Academic journal article Curriculum and Teaching Dialogue

Chapter 22: Strengthening Civic Life: Two Cases of Educating for the Common Good from Mexico and El Salvador

Academic journal article Curriculum and Teaching Dialogue

Chapter 22: Strengthening Civic Life: Two Cases of Educating for the Common Good from Mexico and El Salvador

Article excerpt

Heads of State meeting at the Second Summit of the Americas in Santiago, Chile in 1998 identified poverty as the greatest threat confronting the hemisphere. With unremitting inequality and social exclusion throughout the region, the leaders pledged to give special attention to the most vulnerable countries and social groups. Education was a key theme of their deliberations. According to the Declaration of Santiago (Organization of American States [OAS], 1998):

   Education is the determining factor for the political, social,
   cultural, and economic development of our peoples. We undertake to
   facilitate access of all inhabitants of the Americas to preschool,
   primary, secondary, and higher education, and we will make learning
   a lifelong process ... we reaffirm our commitment to invest greater
   resources in this important area, and to encourage civil society to
   participate in developing education. (p. 2)

The Declaration of Santiago also proclaimed that the vitality of a democracy lies in the active participation of its citizens across all levels of civic life.

By September of 2008, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) reported on poverty, education, and health trends in the region to the Summit Implementation Review Group meeting in Barbados (OAS, 2008). Most alarming, the IDB disclosed that although poverty rates declined dramatically worldwide, this has not been the case in Latin America, where poverty rates are not much lower than they were in 1980. Today almost all primary aged children attend school; however, inequality persists and the quality of teachers and the curricula remain a challenge. Health trends, on the other hand, show outstanding improvements.

Notwithstanding the impetus for reform across Latin America, political obstacles continue to hinder education reform and decentralization. Javier Corrales (1999) maintains in his comprehensive analysis of institutional barriers to education reform in developing countries that:

   There is widespread consensus worldwide that improving the
   performance of education systems is necessary to advance
   socioeconomic development, reduce inequality, enhance the economic
   competitiveness of nations and possibly fortify governmental
   institutions. Nevertheless, meaningful education reforms often fail
   to get approved or implemented, mostly for political reasons. (p.
   viii)

Still Corrales' analysis reveals numerous cases of successful implementation of educational reform throughout the world, including relatively successful quality reforms in Mexico and El Salvador. Beginning in 1991, successive Ministries of Education in El Salvador have implemented significant decentralization measures, including transferring greater control over school governance and funds to parents organized in Community Education Associations. Mexico, on the other hand, shifted funding from higher education to the more necessitous basic level and implemented a comprehensive decentralization law. According to Corrales, political impediments to educational reform are not as insurmountable as other education critics suggest (Grindle, 2001; Ornelas, 2004; Tatto, 1999; Tatto, Schmelkes, Guevara, & Tapia, 2006).

In this paper we explore through two contrasting approaches of curricular theorizing and reform, the role of collective historical and cultural memory in the promotion of communal agency among the traditionally dispossessed. We present two cases of curriculum development, one from Mexico and one from El Salvador, that are designed to promote community solidarity by privileging collective historical and cultural memory of voices largely silenced in national dominant discourse. The Mexican example demonstrates that top-down change within a highly authoritarian national education system is possible. The Salvadoran represents the grass-roots efforts of a team of campesino (rural) researchers to rescue memories of survivors of massacres, experienced during the 13 year-long civil war. …

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