No room for Aztecs in the new Mexico

13th August 2004 at 01:00

Mexico's education chiefs have generated a storm of controversy by proposing that secondary-school history should start with the Spanish conquest.

Students would no longer study prehistory, Mesopotamian civilisation, China, India, the ancient Greeks and Romans, the Jewish people and the middle ages.

The study of pre-Hispanic peoples such as the Aztecs and Mayas would also be dropped - a move that has not gone down well in a country with a large indigenous and mixed-race population. In some regions, Indian groups are in open revolt against centuries of discrimination.

The definition of "history" as events up to 15 years ago has also been changed to include everything but the past five years.

Vice-minister of education Lorenzo Gomez Morin said the changes would promote more in-depth study and dropping many centuries of world and Mexican history would allow greater emphasis on the history of the past 500 years.

It would, he added, "allow students to learn the foundations of present-day society - since it was in the 15th and 16th centuries that what today is Mexico was incorporated into the modern world".

But the plans have provoked a torrent of criticism from intellectuals, academics and secondary history teachers who say they were not consulted about them.

The eminent Mexican writer Elena Poniatowska described the plan as "suicidal". "It's like they want to erase our roots," she said.

Historian Enrique Florescano accused the education authorities of taking no account of society, archaeologists or historians.

Guillermo Tovar y de Teresa, a fellow historian, said the plan was "an act of stupidity and ignorance" and "an attack against the rights of all Mexicans to receive education in the broadest sense".

But Mr Gomez said the changes would "not eliminate content from the history curriculum - just redistribute it to primary and pre-school, where it is envisioned as being compulsory".

Congressman and schoolteacher Jesus Martin del Campo, said the government was proposing that "the only good Indian is a forgotten Indian".

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