Work in Progress Talk: Marco Calderón

Friday, March 14, 2008 - 3:30pm to 5:00pm
The Latin American Library Seminar Room
7001 Freret Street, 4th floor, Howard-Tilton Memorial Library

Work in Progress Talk by Greenleaf Fellow Marco Calderón: Social Experiments and Indigenous Education in Mexico

From 1932 to 1933, Mexico 's Department of Public Education (Secretaría de Educación Pública, SEP) financed a social experiment in the indigenous town of Carapan (state of Michoacán). Despite its short lifespan, the “Experimental Station” at Carapan became an emblem of the history of “culturalist indigenism” throughout Latin America due, in part, to the publication of Moisés Sáenz' book: Carapan: bosquejo de una experiencia, in 1936. Carapan became a “social laboratory” where researchers sought to find suitable methods for integrating indigenous peoples into the Mexican state and nation. Much less well-known is the experience in Actopan, a village in the Mezquital Valley (state of Hidalgo ), where the SEP funded a similar venture. In 1928, a “Permanent Cultural Mission” was set up in Actopan and, in 1931, Carlos Basauri carried out several research projects there, on such topics as culture, folklore and nutrition, among others. At that time, Sáenz was traveling through Guatemala, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, also looking for methods to effectuate the incorporation of Indian peoples. These two figures were part of the SEP's “Commission for Indigenous Research” (Comisión de Investigaciones Indígenas). Upon his return to Mexico, Sáenz led the Carapan project, in collaboration with Basauri and other notable intellectuals of the time, including José Miguel Othón de Mendizábal. An important antecedent of this history was the program of “Integrated Development” that Manuel Gamio had directed in the Teotihuacan Valley in the late 1910s; a second significant precedent was the John Geddis Gray Memorial Expedition of 1928, a project co-financed by Tulane University and the SEP, in which Basauri also participated.

The objective of my current research is to write a book on education and indigenism in Mexico, based on the concept of these “social experiments”. Such a reconstruction must take into account several elements in order to constitute a true contribution to our knowledge of the history of the organization of cultural differences during the period of Mexican “populism”. Of course, it is necessary to identify the SEP's policies in the context of the cultural change associated with the conformation of the post-revolutionary state. Although a certain consensus did exist at that time on the social and cultural origins of “backwardness” and the “Indian problem”, some of the theories and even some of the indigenists' practices were clearly racist. Other topics to be included in this analysis are the theoretical influences that supported Basauri's and Sáenz' “civilizing proposals” and the wider political context in which these experiments were carried out, given that the existing power relationships influenced the course they would follow.

One other important aspect of this history concerns North American influences on rural education in Mexico in the 1920s and 1930s, when several educators and pedagogues from the United States visited rural schools and cultural missions to study Mexican experiences in “schooling the masses”. The SEP's archives hold a wealth of data on this topic. The most distinguished visitor was John Dewey, who had the opportunity to visit one cultural mission, after which he went so far as to state that Mexico was the country where his educational proposals were best being put into practice.

This event was made possible through an endowment from Tulane Emeritus Professor Richard E. Greenleaf.

Refreshments to follow the talk.