chapter  11
21 Pages

Don Juan and Rebels under Palm Trees: Depictions of Latin Americans in US History Textbooks


Despite a recent (re)turn to, and rebirth of, the hermeneutic tradition in anthropology and the legitimacy being now accorded in some circles to the study of “culture as text,” and further, the stated conceptions of the state educational systems as the locus of ideological and social control, and the role of the school’s curriculum in this process, the anthropology of education has been basically neglectful of the formal, written, textual curriculum. A survey, for example, of issues of Anthropology and Education Quarterly from the past two and a half decades-Volume 8 (1977) through Volume 31 (2000)—reveals a scant few articles on the constitution of the formal, textual curriculum used in classrooms (e.g. Haig-Brown, 1995; Lipka, 1989). When “the curriculum” is studied by anthropologists at all, there seems to be a bias towards uncovering the “hidden curriculum” (e.g. LeCompte, 1978; cf. Jackson, 1968)—the underlying assumptions, the hidden transcripts and the supposed “real” agenda of schools and schooling. The thrust of the argument is that the hidden curriculum implicitly conveys to pupils via teachers the promotion of social control in school and in society at large by producing obedient worker-citizens and naturalizing social inequalities. While this focus on the hidden curriculum is necessary, it is not sufficient. The study of the hidden curriculum only makes sense, in a way, with respect to the formal curriculum. Since children are in a continual process of socially and culturally constructing their worlds, it seems indisputable that the information they explicitly receive in school about cultures and ethnicities is crucial in that development. Given the fact that school textbooks are the most often-used instructional resource in the US classroom, their contents are likely to have a significant impact on students’ evolving attitudes and perceptions. It is through their school social studies textbook that children receive formal and legitimated information about other cultures and, relatedly, about what is depicted as “their own” history. Here, I focus on a small but significant element of social studies texts: the extent to which Latinos and Latin Americans are included in elementary, middle and secondary school US history textbooks, and the ways in which they are depicted and portrayed. The politics of depiction are not unrelated to the politics of textbook selection and adoption but are, indeed, two moments in the same process.