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Bermeo et al
Book Chapter

Book Chapter: Schools as Sites of Memory: The musealization of the armed conflict by students and teachers in Colombia

"​The chapter presents what we call the ‘musealization’ of the armed conflict at Colombian schools as an emergent phenomenon that contributes to making education a site of memory production. The chapter explores connections between understanding education as an active space for constructing and contesting memory its connections to enabling sustainable development goals, including around education and peace. We see musealization happening in the growing phenomenon through which schools create museums of memory, which entails the collection, preservation, documentation and ensemble of exhibited textual, objectual and audio-visual contents connected to the school community and its experiences of armed conflict. "

Authors: ​​​Julian D Bermeo (​​Deusto University), ​​Julia Paulson (University of Bristol), Arturo Charria (Comisión para el Esclarecimiento de la Verdad, la Convivencia y la No Repetición) ​​


“​​​On the northern side of Colombia, in the Caribbean municipality of Valencia, there is a public school with the name ‘Liceo Villanueva’. A commemorative plaque reading ​​’Fidel Castaño Gil-1988’ ​​catches the visitor’s eye at its entrance. The name carved on stone belongs to the founder of the school, who was an influential and well-known paramilitary leader in the region. Through the 1980s and 1990s, Fidel Castaño, in collaboration with his two brothers was responsible for perpetrating multiple crimes, including land dispossession of farmers, forced displacement, massacres and assassinations (Sala Penal de Justicia y Paz del Tribunal Superior de Medellín, 2014). ​​

​​​In 2013, when Liceo Villanueva became a state school, the newly appointed school director had the idea of removing the plaque to symbolise a new beginning for the school. However, this proposal divided Valencia’s community. On the one hand, some recognised themselves as direct victims of the Castaño​​s​​​’​​​ rule; on the other hand, some felt a sense of gratitude because the Castaño brothers provided the community with quality education when they opened the school. The controversy among the people from Valencia remains unsolved. The commemorative plaque stands in the school. Its’ presence reminds the members of the school’s history, including the material and immaterial traces of the violent past ​​​that ​​​have the potential to trigger animosities. The stalemate around the plaque makes it difficult for the community to move forward towards a shared peaceful future that overcomes the divisions associated with paramilitary violence. ​​

​​​As this example shows, schools have symbolic power and are enmeshed in the histories of the communities that they serve, including in conflict dynamics and patterns of violence where those communities have experienced armed conflict. Schools have a unique and difficult positioning in sustainable development processes generally (Tikly, 2020) and even more so when sustainable development possibilities are dependent upon the need to recover from conflict and build sustainable peace – a peace that beyond the cessation of violence transforms the social, economic and political causes of conflict (Lederach, 1997; Novelli and Sayed, 2016​​). ​​Schools carry symbolic power as state institutions and indeed are often the most regular and routine contact that children and families have with the state, a relationship that can be imbued with distrust when state actors have committed direct, structural and cultural violence against groups and individuals (Smith, 2010). They are also seen as vehicles by which to deliver promises of development, sustainable development goals, human rights and peace (e.g. Bengtsson et al., 2020).The history curriculum in particular has been identified as a key space for reform and intervention in order to deliver these promises (e.g. Cole, 2011), despite long-time recognition of the role that history curricula serves in delivering victors’ narratives, fomenting division between groups via exclusionary narratives that develop a sense of us and them and excluding historical narratives of minority communities (e.g. Davies, 2016; Sriprakash et al., 2020; Bermudez, 2020)​​. ​​”

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Schools as Sites of Memory: The musealization of the armed conflict by students and teachers in Colombia

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This is the pre-print version of this book chapter which has been published in, Critical Approaches to Heritage for Development: 

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