The personality of Spiru Haret

The Personality of Spiru Haret

   Spiru Haret, the most prominent Romanian reformist of his time, the early 20th century, was born on 15 February 1851 in Iasi. He was educated in Dorohoi, Iasi and Bucharest. In 1862 he obtains a scholarship for Saint Sava College in Bucharest. While still in his second year of study for a degree in mathematics and physics at the University of Bucharest, Spiru Haret wins the competition for the position of teacher of mathematics at the Central Seminary. He has to give it up however after one year only in order to pursue his studies at the university, getting his degree in 1874, at the age of 23. He then wins the contest for a scholarship organized by Titu Maiorescu and leaves for Paris, where he spends the next two years. In 1874 he obtains his degree in mathematics and the following August his degree in physics. Two years later he earns his PhD with a thesis On the invariability of the major axis of planetary orbits, advancing and correcting the findings of Laplace, Louis de Lagrange and Denis Poisson on the variability of the axes of planetary orbits. Haret puts forward the theory of the secular perturbations of the third degree, shedding new light on the stability of the planetary systems. As the erudite mathematician and astronomer Jules Henri Poincaré remarked, "In 1878 Haret proved the existence of the third degree secular perturbations, and that came as a huge surprise." In 1885 his paper is republished in the Annals of the Astronomic Observatory in Paris, to be republished again in 1889 by Henri Poincaré. The Faculty of Science in Paris sends a letter to the Ministry for Cults and Public Education congratulating Romania on having such gifted people. Much later, in 1976, on the 125th celebration of Haret's birth, a crater on the Moon's surface, 59 degrees south latitude and 176 degrees west longitude, receives his name.

He was the first Romanian to herald the value, later on confirmed, of the Romanian school of mathematics. Spiru Haret could have very well stayed on in France as a university professor. He instead preferred The Faculty of Science in Bucharest, where he was appointed in 1878, following the brilliant winning of another contest. He continued his university career as an analytical geometry professor at The School of Roads and Bridges where he taught since 1882. He would teach until 1910 when he retired and even afterwards, giving lectures at the Open University until his death. In 1910 he publishes in Paris and Bucharest The Social Mechanics, being the first to use mathematics in explaining and understanding social phenomena.

Nevertheless, Haret's great achievements do not belong to science. He almost left this field, where his remarkable beginnings foretold great fruitfulness, in order to "place himself at the disposal of the evolutions of the social environment to which he belonged."

He harnesses all his creative genius into this realm. As early as 1879 The Ministry for Cults and Public Education requested his services. He inspects schools and draws reports, holds membership and presides over examination boards. In 1883 he is appointed member of the Permanent Council for Instruction. In 1883 P.S. Aurelian appoints him general inspector for schools. He works closely with D.A. Sturza, whom he knew from the Romanian Academy, whose corresponding member Haret had become in 1879, D.A. Sturza having been an active member since 1871. They relate well to each other from the very beginning. What unites them is their mutual passion for work.

When in 1885 D.A. Sturza is appointed Minister for the Cults and Public Education he calls upon S. Haret to hold office as Secretary General. (Haret had only just published, a few months earlier, a Report on the state of the schools, extensively documented and making proof of great courage in supporting his opinions). With Haret by his side, Sturza tries to reorganise an education system after his predecessors P.P. Carp, Titu Maiorescu and V.A. Urechia had failed. Even if Sturza’s attempt does not turn successful, either, his extremely well documented project is going to serve as starting point for Take Ionescu’s and Petru Poni’s further reforms. Their collaboration on this project leaves Sturza with great respect for Spiru Haret's intellectual capacity and later on, as leader of the National Liberal Party, he will still fondly hold Haret in great esteem. Gheorghe Adamencu remembers that during the great financial crisis of 1901-1904, when Haret proposed a budget increase for his ministry, Sturza said: "For Haret we must do everything we can." and cut funding from his own ministry to meet Haret's needs. With D.A. Sturza as Prime Minister, Spiru Haret is going to fulfil three mandates as Minister of Public Education: 31 March 1897-11 April 1899, 14 February 1901-22 December 1904, and 12 March 1907-29 December 1910; he thereby takes this opportunity to apply himself to reorganising the entire system of education in Romania.

Haret took full advantage of being in office for so long to make his laws pass and be enforced, which constitutes a rare example of continuity at work in Romania at that time; neither his predecessors as ministers of education, nor his successors, had had that possibility. (V. Conta, T. Maiorescu, D.A. Sturza, Take Ionescu, P. Poni, C. Marzescu, S. Mehedinti, P.P. Negulescu, or I. Popovici)

Not only did Haret devote himself full-time to the school issues of the day, but he also had the great wisdom of taking the right steps which earned him the moral tolerance of his time, and thereby the success of his endeavours in education. He was a true apostle, but never really paraded it; as Vasile Bancila quite rightly remarked, Haret would do the work of an apostle in education, and pay no attention to the sacrifice. It was due to the modest simplicity of his attitude and way of being that Haret succeeded in gathering around him admirably trustful collaborators, whom he could rely on at all times, while in office. His government peers would always respect and cherish him; He would never decline to do a favour, when asked of him, such as putting to good use his knowledge of mathematics in helping the liberal governments draw up their budgets. A man of great modesty, Haret would always maintain this consistent attitude, whether we speak of his social or personal life.

Haret’s personality will always call back vibrant memories; Throughout his work and way of being, he succeeded in setting a genuine trend, the ‘Haretism’; its essence resides in the introduction of the cultural and economic factors to the masses, that is in the countryside, by attributing the main role in this endeavour to primary school teachers. Although not making use of anything but commonplace methods, based on the common knowledge of the day, Haret proved great ability in promoting them with consistency and great insight into the human nature; among many examples, stands his particularly prolific correspondence with primary school teachers; apart from him, almost no other politician of those times would even entertain the idea of engaging in such an activity; Unlike any other of his contemporaries, ‘not only did Haret nurture the idea, but, what’s more, he followed the urge in his heart to reply in writing to all primary school teachers (and to anyone else, for that matter) who would address him directly’; Haret would begin his letters by addressing the primary school teachers as ‘Dear Sir’, while ending them as ‘yours faithfully’. One can easily see the feel-good factor with the respective teachers being addressed in that way; they truly acquired the genuine feeling of standing out as useful members of the society; the same feeling was shared by teachers who were not used to writing to Haret, but knew they could do it at any time, because they trusted there was someone in the high society, up there in Bucharest, who would always have their best interests at heart. What Spiru Haret managed to achieve by adopting such attitude was to confer primary school teachers the dignity their profession was so much in need of, at a time when teachers in general were suspected of instigation. Haret made the status of the primary school teacher into that of an educator, and sometimes, even, of an apostle. ‘Haret is a living proof of what one can achieve if one acts in accordance with the precepts of one’s times, while being able to set and pursue one’s ideals far beyond, with the full support of the establishment in envisioning the right methods.’ (V. Bancila)

With a view to providing primary school teachers with better and more adequate training, Haret sets out to reorganise the pedagogic schools, by introducing agricultural practical sessions in their curriculum; (‘the primary school teacher is supposed to be a countryman himself, and thereby keep alive the love for land and the skill in farming it’). In 1903 Haret implements a 6-year study duration, instead of the previous 5-year one, which remains as a major change in the curriculum, meant to meet an important desideratum of the day: ‘a practical system of education, in accordance with our social and economic needs, together with our national aspirations.’ He also sets up the Pedagogic Library, to provide for the teachers’ need of updated information, and publishes works of pedagogic literature translated into Romanian, at ‘Casa Scoalelor’ printing house, in particular. He decides to reorganise the GCSE exam, by doing away with the exclusively theoretical tests, which only helped to acknowledge the candidates’ brute amount of information; He introduces practical tests instead. Haret did everything in his power to set the pedagogic education on the right track, in adequate accordance with the national, economic, and social needs of the Romanian society at that time: ‘The issue of the way pedagogic education should be organised is undoubtedly not settled yet; There is still plenty of room for action, for adjustment, for change; However, the pedagogic schools are among the ones I take most pride in, they are the jewel in the crown of Romanian education.’- Haret used to declare.

Haret is also the first Minister of Education to have set up the kindergarten network; the first one was inaugurated on the 1st of December 1897, while by the year 1909, 168 of them were fully functional, 13 of which in urban areas; on the 2nd of June 1909 the Kindergarten Law came into effect.

Another achievement of great importance that led Haret to leave his mark on the perception of the historic past of our country was the creation of the Commission on Romanian History, on the 20th of February 1910. This new institution was to publish chronicles, home historical documents, foreign chronicles on Romanian historic events, old literary documents; the Commission is allotted 25,000 lei/year by the Ministry of Education; and Haret explains: ‘It is essential that a scientific work be conducted, whose importance clearly outweighs its cost, and that it be made right away, so that the history of our country will no longer rely on pure fantasy, but on undoubted, undisputed documents.’ Strangely enough, the initial project of law in favour of the Commission, already approved by the Chamber of Deputies on the 2nd of March 1909, is rejected by the Senate on the 23rd of March, the same year, without a single member of the Senate providing an argument against it! Spiru Haret does not back away, but using the sum of 25,000 lei, sets up the Commission by ministerial decision; I. Bogdan is appointed President, D. Onciul, I. Bianu, C. Giurescu and D. Russo are appointed members, while Al. Lepedatu becomes secretary of the Commission. In January 1910 minister Spiru Haret resumes his project of law, and this time, it obtains unanimous approval; in this way, an extremely useful institution was born to serve the Romanian history, and performed its function until 1938, while also publishing the Bulletin of the Commission on Romanian History on a regular basis.

Constantin Brancusi, who had met Spiru Haret in person while being asked to produce a model for his future statue, came up with... nothing but the model of a fountain! For that was exactly what Spiru Haret had meant to him: a fresh water spring. And that is exactly what Spiru Haret meant to the Romanian people: a fountain of life!