Teaching Central America
More than four million Central Americans reside in the United States today, yet the lack of resources on Central American heritage in most schools make the rich history and literature of the region invisible. Central America is too-often portrayed as simply a strip of land on a map connecting North and South America. Students are left to imagine that their Central American heritage, or that of their peers, is insignificant. Teachers have learned little of the history themselves and there is a scarcity of literature in the school libraries. Teaching for Change has launched a campaign to help fill that gap with resources for teaching about Central America.
Our goal is to encourage and support teaching about Central America in K-12 schools so that students can learn about this region, which has many ties to the United States through foreign policy, immigration, commerce, and culture.
Teaching for Change is offering free downloadable lessons, bios, and poetry and prose from Central American writers such as Roque Dalton, Rigoberta Menchú, Claribel Alegría, and Ernesto Cardenal. These authors used literature to shine a light on key issues such as: the need for land reform, recognition of indigenous and women’s rights, exploitative labor practices, environmental destruction, political repression and violence, and U.S. intervention.
Textbook Bias and Omissions
Thirty years ago, the Council on Interracial Books for Children (CIBC) published a critical review of the representation of Central America in U.S. textbooks called School Books Get Poor Marks. Their decades old assessment still holds true today. “Name recognition is generally the only knowledge that most people in the U.S. have about Central America,” the CIBC wrote, explaining that this lack of information is aided by the media, which rarely covers Central America, except in times of crisis. Textbooks, if they mention the region at all, exclude any mention of the United States’ and other world powers’ involvement in the region’s governments, agricultural systems, and trade policies. Thus, the causes of Central America’s “underdeveloped” status and high rates of poverty are reduced to geography and the shortcomings of its people, rather than products of global economic and political systems, originating from centuries of colonization.
This website draws on the work of educators from the Network of Educators’ Committees on Central America (NECCA), a coalition of teacher committees formed in 11 major U.S. and Canadian cities. The committees were comprised of K-12 teachers in school districts with Central American refugees. Learning from students in their classrooms about the painful impact of U.S. foreign policy, teachers were moved to speak out. The committees coordinated tours to and from Central America, raised funds for Central American schools and teacher’ unions, established sister-schools and sister-unions, offered workshops, and developed curricula. Formed in the 1980s, NECCA’s work expanded in the 1990s and it was incorporated as Teaching for Change.
Our work on this site is dedicated to the tens of thousands of people who have given their lives in the struggle for justice in Central America. One recent martyr is the award-winning Honduran environmental activist Berta Isabel Cáceres Flores who was assassinated on March 3, 2016. This beautiful portrait of Cáceres is by artist Erin Currier.
This site is funded in part by D.C. Public Schools, the Panta Rhea Foundation, and the Latin American and Iberian Institute at the University of New Mexico. Teaching for Change is solely responsible for the content on the site.
We welcome your comments on this website, stories about how you use the resources, and suggestions for additions.