He assumed several names.
He rambled over many nations, nude whenever possible.
He set up schools wherever he went.
And he was the tutor of Simón Bolívar, the famous South American Libertador.
|Portrait of Simón Rodríguez, Gabriel D´Empaire|
Simón Carreño was born and orphaned in Spanish colonial Caracas, Venezuela in 1769. In his teens he changed his surname to Rodríguez, after the priest who became his surrogate father. In his twenties he was already publishing tracts on education reform. Involved in an early, failed attempt to win independence from Spain, he was forced into exile in 1797. He fled to Jamaica, where he began using the alias Samuel Robinson, and moved on to the United States and then to Europe, where he traveled and lived for more than twenty years in a half-dozen countries (Italy, Russia, France, Prussia, Germany, and Poland). In Italy, Rodríguez and his ward Simón Bolívar witnessed the coronation of Napoleon Bonaparte, a decisive moment in strengthening Bolívar’s determination to fight for Venezuelan independence from Spain.
After returning to the Americas in 1823, Rodríguez held a series of education posts in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia, but fell out of favor for his pedagogical innovations:
These practices were regarded as heresy by the Catholic church and as little less than treason by the governments of the newly formed Spanish American nations, which explains the difficulty he had in holding a job. But his methods also show he was way ahead of his time.
Shortly after one of his live nude anatomy classes, there was an earthquake, and it was immediately attributed by the locals to the wrath of God provoked by Rodríguez’s lack of shame! Apparently God also disliked Rodríguez’s habit of siring children wherever he rambled – children he would not name according to the Catholic saints’ days but rather according to what was in season: Squash, Carrot, Potato, and several other cultivars of earthy produce!
In the final years of his long and adventurous life, he became an itinerant tutor, wandering from town to town in the Andean valleys wearing little other than the rucksack that contained his prolific handwritten texts. Most of his quirky writing, in which he favored alternative spellings and the use of aphoristic equations, is gathered in Sociedades americanas (American Societies), published in four volumes in as many different cities over the period of 1828-1842. Many dismissed him as un loco, but he retorted that his accusers were ciegos – blind to the realities and necessities around them. He died in Peru in 1854.
Though today he is little known outside Venezuela (where his image appears on the 50 bolívar bill, among many other places), Rodríguez was an important pedagogical reformer whose work, in part, set the stage for later Latin American innovators of education such as José Vasconcelos, Paulo Freire, Gabriela Mistral, Augusto Boal, and Sonya Rendón. Several rich anecdotes from Rodríguez’s life can be found in the second volume of Eduardo Galeano’s pageant of Latin America, Memory of Fire, and a novelized biography of Rodríguez, La isla de Róbinson, was written by Arturo Uslar Pietri.
Simón Rodríguez stands alongside Benjamin Franklin, Henry David Thoreau, and other pioneers of naturism who lived prior to the start of the organized movement in early twentieth-century Germany. I’d like to see more interest from naturist groups, especially but not only in Latin America, in the life and work of this firebrand and indefatigable gadfly Simón Carreño / Simón Rodríguez / Samuel Robinson.