Philosophies of Education in Latin America | Teachers College Columbia University

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New Philosophy of Latin America Course Adds Diversity to Program

This Spring, the Program in Philosophy & Education will offer a new course, A&HF 4198: “Philosophies of Education in the Americas: Latin America,” to deepen philosophical literacy among Teachers College students about Latin American traditions of educational thought, according to Professor David Hansen, the John L. & Sue Ann Weinberg Professor in Historical & Philosophical Foundations of Education and Program Director.

The course will also add a layer of diversity to the program which has so far not offered a course geared toward a specific cultural group. “The program’s approach to philosophy is unique,” says Tomás de Rezende Rocha, a third year Ph.D. student and course assistant. “Students are asked to engage with texts by intellectuals who may not be considered mainstream philosophers.” Tomás cites W.E.B. Du bois and Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz as two authors who have been regarded as influential thinkers but not necessarily traditional philosophers and who are discussed in other philosophy courses in the program.

“This program puts a lot of emphasis on the idea of the original concept of philosophy as the love of wisdom and the love of thinking. I think we certainly see the authors of these primary texts [for this course] as exhibiting those characteristics,” says Tomás.

According to Professor Hansen, “The purpose of the course is to introduce students to historical and contemporary philosophies of education in Central and South America. We’ll be reading a diverse literature, encompassing philosophical arguments and essays, poetry and fiction, and some historical analyses. Students will gain valuable substantive knowledge of the richness of Latin American philosophical thought. They will also have a sustained opportunity to develop the arts of reading philosophically, of thinking reflectively and imaginatively, and of writing cogently and thoughtfully.”

The course will include primary and secondary sources from philosophers like Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, a self-educated nun who was one of the first feminist voices in Latin America, and Bartolome de las Casas, a Spanish historian who wrote an account of the atrocities being committed by European colonials in the Caribbean. His writing had a role in changing the minds of colonists and how they treated indigenous peoples.

The inception of the course began with an idea put forth by four students: Jason Wozniak, now a Lecturer at San Jose State University, Ana Cecilia Galindo Diego, who teaches in Mexico City, David Backer, Assistant Professor at West Chester University, and Ariana Gonzalez Stokaz, Assistant Professor at CUNY. They met as third and fourth year doctoral students in the Philosophy and Education Program at Teachers College and subsequently founded the Latin American Philosophy of Education Society, or LAPES. They also published LÁPIZ, a journal featuring texts from renowned scholars and educators on the subject of Latin American philosophy and education.

“It is very important that this course is added to the program,” said Dr. Wozniak. “One can hope that if this type of course gets off the ground at TC, then other schools of education might consider doing something similar. For the most part, schools of education have not given a lot of exposure to Latin American philosophy of education despite the fact that there is a rich tradition of this work. It’s wonderful that students will have the opportunity to engage with thinkers that they typically don’t encounter. One might also say that this course is a small step in the direction of undoing years of epistemic suppression.”

Tomás also sees this course as important from both a practical and justice viewpoint. “I do think there is an enormous lack of cross-cultural philosophy in [higher education] in general,” he says. To counteract this shortcoming, Tomás remarked that opening oneself up to a broader philosophical mindset can lead to good scholarship, greater cross-cultural understanding and cooperation. “There are justice-based issues that creating courses like this tries to address. It might be an issue of justice and equity and representation if a program doesn’t offer courses that can speak to the backgrounds and experiences of a decent chunk of their students,” he said.

Professor Hansen, who researches cosmopolitanism and education, says this course will also fuel his own body of work. “I think of cosmopolitanism as an educational orientation: as a way that human beings can come to perceive, interact, and learn with others who differ in cultural background, personal experience, interests and values, and the like. It’s an orientation that implies more than tolerating others who differ, important as that accomplishment is. I can tolerate others without learning anything from them. But a cosmopolitan mindset implies learning with and from others, which means being willing to reorient or recalibrate my beliefs, aims, values, and practices in the light of this learning,” Professor Hansen explains.

The course also takes on Professor Hansen’s research on “bearing witness” – an ethical orientation which proposes recognizing and acting upon the fundamental dignity of educators and the students with whom they work. “Its aim is not to add ‘new knowledge’, as such. Rather, its concern is to cultivate ethical forms of support for teachers, and to advocate for an ethical consciousness in educational policy-making and administration,” said Professor Hansen.

Professor Hansen supported the initiatives and expressed great interest in the four LAPES students who prompted the movement to establish the course. “I had already begun to study Latin American philosophies and literatures as part of a decade-long project on cosmopolitanism and education. The inauguration of LAPES and its attendant journal were a wonderful spur to me to make the formal move to organize a new program course that would focus on diverse philosophies of education emanating from both past and present in Latin America,” says Professor Hansen.

In March of 2015, the Institute for Global Engagement awarded a grant to the Philosophy and Education Program, making it possible to develop the course. With the LAPES founders and doctoral students now graduating, Dr. Hansen asked Tomás, also a LAPES member, to assist with the planning and course development. 

Tomás, whose parents hail from Brazil and Argentina, had never taken an interest in his philosophical heritage until attending Teachers College. After joining LAPES, he helped publish Lápiz by editing articles and helping with some of the group's translation projects. With the course development under way and Professor Hansen on sabbatical leave for the 2015-2016 year, Tomás took on an important role to ensure the continuity of the course’s development, during which he conducted extensive background reading on possible authors put forth by Professor Hansen and his colleagues. 

“With input from Jason and Ana Cecilia, I identified a range of scholars from across the Americas whom I asked to prepare letters of support for our venture,” said Professor Hansen. “They included Professors Virginia Aspe Armella, Walter Omar Kohan, Maximiliano Valerio Lopez, and Carlos Skliar.” While Tomás spent the summer researching and consulting literature reviews, he and Professor Hansen communicated with each other about the extensive proposal requirements to establish a new course at Teachers College.

Jason, Ana Cecilia, and David say they are still involved with LAPES today and continue to promote and publish their journal. If TC continues to offer the course, Dr. Wozniak says it will remain a possibility for a LAPES member to lecture for the course one day.

It seems the trends of a more cosmopolitan education will continue, as a new course on Africana/African-American Philosophies of Education is also being developed with the help of Ph.D. student, Rashad Moore. Professor Hansen began on this course of study in previous years with another graduate student while researching the Harlem Renaissance in convergence with the idea of “Négritude.” Professor Hansen says, “[It’s] a philosophical orientation toward black identity and consciousness articulated by numerous afro-francophone writers in Africa, the Caribbean, France, and elsewhere. I have continued to water this interest through the work on cosmopolitanism and education.” Rashad has since prepared an initial scheme for the course to inform the course development process. We will keep you updated.

For students interested in A&HF 4198: “Philosophies of Education in the Americas: Latin America,” it will be open to students from the Arts and Humanities Department, as well as from Teachers College. No prior coursework in philosophy is required, though some background in the humanities will be helpful.

Picture of Nori KatoNori Kato is a Staff Writer and Social Media Coordinator for the Department of Arts and Humanities. She is also a graduate of the International Educational Development program at Teachers College.


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