Culture and Daily Life
in New Spain
When Don Antonio de Mendoza arrived in Mexico fourteen years after the fall of Tenochtitlán, he was greeted by, among others, an Indian boy who recited in classic Latin. The amused viceroy soon learned that the energetic friars had already made a significant impact, Hispanicizing the natives through education. It was a plan devoutly encouraged by both crown and church, for quite aside from sentiments of altruism, there were practical considerations. The sincere design to Christianize the conquered people was feasible only through their understanding Spanish; moreover, it hastened their assimilation of Spanish ways, which was essential to the goal of a more settled society.
In Spain a broad educational system was not seen as a responsibility of the state. Education was, rather, an individual concern, usually involving only those of the privileged class, while instruction itself was the province of the church. Only on the university level did the crown evince strong interest, primarily to prepare young men for careers in the bureaucracy. The church was equally concerned with higher education in order to instruct clergymen, who would in turn run the schools in the colonies, as in Spain. But in Mexico there developed the curious irony of at least a few well-educated Indians being held inferior by some illiterate Spaniards.
One is struck by the cultural vitality in the early years of a Conquest society that was in so many ways both turbulent and rustic. The impulse to refinement came from learned clergymen primarily because educated laymen were usually involved in government, law, or other professional interests. Therefore the intellectual and cultural attainments of the Spanish colony are attributable primarily to the religious orders.
The first prominent educator in Spanish Mexico was Pedro de Gante, a Franciscan lay brother and illegitimate relative of Charles V.