Is there such a thing as a distinctly Latin American education or Latin American curriculum? What might such a curriculum look like and who might be able to participate in such an education? With the recent Education in the Americas: Knowledges and Perspectives conference at Teachers College, a number of scholars were able to pursue these and other questions.
This year, the Latin American Studies Association (LASA) conference, where scholars across disciplines gather to share research on and from Latin America, took place in New York City. Having attended the conference in the past, Dr. Daniel Friedrich, Associate Professor of Curriculum and Teaching at Teachers College, Columbia University, had observed that the conference’s education section was limited in both scope and size. With the conference’s 50th anniversary taking place in New York, Friedrich considered the setting a unique opportunity to develop an event in relation to the conference that could offer a more robust examination of the topics of education and Latin America. With an organizing committee that included Professors Regina Cortina, Maria Paula Ghiso, Hank Levin, Nicholas Limerick, and Jackie Simmons. and doctoral student Natalie Flores, he began building the general structure of a conference to be held at Teachers College.
A basic concept organizing the conference would be to offer a venue in which people might gain access to frameworks and perspectives to which they might not typically be exposed. Friedrich suggests that the organizing committee did not simply want to hear people working in Latin America sharing how they were using the same tools with which faculty and students at Teachers College would likely be familiar. Instead, the conference aimed to present ideas about education that might appear unfamiliar to many in attendance. For example, keynote speaker Elsie Rockwell explored the shifting logics of schooling, both for rural and popular education. Her examination of the very question of what school is and how “schooling for the people” and “schooling of the people” converges and conflicts presented something that was both distinctly produced through empirical research based in Mexico but explored around the world, and something that could relate to those in education with little experience in Latin America. At the same time, these objectives meant that the conference had to make several concessions. Nearly half of the panels were held in Spanish, something that Friedrich recognizes excluded some who may have otherwise attended panels save the language barrier. Yet, he contends that as a way to offer alternative voices, this concession was necessary and acceptable.
To build panels and speakers that would satisfy the ambition of presenting new and alternative voices (at least to many attendees) the organizing committee did not open a call for papers. Instead, they invited individuals and groups to present. A kind of dialogic construction of the conference ensued. Organizing members invited those whose work they admired and also observed what disciplines or places might not yet be represented at either LASA or in their own conference. Hank Levin, for example, organized a panel around the experiences of the African diaspora in Latin America.
With a two-day conference program established, participants from many geographies and disciplines came to Teachers College to participate on May 31st and June 1st. Panels ranged from ethnographic studies of migration and education to a documentary on Cuba’s national literacy program. The conferenced helped to solidify networks of scholars who, according to Friedrich, “now know each other and share with each other…which can maybe lead to creating some projects with each other.” Though the organizers had established a number of objectives and many compelling debates occurred, Friedrich believes that much of the success of the conference is the surprising, emergent nature of what came out of the conference and the unresolved or unresolvable nature of these debates. Participants in a revolutionary pedagogies panel debated what specific characteristics about their research were distinctly Latin American. Similarly, a panel on education and violence in Central America explored the possibility of scholars evading their own thinking when thinking of other ways of knowing. In other words, the conversation asked if it is possible to present alternative voices without imposing existing scholarly frameworks onto what is shared. Yet, these debates ultimately provoked further thinking and conversation rather than definitively offering or imposing solutions.