Rafael Cordero (1790-1868) The Father of Public Education in Puerto Rico
Rafael Cordero was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico into a poor family, his father Lucas Cordero worked in the tobacco fields. Cordero, who was of African ancestry, could not attend school because of the color of his skin. His love of literature and his determination to teach and educate himself helped him to develop the skills and preparation to teach primary school.
He opened a school for boys in his own home in 1810. He taught boys from free Blacks and poor families in San Germán, Puerto Rico. His sister Celestina dedicated herself to teaching girls. Soon after they offered free education to poor children regardless of race and social status. In order to sustain himself financially, Cordero became a shoemaker and cigar maker. With his humble earnings he would also buy shoes and clothing to give to poorer folks in his community. Cordero maintained his educational center for 58 years at Luna Street in San Juan. There he taught reading, calligraphy, mathematics and Catholic instruction. He was awarded the Premio de Virtud by La Sociedad Económica de Amigos del País, an economic club whose members were friends of Puerto Rico. He was given 100 pesos and used half of the money (50 pesos) to buy books and clothes for his students and the other half was given to the homeless. The people’s love and respect for Cordero was evidenced by the fact that more than 2,000 people attended his funeral in 1868.