino Barreda died in Mexico City on March 10, 1881, shortly after his return to the country. His remains rest in the Memorial of Illustrious Persons.