Educating the Nation: The State, Schools, and Community in Mexico and Argentina

AHA Session 243
Conference on Latin American History 71
Sunday, January 5, 2014: 11:00 AM-1:00 PM
Madison Room (Marriott Wardman Park)
Jerry Dávila, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Jerry Dávila, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Session Abstract

In the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, government officials throughout Latin America began to develop networks of public schools as part of the nation-building process. Politicians, bureaucrats, and educators hoped to create a loyal citizenry by replacing local and religious allegiances with ones to the state, and they attempted to shape the linguistic and cultural features of the diverse population that made up the national body. Public schools and universities – complemented by state regulated religious and private institutions – began to play a fundamental role in shaping the national communities of these emerging nation-states. At the same time, debates began to emerge between school reformers, local communities, parents and children. The educational systems that emerged across Latin America were the result of the discussions between many groups.

This session offers a comparative approach to histories of education, childhood, and youth in Mexico and Argentina between the 1880s and the 1960s. This time frame spans the beginning and entrenchment of a public elementary school system in both of these countries. The papers – focusing on either Mexico or Argentina individually – highlight the importance of education and local communities in processes of state formation in these two Latin American countries. They highlight the common interests in citizenship and conceptions of childhood that took hold in Mexico and Argentina among school reformers, politicians, educators, and parents. The papers also underscore the importance of the dialogue between state authority and local communities in shaping the emerging educational system. The papers on Mexico reveal the later development of such state policies and the importance of the Revolution in questions of schooling. The papers on Argentina, conversely, focus on the centrality of ethnicity and migration in Argentine educational projects.

This comparative panel seeks to contribute new perspectives to Mexican and Argentine history that have been difficult to observe while working within regional and national frameworks. By bringing together two case studies in each country, the panel seeks to shed new light on the way that cultural and social policies were put to practice through educational institutions, which were in many ways the laboratories of early nation-building projects throughout the Americas. The comparison will pose a number of questions. Did immigrant and second- and third-generation school promoters and students in Argentina have more resources than rural people in Mexico? Did different ethnic groups in Argentina undertake projects that provoked changes in state policies? Did the state in Mexico impose a particular project on rural and urban workers and did local communities challenge these efforts?

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