The Students of Human Rights: Literature, Pedagogy, and the Long Sixties in the Americas

Restricted (Penn State Only)
Appel, Molly D
Graduate Program:
Comparative Literature
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
July 01, 2018
Committee Members:
  • Rosemary Jane Jolly, Dissertation Advisor
  • Rosemary Jane Jolly, Committee Chair
  • Charlotte Diane Eubanks, Committee Member
  • Sarah Jo Townsend, Committee Member
  • John Andres Ochoa, Outside Member
  • Latin America
  • Latinx Studies
  • Literature
  • Film
  • Poetry
  • Argentina
  • Mexico
  • Tlatelolco
  • Nuyorican
  • critical pedagogy
  • feminist pedagogy
  • decolonial
  • human rights
  • American Studies
  • Alicia Partnoy
  • Roberto Bolaño
  • Pedro Pietri
  • La historia oficial
  • Sixties
  • Students
  • Student Movements
  • Student activism
  • Post-dictatorship
  • Puerto Rico
  • education
  • debt
  • pedagogy
In The Students of Human Rights, I propose that the role of the cultural figure of the American student activist of the Long Sixties in human rights literature enables us to identify a pedagogy of deficit and indebtedness at work within human rights discourse. My central argument is that a close and comparative reading of the role of this cultural figure in the American context, anchored in three representative cases from Argentina—a dictatorship, Mexico—a nominal democracy, and Puerto Rico—a colonially-occupied and minoritized community within the United States, reveals that the liberal idealization of the subject of human rights relies upon the implicit pedagogical regulation of an educable subject of human rights. I further argue that decolonial and feminist artists have turned to cultural work as a praxis of re-mapping and re-imagining the terms of liberal educability, and in doing so have created their own aesthetic pedagogies of human rights. I proceed by examining four cultural texts of distinct media that feature this Long Sixties student. In my first chapter on Argentina, I analyze the role of willful learning Alicia Partnoy’s testimonial narrative, The Little School (1986; trans. La Escuelita, 2006) and the film La historia oficial (1985; trans. The Official Story, dir. Luis Puenzo). In the second chapter on Mexico, I re-examine the canon of Tlatelolco memorial literature by way of Roberto Bolaño’s novella Amuleto (1999; trans. Amulet). In my final chapter on Puerto Rico and its New York City diaspora, I read Pedro Pietri’s poetry collection Puerto Rican Obituary (1971) alongside documents from his contemporaneous involvement with the radical teaching organization, the Teachers and Writers Collaborative. I draw from pedagogical and feminist theorists including Sara Ahmed, Paulo Freire, Gloria Anzaldúa, and bell hooks in order to show how these works of literature model and make space for non-co-optable resilience within the colonial legacy of dehumanizing and passively-oriented pedagogy. By comparatively juxtaposing these three regionally, historically, and culturally emblematic cases of human rights cultural pedagogy, I illustrate the impact that these students of the Long Sixties in the Americas—more effectively and inclusively recognized as learners, both within and without institutions—have had on human rights cultural discourses through the counter-hegemonic pedagogical paradigms they both enacted and inspired. Through these cases, scholars can develop a more robust lexicon for identifying the specific form of educability upon which the liberal subject of human rights relies. In turn, scholars and educators can better recognize how alternative claims to educability resist and revise a liberal framework of human rights recognition that enables racialized state capitalism.