The Revolutionary Politics of Education Reform in 20th-Century Latin America

AHA Session 259
Conference on Latin American History 62
Sunday, January 9, 2022: 9:00 AM-10:30 AM
Napoleon Ballroom B2 (Sheraton New Orleans, 3rd Floor)
Heather Vrana, University of Florida
Heather Vrana, University of Florida

Session Abstract

The twentieth century in Latin America has been described as a century of revolution. From the 1910 Mexican Revolution, which overthrew the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz and inaugurated large-scale land reform, to the 1959 Cuban Revolution and its model of rural guerrilla struggle, to the revolutionary movements and civil wars that shaped much of Central America in the 1980s, revolution was a live concept throughout the continent. This session interrogates the relationship between revolutionary politics and education policy throughout the twentieth century. Revolutionaries, both inside and outside national governments, saw education policy as a key way to achieve transformative social change. Indeed, successful revolutions frequently transformed and expanded public education in the region, as activists sought to empower ordinary people. In this session we analyze the politics of education in distinct national contexts, from Mexico south through the Andes, and examine how projects of education reform shaped teachers, students, and national politics. In particular, the four panelists pay attention to the creation of pedagogical materials, such as national textbooks, as well as teacher training programs and teacher activism outside the classroom. Given the centrality of Indigenous peoples in the region, we pay particular attention to questions of indigeneity. Indigenous peoples figured into projects of education reform both as “problems” and objects to be acted upon by non-Native reformers but also as agents—teachers, administrators, and students—who shaped education policy and practice. As such we examine questions of colonial histories and legacies and their representation in the education sector, as well as the role that anticolonialism played in education history.
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