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Rafael Vizcaino (Rutgers University, USA)
This interview with Jason T. Wozniak by Rafael Vizcaino introduces LAPES. The Latin American Philosophy of Education Society.
Rafael: What is The Latin American Philosophy of Education Society (LAPES), and how did it get started?
Jason: Let me say from the beginning that I can’t speak for everyone that participates in LAPES projects. If you talked to other members of the group, you would get different responses. I can offer the following perspectives.
LAPES is a philosophy of education research group currently housed at The Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race (CSER) at Columbia University. Officially, LAPES was started around four years ago when a group of us formally decided to come together under the LAPES name. But unofficially, it might be better to suggest that for a lot of us the idea of LAPES was born in our experiences in Latin America, with Latin American philosophies of education, through our encounters with people who were doing incredible work with education theory situated in Latin American contexts. What I mean by this is that for some LAPES members, these types of encounters provoked a similar question: “Why didn’t/don’t we have more exposure to this work in United States academic environments?” Outside of the work of Paulo Freire, who remains an invaluable inspiration, educators in the U.S., and those who study education theory, rarely, if ever, have access to Latin American philosophies of education.
R: What are some of the main questions LAPES engages?
J: Upon forming our group almost immediately we were confronted with an important question: “What is Latin American philosophy of education?” In fact, we must acknowledge that definitions of “Latin America” deserve to be problematicized. Nevertheless, even though our first symposium and volume of our journal Lápiz is dedicated to this question, the question remains an open one for us. One thing seems clear, however, that there is no singular Latin American philosophy of education, there are many philosophies, and part of our work is to study these philosophies and engage with them through a variety of means. Through our publications and events, we also try and make these philosophies available to people in the United States and elsewhere.
Moreover, one of the principle aims of the work of LAPES is to reconfigure education philosophy and teacher preparation theory and methodology. If you study education in the United States, and I would imagine that Europe is similar in this respect, you are mainly taught education theories past and present that emerge out of Europe or the United States. Either purposefully, or out of ignorance, education theory from traditionally marginalized groups of people, and/or from other parts of the world, is suppressed. Given this situation, the “Socrates of Caracas,” Simón Rodríguez, who was Bolívar’s teacher, has a compelling phrase to consider: “Inventamos o erramos.” (We invent or we error). One way to interpret this line is to say that for hundreds of years we have been imitating education theories and pedagogies based on European and/or United States conceptualizations of education. It’s important to note, and Rodríguez makes this argument, and more recently Argentine philosopher of education Walter Kohan develops it, that the imitation of these education theories and pedagogies has resulted in some positive developments, but it has also, at least in part, allowed for the continual reproduction of racist, sexist, xenophobic, violent, imperialist practices in education, which have in turn played a role in shaping racist, sexist, xenophobic, violent, and imperialist subjectivities. In a sense, based on the work of Latin American thinkers and educators, on the work done by those who study Latin American philosophy and education, LAPES is trying to play a role in the invention of education philosophies and pedagogies in the United States (and elsewhere) that challenge the reproduction of dehumanizing education theories and practices. In short, we ask a very basic question: “Why turn to Europe or the traditional canon from the United States for our philosophies of education?” Instead, we say, “Let’s turn to the education theories of/from Latin America, let’s engage with the work of those who have done work on Latin American education philosophy.”
R: This is where decolonial thinking and doing come into play.
J: Yes. The hope is that our small intervention contributes to what Linda Martín Alcoff calls a “decolonial consciousness,” and that people that are exposed to new ways of thinking about education, new ways of teaching and learning together, are motivated to contest and disrupt injustice, while also striving to open up the possibilities of more caring, imaginative, and just ways of relating to the world, others, self.
R: In what more specific ways do the aims of LAPES relate to decolonial thinking and doing?
J: First and foremost our principle aim is to learn. We have a lot to learn. And so we try and create spaces for learning to happen. I have touched on this above, but here I would re-emphasize that we are very interested in re-thinking teacher education programs in the United States. Not only might the inclusion of Latin American education theory help diversify the teaching body (K-12 and higher education), but also teachers, students, academics, and activists in Latin America have challenged neoliberal and colonial education philosophy, policy, and practice in extremely important ways. By studying, in collective fashion, these modes of contestation, we think we can learn how to develop education theories and practices that dismantle neoliberal and colonial/neocolonial education theories and pedagogy in the United States. I would have to admit that not all our work has accomplished this, not all of our work could be considered “decolonial.” In an organization that tries to limit hierarchical structures, sometimes you get projects that take different paths. But overall, a lot of us are influenced by what Nelson Maldonado Torres has called the “decolonial turn.”
It also seems important to mention that decolonial theory/practice benefits from engaging with philosophies of education. Perhaps one can say that efforts to decolonize subjectivity, to form decolonial imaginations, relations, knowledges, etc., are almost always to a degree an educative project. There is some great work by people like Eve Tuck and others with the Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education and Society project that are making all sorts of important interventions that we can all learn from in this respect.
I should note here an important element of our work. The question of “aims” remains in flux, open to change. As we study and learn together, as we meet new people, encounter new ideas, as new members participate in the group, our aims are altered.
R: What kinds of activities does LAPES organize?
J: LAPES hosts an annual symposium, produces a peer-reviewed journal (Lápiz, http://lapiz.lapes.org/), translates texts into English, and puts on a variety of workshops and events. Our journal is open-access. We encourage anyone and everyone to attend our symposiums. The focus of LAPES events and publications has centered on decolonial theory, critical theory focused on neoliberal governance, and the pedagogies of resistance cultivated by social justice movements from across the Americas. In the near future, we are excited about the release of the translation by two LAPES members of Enrique Dussel’s The Pedagogics of Latin American Liberation (Punctum Books). We will also be hosting our next symposium on “Latin American Pedagogies of Resistance” at The California Institute of Integral Studies on May 18th-19th, 2017. And we are constantly trying to create relationships with people doing work (theoretical/praxis) in Latin America. It is important that we have encounters, study together, but also, that we share time together, meals, dance, and song. It seems that these types of activities are just as important as any academic activity for building solidarity.
R: What are some of the future steps for LAPES?
J: I alluded to this above, but the future remains open. That said, we’ll continue to study together, and we’ll continue to organize publications and public events. We are also growing and this presents some challenges. We’ll have to figure out ways to continue to work collectively, with limited hierarchy, avoid bureaucratic black holes. And I think one of our next projects will be to take a closer look at how one teaches Latin American philosophy of education, critical theory, decolonial theory. In other words, we need to keep asking ourselves questions like: “We are talking about Latin American philosophies of education, but how are these philosophies influencing our teaching practice?” “We are talking about decolonial theory, but are we teaching in decolonial ways?” I think building on our upcoming symposium, we might pass through a period in which we really focus on pedagogical practice. But again, someone old or new to the group might inspire a different direction, a particular event might demand a new focus.
R: How can people contact LAPES and get more information?
R: Thank you for this opportunity to learn about The Latin American Philosophy of Education Society.
J: Thanks for the opportunity to talk my friend.
Jason Thomas Wozniak is founder and co-coordinator of The Latin American Philosophy of Education Society (LAPES) and contributor to the Núcleo de Estudos de Filosofias e Infâncias (NEFI) at the State University of Rio de Janeiro. He is currently finishing his dissertation (Teachers College, Columbia University) on education and indebted subjectivity while lecturing in the Humanities Department at San Jose State University.
Rafael Vizcaino is a PhD student in comparative literature at Rutgers University, where he studies decolonial thought. Rafael is a member of the review board of Lápiz, the journal of The Latin American Philosophy of Education Society (LAPES).