– 2007-10-17 09:33:11
“The majority of Panamanian historians are very nationalistic. Facts that darken our history may go completely undiscussed.”
— Luis Lopez, Teaching Director at the University of Panama
José Arciajovanka Guardia / La Prensa
Translated By Barbara Howe
Panama (September 30, 2007) — What doesn’t count as Panamanian history. Controversy: Noriega and other events not in the history textbooks. Educators who were consulted agree: “History is written by the conquerors and not the conquered.” All that most teenage students and journalism students know of the ex-strongman is what their parents have told them.
The authors of Panama’s student textbooks never thought to dwell on General Manuel Antonio Noriega, but in addition, events like the 1968 military coup and the 1989 US invasion of Panama are treated in extremely abbreviated fashion
In fact, 36 years of vitally important events are recounted in only half a page. There are at least five different social science textbooks per grade from which schools can select their course material, which are grouped under the topics of civics, geography and history.
This newspaper consulted seven basic level textbooks for at least five of the primary school and middle school levels by different authors and for different grades. Our research uncovered only one — for the seventh grade — which detailed the takeover of the state: “In August of 1983, Commandante Rubian Dario Paredes withdrew from his command to comply with “Plan Torrijos” (the deceased dictator’s plan of succession based on military rank) and was replaced by Manuel Antonio Noriega.”
It continues, “this new commander [Noriega] was very clear about the plans that he needed to carry out, as well as the role of the future president of Panama.”
Another textbook from the fifth grade sums up the invasion by the United States in three lines, “The North American Army invaded Panama on the December 20, 1989, and destroyed the Army of the military dictatorship.” Previously, it barely explained the Cruzada Civilista movement, which epitomized the nation’s struggle for democracy and its recovery of moral values.
The absence of historical data in these books is even more evident in the case of the fourth grade. One textbook begins by recounting Panamanian history by teaching about folk expressions starting from pre-Colombian times and ending with the separation of Panama from Colombia, and then an examination of national symbols. All of the textbooks bear a certificate on the cover that says, “Based on the New Program of the Ministry of Education.”
What Do Panama’s Educators Have to Say?
What does the Ministry of Education say about all this? Gustavo Paredes, deputy director of curriculum at the Ministry, wanted to assure people that proper emphasis if being given to elements of the nation’s history.
As proof of this he cited the case of the seventh grade textbook. In the book’s list of objectives, he pointed out number 20 says, “to interpret the major events in the last decade of the 20th century.”
Paredes also pointed to a tenth grade textbook that mentions the armed intervention of the US, “On the 20th of December, the post-invasion period and the restoration of democracy began.”
Nevertheless, Paredes maintained that, “the curriculum is designed only to give a general overview, and it’s up to the teacher to extract events from this material and explains it.
This approach can present difficulties, according to Edilcia Agudo, director of the Department of History at the University of Panama. Some professors don’t remain conscientiously up to date, and only get qualified enough to acquire points that will allow them to get promoted. “If teachers aren’t up to date, what hope can we have for the students?” she argued.
For the university’s director of teaching, Luis Lopez, this situation has more to do with the biases of the authors. “The majority of Panamanian historians are very nationalistic. Facts that darken our history, may go completely undiscussed.”
Agudo added that, “history is written by the conquerors and not the conquered,” and he added another element: “there’s was an almost 30-gap in updated educational material.” Agudo explains that this translates into a tremendous loss of touch with current events. “The curriculum that teachers use should be updated every two years, because there are new events and economic relationships that are changing rapidly.”
One example of Agudo gives is the tranfer of the Panama Canal to Panamanian control on December 31, 1999, which wasn’t mentioned in any of the textbooks reviewed by this newspaper.
I rreparable Damage
The fact that students don’t know the historical reality of their own country has “terrible effects” on the cohesion of society, opines Agudo. Luis Lopez believes that we are not creating, “complete citizens, which should involve an education in values and attitudes.”
These deficiencies, in his opinion, will sooner become a crisis because, “we will have people who will comprise a good portion of the unemployed, and who will be unable to compete according to market demands.”
It is precisely these considerations mentioned by Agudo which were confirmed by the testimony of students who all has knowledge of Noriega, but only based only on what they heard at home.
Seventh grader Ofir Alcedo was instructed by his grandmother, who belonged to the now-extinct Defense Forces. He associates the 1989 US invasion with the birth of his younger brother.
Meanwhile, tenth grader Jisell Osorio — called “the historian” by her friends — says she deos remember that Noriega was a general overthrown by an invasion. This, according to what she said, she learned from her father. This, according to her, she learned from her father.
An important aspect of this reality is mentioned by the educators: The textbooks are revised by a group of evaluators from Education Ministry valuators who receive $20 for each book analyzed for its approval.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.