'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Chilean School Occupations 

Recently, I was pleased to discover Raul Zibechi is now writing reports for the Americas Program. Zibechi, a South American academic, is well known for his studies of South American social movements, such as the ones associated with the indigenous peoples of Bolivia, as related in Dispersing Power: Social Movements as Anti-State Forces. Dispersing Power is, sad to say, one of those many books that I can never find the time to review, so you will have to find it and read it yourself to appreciate it.

In the meantime, though, as noted, the Americas Program is now posting Zibechi articles in English, and I recommend that you search them out. On January 25th, the Program posted one entitled A New Chile is Possible. Zibechi provides us with a report about student takeovers of schools initially subject to occupation after protests briefly mentioned here last year:

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.

Things were getting complicated because the occupation was weakening,Cristóbal says. It was clear to us that it wasn’t enough to just criticize our education. We had to do something more, but we didn’t know where to start until we heard that the Zanón workers were giving a talk at the University of Chile. We went to listen to them and when we came back we started running the school ourselves.

After the takeover, a majority of students—with the enthusiastic support of many parents—returned to school. Some of the teachers joined them. When I saw that my children were getting up and going to school without having to wake them up, that they were excited about going, I understood that they were doing something important, something that adds up to a different kind of education, says a mother at the basketball court, where the November sun shines brightly.

Non-teaching workers took refuge in a union resolution that authorizes them to not work without school management. The unions don’t work if there’s no boss, Cristóbal noted with irony, prompting bursts of laughter in the courtyard. In just a few months the secondary students have learned more than they did during years of monotonous classes. They take the initiative for their studies, propose topics, show up on time, and are delighted not to wear the government-mandated school uniform they call penguin suits.

Zibechi thereafter addresses this phenomenon within the context of the Pinochet imposed privatization of education that endures to this day.

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