Visiting lecturer Gloria Casañas celebrates FSU’s historical significance in education
By Joe Kourieh
Throughout the second half of the 19th century, Argentinean President Domingo Sarmiento set out abroad on a mission, aimed at one primary goal: to draw resources from nations around the Western world in order to overhaul and invigorate the educational system of Argentina.
After first traveling to Europe, Sarmiento found the teaching structure there unsatisfactory. It wasn’t until he heard about an educational trailblazer named Horace Mann that Sarmiento set his sights on the United States – specifically Massachusetts, the main site of Mann’s now legendary educational innovations.
The ultimate product of this storied journey of Sarmiento was the importation of 65 teachers – mostly women, and all from the Lexington Normal School (now Framingham State University) – to Argentina to spearhead the daunting task of reinventing an educational system in a country and culture vastly different from their own, thousands of miles from home.
This challenge is the central pillar of “La Maestra de la Laguna,” a historical fiction novel by Argentinean lawyer, educator and author Gloria V. Casañas, who is currently finishing her semester as a visiting lecturer in the modern languages department here at FSU. During her visit, Casanãs has been able to find a deeper connection to the Normalites who inspired her work, and walk, literally at times, in their footsteps.
Casañas, who was educated in law at the University of Buenos Aires, where she now works as an educator, described her visit as a kind of “reverse of history,” as she has made the opposite journey as the Normalite teachers of a century ago. However, her experience has included similar obstacles like learning an unfamiliar language and culture.
Casañas’ visit was arranged by Department Head Emilce Cordeiro, partly to commemorate FSU’s 175th anniversary. While here, Casañas has been teaching two courses as well as giving presentations throughout Massachusetts on her works and research.
During the semester’s visit, Casañas has taken up residence in a special apartment in Foster Hall designated for visiting faculty members complete with full amenities and a view. She described the setup and her time there as very comfortable and pleasant, with the only commotion – an accidental tripping of the smoke alarm, and subsequent heroism from her Foster Hall neighbors – safely in the past.
She described the experience here as a “different vision” both of this historic region and of her home.
“Here I can meet people from different places, with different languages and different idiosyncrasies,” she said. She added that this new perspective has improved her ability to understand and teach her own literary material as well, and has illustrated to her the profound ability of education to connect places as different as New England and Argentina.
While she walks figuratively in the steps of the storied Normalites, Casañas has taken to walking during her recreational time as well, in order to drink in the picturesque beauty of her New England environment on various roads and paths. She has also made trips with Cordeiro, who she described as an “extraordinary hostess,” to places such as Concord, Newport, Rockport, Cohasset and Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts.
Casañas revealed that her experience on campus has been so rich and stimulating, it has given birth to a new idea for a novel, centering around a secondary character from another novel of hers, who she plans on inserting into Bostonian society.
Casañas said that living and working at FSU has been a major change due to the differences in size between this school and her own.
“The University of Buenos Aires is a monster,” she said with a laugh, explaining that, while back home her classes were very large, at FSU they are small enough to allow for a relationship with every student.
“Here, life is very peaceful,” she said. “The people are very warm.
“I’m doing what I love to do – to teach and to write,” she said. “And I’m doing it in a lovely environment.”