26 June 2009

Bolivia Challenges Colonial Pedagogy

By José Steinsleger

Indigenous and teachers’ organisations of Latin America have, for many years, been denouncing that the textbooks of primary and secondary schools, institutes and universities “twist and rubbish the history of our people”. On 6 June, Teachers’ Day in Bolivia, President Evo Morales promulgated three decrees, one of which seeks to incentivise and offer official support to teachers who write school texts. He explicitly referred to Santillana, the Spanish publishing house which he accused of imposing a “colonial education”.

Santillana was founded in 1960 by Jesús Polanco Gutiérrez (1929-2008) who started his career as an ordinary librarian in Madrid and who, with time, came to be the most influential and powerful figure of the so-called “democratic transition” and an absolute lover of the media octopus, Prisa.

Led by the hand of Manuel Fraga Iribarne (distinguished and legendary Galician Fascist of the Partido Popular), Polanco managed from Francisco Franco authorisation to found El País (1973), a newspaper that started from a Leftist position, came to “pragmatism” and ended up allied with the most conservative viewpoints.

Six years later, Polanco set up the Santillana Foundation “… with the objective of promoting the study of new educational and communicational techniques” and, thanks to influence peddling by friends embedded in the Franco regime and in Opus Dei, received advance information about educational reform in the matter of school texts.

When the General Basic Education (EGB in its Spanish acronym) was approved, Santillana already had all the texts ready. But in his book, The Business of Freedom, the journalist Jesús Cacho claimed that Polanco’s real fortune came about from exports, overinvoicing Spanish books to Colombia and from Colombia to the USA.

Simultaneously, Polanco linked up with the Institute of Iberoamerican Cooperation, which gave him access to General Augusto Pinochet with whom he made the business deal of his life. From then on, all Chilean children learn from Santillana’s texts, where the prerogative tone is similar to that employed by the chronicler Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo in his Natural Treatise of the Indias (1535), totally opposed to that of Madrid’s Lonso de Ercilla in La Araucana which narrates the fight between the Mapuches and the Spanish (1569).

In Mexico, Vicente Fox’s Secretary of Public Education paid $350 million to private publishing houseds. Eighty percent of it went to eight businesses. Santillana was the major beneficiary ($100 million).

Santillana’s books started arriving in Bolivia with the educational reform of 1994 (financed by the World Bank) and during the government of Hugo Banzer (1997-2001) which offered the tender for the production of official texts to the Spanish publishing house. A couple of ladies, daughters of the Education Minister, were rewarded with a year’s placement at the company headquarters.

The Bolvian government’s decision was not on the spur of the moment. From January, the Education Minister had been warning that Santillana’s books could not be considered official texts and consequently should not be demanded of families. José Luis Álvarez, executive secretary of the Workers’ Federation of the Urban Teachers of La Paz, described the publishing house’s books as “bad, decontextualised and non-didactic”.

For example, on revising History and Geography 4 (2007 edition), the specialists emphasised “the notable fragmentation of style of television at its worst: complex themes resolved with a plethora of boxes in which everything appears to have the same value. Opinions, paragraphs cut out of other texts, questions, brief statements. Everything is minimised, momentary, discardable”.

Themes such as the “global security policies” (page 190), “South American regional integration” (page 186), “economic agreements and world integration” (page 184), the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the free trade area of the Americas, the World Trade Organisation are explained as “natural processes” of structures and institutions which the book takes to be unquestionable realities and without history or antecedents. Likewise, poverty (page 144) is described as a “problem”, “reality”, “condition”, avoiding serious and in-depth analysis of its causes. The much-commented tasks and research suggested in this chapter maintain a level of general description, decontextualised and isolated, resorting to the fleeting and the transitory.

Santillana’s business counts with the support of the Spanish state which, through the mediation of the designated FAD (development finance) credits, obliges signatory countries to acquire Spanish goods and services, in particular material related to educational projects which are produced and sold by business of this country. It is an attempt to legitimise Santillana’s products a Right-wing newspaper of Santa Cruz, hastened to show that all the textbooks of the publishing house were made in Bolivia (sic).

Source: La Jornada
Related Article: Bolivia achieves full literacy

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