Mariano Villaronga

Mariano Villaronga

Educator and public official. During his term as Secretary of Public Instruction, the Department Press, the public radio and television educational service, and the Free School of Music were formed, and Spanish was adopted as the official language of instruction in all levels of the Puerto Rico public education system.

Mariano Villaronga Toro was born November 9, 1906, in the southern city of Ponce. He attended college at the University of Puerto Rico in Río Piedras, where in 1929 he earned a bachelors degree in science. Later, he worked as a teacher in the Puerto Rico public schoolsand as a school principal.

After these early experiences as an educator and public servant, Villaronga moved to the state of Massachusetts, where he earned a masters degree in Education at Harvard University. Upon his return to Puerto Rico, he joined the faculty at the University of Puerto Rico. In 1943, Rector Jaime Benítez appointed him to take charge of the newly created Department of General Studies. The new department was created as part of Benítez’s university reform program. The reform incorporated changes in pedagogical methods as well as the creation of new schools in the university. After the School of General Studies was formed, Villaronga became its director in 1945.

In 1946, the political leadership of the Popular Democratic Party recommended Villaronga for commissioner of Public Instruction, a post that at that time was appointed by the president of the United States and confirmed by the United States Senate. In the Senate hearings, Villaronga remained firm in his position in favor of using Spanish as the language of instruction in Puerto Rico, which cost him confirmation. The educational policy on the island, since the arrival of the United States, had established English as the language of public education to contribute to a process of Americanization of the Puerto Rican people.

In 1948, however, Luis Muñoz Marín, the first governor elected by a popular vote, named Mariano Villaronga commissioner of Public Instruction. In August of 1949, Muñoz issued an executive order that all teaching would be done in Spanish at all levels in the public education system and that English would be offered as a special subject. In 1952, when the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico was formed, Villaronga was designated secretary of Public Instruction, a position he held until 1957.

Under his direction, the Department of Public Instruction increased the school attendance of children in Puerto Rico, especially at the elementary level. At the same time, projects were initiated to expand educational facilities and improve the quality of education. Also under his direction, an initiative was begun to create an educational television station. He ordered a study of the state of commercial and public television in the United States, Cuba and Mexico by playwright Francisco Arriví, Professor Gustavo Agrait and educator Ismael Rodríguez Bou, who presented their conclusions in a document titled “Report on Educational Television” in 1954 that Villaronga submitted to the governor. Four years later, the first educational television station in Latin America, WIPR Television, was inaugurated.

Mariano Villaronga died in San Juan in March of 1987.

Author: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: February 19, 2010.

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