ERIC Identifier: ED264161 Publication Date: 1985-09-00
Author: Cook, Kay K. Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for Social
Studies/Social Science Education Boulder CO.
Latin American Studies. ERIC Digest No. 19.
Gallup polls indicate that Latin America--Mexico, Central America, South
America, and the independent countries of the Caribbean--is a region about which
United States citizens are poorly informed (Glab 1981). Yet for practical
reasons of politics and economics, as well as cultural and historical reasons,
United States citizens should be well informed about Latin America.
This Digest considers the present status of Latin American studies in
elementary and secondary schools. It discusses the need and rationale for Latin
American studies, effective teaching techniques, and resources to supplement
textbooks which treat Latin America inadequately.
THE PRESENT STATE OF TEACHING ABOUT LATIN AMERICA
Social studies textbooks and media often present an incomplete or biased
portrait of the countries comprising Latin America. Newspapers and television
news programs tend to focus on such spectacular events as earthquakes,
terrorism, coups, and American foreign policy related to the region. "It is rare
to find stories on the arts, humanities, or culture of Latin America" (Glab
The same is true of textbook representation. A recent survey of ten high
school texts revealed that "with the exception of one textbook, little
recognition was given to cultural characteristics" (Fleming 1982). Latin
American history was presented primarily in the context of United States foreign
policy. The point of view of Latin American countries was rarely considered.
Textbooks often created or reinforced negative stereotypes of Latin America and
THE NEED AND RATIONALE FOR TEACHING ABOUT LATIN AMERICA
Glab (1981) offers the following considerations for including more about
Latin America in the curriculum:
--Foreign Policy. International controversies over the influence of other
governments in the politics of Latin America need analysis and examination.
--Physical Proximity. Latin American countries are virtually next-door
neighbors, "with close political, commercial, and cultural interactions with the
United States extending over many years."
--The American Heritage. Latin American culture and the Spanish language are
part of the American heritage, exerting early and continuing influence on what
are now the states of Texas, California, New Mexico, and Arizona.
--Negative Stereotyping. It is well documented that Hispanic-Americans in
general "suffer from explicit negative stereotyping."
In addition to those suggested by Glab, other considerations, based on
commonality, exist. Shared problems include traffic congestion, pollution, and
crime related to urbanization; unemployment and slow economic growth;
concentration of ownership of agricultural land; and government debt.
EFFECTIVE APPROACHES TO TEACHING LATIN AMERICAN STUDIES
In his analysis of high school textbook treatment of Latin America, Fleming
(1982) points out that "a major source of information on Latin America should be
the social studies classroom." The world history course offers an especially
fertile ground for introducing a Latin American perspective into a study of
world events. As an article in the WORLD HISTORY BULLETIN stresses, "The New
World was not simply the passive recipient of European civilization; rather, it
modified and changed Europe's civilization and contributed to the development of
the Old World" (Burns 1984).
Case studies, decision-making exercises, and role playing have been effective
methods of introducing Latin American culture and erasing preconceived notions
about that region.
A separate Latin American studies course would itself be interdisciplinary in
nature, making use of subject areas such as science, art, literature,
mathematics, the Spanish language, computer science, and the social sciences.
The course would require students to apply a variety of social studies skills
and concepts and would be applicable to students of diverse grade levels,
skills, and socio-economic backgrounds. When possible, bilingual terminology
would be employed.
SOURCES OF MATERIALS ON LATIN AMERICA
In the conclusion to his survey of the representation of Latin America in
high school textbooks, Fleming (1982) suggests that "classroom teachers have
much work to do on their own if students are to acquire a clear understanding of
the United States' relations with Latin America. Teachers should be prepared to
update and supplement textbooks with current information and contemporary
Good sources of information do exist. Exemplary materials and curriculum
units are available on loan from the Stanford University SPICE/Latin America
project. Materials from the SPICE project are also available through the ERIC
system. (See Wirth 1984 reference below.)
Finally, a number of commercial publishers offer separate textbooks on Latin
America/Canada or Latin America, mostly at the intermediate grade level.
Present and potential eruptions of violence have made Latin America an
international "hotspot." Currently, events in the region are prominent in the
daily news. Such events are closely monitored by nations all over the world,
many of whom have strong political and economic interests in the region.
The United States should have a particular concern for Latin America. An
understanding of the region's cultural diversity, values, and life styles as
well as appreciation for its contributions to the arts and sciences could lead
to a greater mutual respect among the American nations and perhaps to less
reliance on dictatorships and violence as solutions to the very real social,
economic, and political problems that plague our neighbors to the south.
Burns, E. Bradford. "Themes for World History: Latin America as a Source."
WORLD HISTORY BULLETIN 11 (Fall/Winter 1984):1, 4-5.
Casteel, J. Doyle, and Charles Guthrie. "Teaching Ideas about Other Cultures:
Africa, Latin America, Western Europe." Gainesville: University of Florida,
1980. ED 215 925.
Fleming, Dan B. "Latin America and the United States: What Do United States
History Textbooks Tell Us?" THE SOCIAL STUDIES 73 (July/August 1982):168-171.
Glab, Edward, Jr. "Latin America Culture Studies: Information and Materials
for Teaching about Latin America." Revised Edition. Austin: University of Texas,
Institute of Latin American Studies, 1981. ED 216 943.
"Reference Sheet on Latin American Studies." (An annotated bibliography of
recent textbooks, teaching guides, and audiovisual materials.) Boulder, CO: ERIC
Clearinghouse for Social Studies/Social Science Education, 1984.
Rengert, Arlene C., and Janice J. Monk. "Latin American Urbanization as
Presented as a Decision-Making Dilemma." SOCIAL STUDIES QUARTERLY 34 Winter
Wirth, John D. "Improving the Precollegiate Curriculum on Latin America.
Grades 6-12. Final Performance Report." Stanford: Stanford University,
Stanford-Berkeley Joint Center on Latin American Studies, 1984. ED 251 385.
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