Selected Moments of the 20th Century

A work in progress edited by Daniel Schugurensky
Department of Adult Education, Community Development and Counselling Psychology,
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)


Mexican constitution proclaims socialist education

This year, the third article of the Mexican Constitution is amended to read: "State education will be socialist in character." The change was promoted by the left wing of the Partido Nacional Revolucionario (PNR), the precursor of the current Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI). This group, which controlled the Secretaria de Educación Pública during most of the decade, assisted the government of president Lázaro Cárdenas (1934-1940) in developing its educational and cultural program, which was known as socialist education. Cardenas, the leader of this 'progressive branch' of the Mexican revolution, aimed to build a national party based upon worker, peasant, and middle-class support in opposition to the old landowning elites, foreign property holders, and the Catholic Church.

Inspired by the ideas of Anton Makarenko and others, Mexican socialist pedagogy stressed collective learning and organization for adults and children, and the learning of productive habits through collective gardens and co-operatives. Influenced by positivism, socialist education challenged superstition and institutionalized religion. This created an immediate animosity on part of the Mexican catholic church. During the period of socialist education, a new curriculum for national history was written and implemented, in order to emphasize the protagonistic role of workers and peasants in the Mexican Revolution. Teachers were highly involved in socialist education, and became key political actors in mobilizing and unionizing peasants and workers. For Mary Kay Vaughan, a professor of Latin American Studies at the University of Illinois-Chicago, the real cultural revolution of the Cardenista period consisted more of the dialogue between state and society than around the state's efforts to design and implement a blueprint for socialist education in Mexico. 
On the one hand, the state was able to promote a multi-ethnic nationalism based on its promise of social justice and development; on the other, rural communities managed to create new spaces to preserve their local identities (Vaughan 1997).

In the 1940s, once Cardenas finished his presidential period, the socialist education project was successfully challenged and abandoned. Soon thereafter, the term 'socialist education' was deleted from the third article of the Mexican constitution. However, due to its emphasis on public education in the context of a long conflict between the state and the church, the controversy over the third article of the Mexican constitution continued for the remaining of the 20th century.


Vaughan, Mary Kay (1997). Cultural Politics in Revolution: Teachers, Peasants, and Schools in Mexico, 1930-1940. (2nd printing). University of Arizona Press. (Chapter 1)

DS (OISE/University of Toronto)

April 2002

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