Venezuelan education and the specter of ideology
Some weeks ago, I awoke to the news that President Nicolás Maduro had announced that he was going to “press forward with the elimination” of university programs related to the humanities. “All universities have to be connected with the “Homeland Plan” (or Plan de la Patria) 2025,” which is the same as saying that they would have to abide by a specific ideology.
“We can’t have thousands of professionals graduating from university programs that have nothing to do with the country’s development,” said Maduro. Which is essentially to say that subjects such as the arts, modern languages and international studies (also known as diplomacy studies) don’t contribute anything to the country’s development.
I shuddered when I read the news. Not only as a graduate of one such program, but also because of the direct implications of a such a blow — in the short- and medium-term — against critical thought and the holistic intellectual education of the next generation of Venezuelans.
Yet this news does not surprise me. Much less so since the swift radicalization of the “revolution” that has taken place over the last three years, as well as last year’s demonstrations. Yet I am surprised at the clarity, the eloquence and the sheer unstoppability of the government’s intention to impose an educational system tailored to its ideological ambitions.
It’s not the first time, and it’s not only the universities
“It was inevitable that something such as this would happen”, commented P., a sociologist. For three years, P. has been a critical observer of the changes to the school curriculum implemented by the government. “For the government, universities are a bastion of resistance that they haven’t been able to control, despite their efforts.”
It is not the first time that something like this has happened: a few years ago, the “Colección Bicentenaria“, a series of school textbooks, was discussed on social media because of its obvious and biased manipulation of history. The government had not only developed a newly reinterpreted and conveniently revised vision of history, but it constructed a new historical setting where ideology unified future opinion.
I meet P. in her office at the private university where she still teaches. She looks at me with sadness and then retrieves one of the neatly arranged books from her disorderly library. It is a copy of the infamous Colección Bicentenaria. She opens it to a random page and hands it to me: Chávez, wearing the recognizable presidential sash, holding a girl in his arms who is reading attentively under a tree.
The government is carefully cultivating the breeding ground for its ideology”, said P., showing me a photo of a public school in Caracas in which a group of children pose in front of a photograph of Chávez. The children look at the camera with their toothless smiles, none older than six years old, all making a military salute.
I think about the concept of homeland that the government frequently uses. That idea of the nation that seems to include not only its history and its inhabitants, but also its ideology. The homeland that defines a new kind of country, one that accords with the ideological emphasis, with cheap jingoism and why not, with an abundance of militarism as well.
Little by little, the new Venezuelan will accept that “Chavismo” is not only a political party, but an essential part of Venezuelan identity.
Two years ago there was another low-key scandal in the media about the changes that the Ministry of the People’s Power for Education implemented in the country’s school curriculum. According to the government document that circulated in schools, the teaching methods used by educational establishments were “simplistic, reductionist, mechanistic”.
The proposal for the new school curriculum does not include subjects, but rather learning themes. It also specifies that these themes should be “mainstreamed with the five historical objectives of the Homeland Plan in a interdependent structure”.
P. explained to me that those reforms don’t have anything to do with modernizing the educational system, but with something much more intentional, which carries an ominous political charge. The proposal for educational reform intends to connect with the “historical objectives” of the “Homeland Plan” written by Hugo Chávez. This process began in 2007 with the presentation of the “Bolivarian National Curriculum” that formed part of the constitutional referendum.
With all this in mind, I imagine the generation that will grow up in Venezuela during the next decade. A generation of young people convinced that they should be thankful for handouts from the government. They will have the ideology as their main motive and motor driving their lives. A generation for whom dissent goes against the idea of the nation. A country of indoctrination, without arguments or debate. A silent country.
I imagine that country and I feel afraid. When I walk along the dirty and chaotic streets of Caracas, I look around and am shocked once again by the face of Chávez watching me from everywhere. An omnipresent ghost from yellowing billboards and ripped posters. And politics always there, everywhere, as a form of fear, as the image of confusion.
Originally published at globalvoices.org on August 21, 2018.