A New Chile is Possible

Published on ZNet, by Raul Zibechi, January 30, 2012.

Chilean students question the education system as commercial and elitist because it reproduces existing social inequities and makes them worse. But they are not just asking questions: They are practicing the kind of education they have spent years dreaming about and struggling to obtain.  

“If workers can manage a factory, we can manage the school,” says Cristóbal, 17, as he flashes a smile. Cristóbal is a student at the Luis Galecio Corvera A-90 high school in the Santiago borough of San Miguel. The school is among the 200 in the city that students have occupied. But on September 26, they decided to follow the example of the workers of Cerámicas Zanón, the Argentine factory workers took over and began running 10 years ago … //

… Student control of schools:

  • A half hour from Santiago, the borough of San Miguel reflects the various levels of “middle class”: from those who live in high-rises along broad avenues to those who live in precarious little houses. Formerly one of the largest boroughs of the city, its poorest barrios (such as La Victoria) have been torn away in an effort to turn San Miguel into a strictly middle class neighborhood. Nevertheless, it continues to be plagued with social contrasts.
  • Secondary School A-90 started the year with 179 students, but a decade ago there were 4,000. Students left to go to subsidized schools, which are reputed to offer a better education, although their evaluations suggest otherwise. The borough’s socialist mayor, Julio Palestro, is one of the mayors who have supported the privatization of education. In 2009 he closed a public school where 2,000 students were enrolled.
  • At the assembly in the gymnasium young people explain that their school ranks number 14 on the list for “academic risk.” Asked what that means, they smile: “It refers to the risk that we will become criminals.” Most of their parents work for little more than minimum wage (180,000 Chilean pesos, around $350), primarily as construction laborers.
  • Maybe that explains why the management is obsessed with discipline. “It’s as if we were locked up, this is practically a jail,” says Yergo, a third-year student. Camilo, a second-year student, is happy not having to wear a uniform. “It’s like a military doctrine, everyone with their crew cuts, their little ties, shirt tucked in. Don’t do this, don’t do that. And now [that the students run the school], you can just be who you are. You can just freely express yourself, you come here to be educated, not to be militarized.”
  • “The assembly is the control center,” Cristóbal explains. “All students participate and at times it’s open to teachers. We have watch duty and volunteers come in to make meals. Teachers teach, but they also learn from the students. At the beginning we had classes subject by subject, but later we saw that parceling out knowledge wasn’t the real way to learn, and we all got together for each subject. Some [students] explained to others, and the education became cooperative. That changes the way you relate to the subject and to the school.”
  • Just as workers who take over a factory change the way work is organized, students who took over their schools changed the “curricular boundaries.” Students need to know their rights, says Cristóbal, so they offer classes on the Constitution. “Philosophy, for example, lends itself to analyzing mobilizations and what is happening in the world; we begin to see that students work better if they are more interested.”
  • Juan Francisco, a philosophy teacher, agrees with his student. “All the student discussions have led them to reflect on the structure of power in Chile.” That’s why they analyze the constitution in his classes. Often they hold workshops, which furthers participation. Weekly assemblies have been incorporated into the curriculum.
  • The relationships between students and teachers have shifted. As hierarchies melted, relationships became more cooperative and supportive. In the classroom, they sit in a circle. The teacher is someone who helps, but is not above the rest. Eliana Lemus, a teacher of biology, chemistry, and physics, and principal of the school, maintains that discipline is much greater than it used to be, perhaps because it is not imposed and there is a desire to be together and share the experience.
  • One of the most notable accomplishments of the student movement is the effect it has had on the barrios, where it has increased social organization. At public school A-90, the parents association now supports the student takeover and control of the school. Cacerolazos in San Miguel led to “territorial assemblies,” where neighbors go to discuss problems in the barrio, as well as general problems such as education. Similar groups have been reported in other Santiago barrios, with up to 200 neighbors in attendance.
  • But not everything has been positive. Several teachers say they have been threatened and beaten by colleagues who do not agree with the takeover. The socialist mayor, a strong opponent of the movement, beat up Cristóbal Espinoza, a student and spokesman for A-90.

The future of those without a future: … //

… (full long text).


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