Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The March of the Penguins and the Class of 2012

World Cup Rally 2010
Santiago, Chile

“No man who worships education has got the best out of education... Without a gentle contempt for education no man's education is complete.”
G. K. Chesterton

            Their voices echoed in the city streets as dozens of followers demanded in unison reforms to the system.  They carried signs, were perceived as radicals, and had no intention of stopping until their demands were met.  They weren’t fighting to protect the environment, nor were they protesting against the president, they were fighting to learn.

This was the scene 6 years ago that re-energized the fight for reform in the education system in Santiago, Chile.  The student movement occurred from April-June of 2006 and was deeply reminiscent of the protests in the 1970’s against Salvador Allende, Chile’s last Marxist president that was overthrown in a military coup that took place on September 11th, 1973.

    The march for a better education was deemed “la revolución de los pingüinos,” or "the revolution of the penguins," aptly named for the school uniforms the protesting students kept on.  The student movement was against a law in Chile called the LOCE, or in English, the Organic Constitutional Law on Teaching, which strictly allowed only the state to regulate and protect the school system, with the majority of the major decisions on how the schools are run made by public and private corporations. This drastically leaves the parents, teachers, and administrators out of a say in how the schools should be run and what their kids are being taught.  A full 1.5 hour documentary was created on the revolution itself years after, and can be viewed here. (NOTE: It's in Spanish, but the images should give you a good idea of the march.)

The education reform movement itself has provided some changes in the education system of Chile, but not enough to truly make education truly a priority.  Since the Pinochet dictatorship (1973-1990), the education system in Chile has retained its economic, social, and racial inequality that continually seals off lower income percentages of the population access to quality education. The disparities and political, racial, and economic turmoil that existed in the 1970s during the dictatorship (that still exist today) is shown in the 2004 film, Machuca, through the eyes of two boys on opposite ends of the socio-economic spectrum.  The movie is available in multiple parts with english subtitles on youtube (first part is here). 

A 2008 article by the Council On Hemispheric Affairs explores more in depth the Chilean education system and its failings, including some of the worst test scores and literacy rates in the world, among other categories.  More recently, the Chilean education system has come under fire from UNESCO, while its university entrance test scores showcase the inequality in education between public and private  schools that plagues the country, resulting in one of the worst international scores in educating their people

So how do the students fight back?  Through the University of Chile's FECH student organization's leading activist president Camila Vallejo.  She has been the most popular name and face of the education movement in years past, even being named person of the year by the British newspaper The Guardian. Although she didn't win re-election to the university activist group, Vallejo has provided a solid repertoire of activism given her time with the FECH.  Recently the FECH has organized various sit-ins, "kiss-ins," and occupy-style events all over Chile, including a protest of over 60,000 students, parents, and staff to resist the new education minister's finance plan that ignores the disparity of the lower education classes and their access to higher quality education.  It has become so bad that even recently polled Chileans care more about education then they do crime (but then again, doesn't lower education beget crime?).  

Why are the events that are going on in Chile important? 

Because we too have changes to make.  

While on an overall international scale, the education system (public) in the United States maintains average test scores, literacy levels, and access, the stability of these levels vary within each state.  How do we as a country collectively educate ourselves to advance not only our way of life, but other people's?  What, then, is the government's role in education?

Taken right from the constitution (on a conservative website nonetheless):

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Is education, rather, access to education not a fundamental way to promote general welfare or insure domestic tranquility? Is healthcare? Are equal rights for all of its citizens also ways to honor this?

The point of bringing up the curious case of Chile is that it could be in fact an eerie prediction of what may happen in your local area. Governments that put profit, war, and ulterior motives (personal greed) in place of increasing the common knowledge and the education of society risk, as a nation, human rights violations coupled with extreme violence. 

Sebastian Piñera, current president of Chile (and the first president to be from the right since the dictator Pinochet) is a business man that became rich off of investments and wanted to run Chile's economy with a new strategy. He viewed healthcare, education, and social services in a different light, quoting a New York Times article on Camila Vallejo:

“We would all like education, health care, and many other things to be free,” Piñera said, “but when all is said and done, nothing in life is free. Someone has to pay.”

Sound familiar?(<----Click the link)

Keep all of this in mind all of you graduates of graduate programs, undergraduate programs, high school, middle school, or any public or higher method of education starting to make your way in the world.  

For those of you with Facebook status's that declare "I'm finally done with school forever!!!!" take a step back and think why you wanted to go to college to begin with. If your answer was, "to make more money," you'll find yourself with a void that money can't fill soon enough.  

In the end, we don't learn for the classes, for our moms, dads, our friends... we learn for ourselves.  Our education will drive us for the rest of our lives to challenge things and continually question how to solve complex problems in an even more complex society.  

Use your education to make someone else's (as well as your) life better... because in reality, 

We learn not for school, but for life.

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