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Professor Juan José Batalla

Question for June 2007

Are Spanish children taught in school about what happened to the Aztecs? Asked by Underhill Junior School. Chosen and answered by Professor Juan José Batalla.

Columbus taking possession of Hispaniola
Columbus taking possession of Hispaniola (Click on image to enlarge)

English: We can say for certain that in Spanish schools and colleges pupils are taught to see the Conquistadors as heroic individuals who subdued an entire continent. Every country needs to have Heroes (with a Capital H) to be held up as models for future generations to follow. Spain is no different to any other, and the educational system portrays Hernán Cortés or Francisco Pizarro as leaders who conquered American empires like the Aztec or the Inca to enlarge another empire - the Spanish.

Map showing areas that at some point over 400 years formed part of or were controlled by the Spanish Empire; for the key to the colour codes, go to the Wikipedia entry (below)
Map showing areas that at some point over 400 years formed part of or were controlled by the Spanish Empire; for the key to the colour codes, go to the Wikipedia entry (below) (Click on image to enlarge)

It’s only really at university level that a solid explanation of the reality behind the events will be offered, delving into all the different factors that contributed to the defeat of the native American cultures. In schools it’s unusual to find descriptions of indigenous [local] peoples’ ways of life: instead classes focus far more on the ‘achievements’ of 16th. century Spanish men.

Coat of Arms of the Spanish Monarchy
Coat of Arms of the Spanish Monarchy (Click on image to enlarge)

In one or two specific places, such as the Museum of the Americas in Madrid, organised sessions for school parties take place on certain days of the week for children to have hands-on activity workshops based on native American cultures, but these are only available to schools from the local ‘Comunidad de Madrid’ district, not from the rest of the country.

Anthropological studies of American cultures are only offered at university level, and sadly even then only in a few centres. One outstanding centre is the Americas History II (American Anthropology) Department at Madrid’s Complutense University, attended regularly not only by students from Spain but from the rest of Europe and the Americas.

Español: ¿Se les enseña hoy día a los niños españoles de lo que les pasó a los aztecas? Podemos afirmar que en España lo que se enseña a los niños en el colegio y en el instituto es la existencia de los conquistadores como personas heróicas que sometieron todo un continente. Todos los paises necesitan tener Héroes “con mayúscula” para que sirvan de modelo a seguir por las generaciones futuras. España no es ajena a ello y el sistema educativo presenta a Hernán Cortés o Francisco Pizarro como prohombres que conquistaron a Imperios americanos como el azteca o el inca para engrandecer a otro Imperio como el español.

Es ya en los cursos universitarios donde se intenta explicar a los alumnos la realidad de los acontecimientos, incidiendo en los diversos y variados factores que influyeron en el sometimiento de las culturas americanas. De este modo, en la escuela y el instituto no se suele explicar el modo de vida de los indígenas americanos, centrándose la enseñanza en describir las “hazañas” de los hombres españoles del siglo XVI.

En lugares concretos como el Museo de América de Madrid sí acuden colegios ciertos días a la semana para que los niños lleven a cabo actividades relacionadas con estas culturas, pero esto únicamente se hace con alumnos de la Comunidad de Madrid y no con el resto del país. Los estudios antropológicos sobre las culturas americanas sólo se imparten a nivel universitario y desafortunadamente en muy pocos centros. Destaca el Departamento de Historia de América II (Antropología de América) de la Universidad Complutense de Madrid, donde estudian no sólo alumnos españoles, sino europeos y americanos.

(Images from the Wikipedia entry)

Learn more about the Spanish Empire from the Wikipedia entry

Aprende más de las páginas de Wikipedia

Professor Juan José Batalla has answered 7 questions altogether:

Physically how were the skulls stuck into the skullracks?

Was there any contact between the Aztecs and the ancient Egyptians?

Did most words in the Aztec language end in -tl?

When did the 5 ‘useless’ days come in the Aztec calendar?

Are Spanish children taught in school about what happened to the Aztecs?

Is it true the Aztecs made a sacrifice (on average) every 10 minutes?

How did scribes get rid of mistakes when they wrote their books?

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