“Colombians have this expression, that they all use — so, so many people have used it when I talk to them about their work for peace and for social change, and that is, Solamente podemos poner nuestro granita de arena. All we can do is put in our grain of sand. ”
— Poet & human rights activist Ruth Goring
It’s hard to stare inequality in the face. In our day-to-day lives, those of us who are privileged usually do our best not to see inequality, as borne out by the facts of our existence: In the US, we tend to live in racially and economically segregated neighborhoods, send our kids to segregated schools, join sororities and fraternities and other clubs with like-minded folks. Our jobs, hobbies, commute routes…all are generally designed to keep us moving about in our own bubble, unseeing of what lies beyond. For those of us on the other side, those of us living those inequalities, we don’t get to hide from them. Instead, the difficulty is that these inequalities fill us with anger, disappointment, despair, frustration, outrage, impotence, self-hate, exhaustion. It’s hard to stare inequality in the face.
But in Lima, our three weeks are structured so that we have to stare inequality in the face, however hard that may be. This is, after all, the purpose of our time here: to examine how educational approaches are connected to unequal social contexts in order to better consider what a just and equitable education can be. But this is hard work, emotionally and intellectually, as you’ll hear in this round of blog posts. At the end of week three, many students feel lost and overwhelmed. How do we make sense out of material inequalities and political systems and the need for survival? How do we make sense out of good teaching and equal opportunity and cultural relevance? How do we make sense out of the fact that these inequalities we experience are actually benefitting some folks who are therefore invested in maintaining this inequality? And most importantly, how do we make sense out of our role and complicity as educators, policy makers, and citizens?
In our third week in Lima, we spent time in a variety of distinct educational settings: Colegio Túpac Amaru, a public school in a low-income neighborhood; Colegio Roosevelt, one of Peru’s most elite private schools; Programa de Educación Alternativa MLK, an alternative night school for adults wanting to finish their secondary education; Lombriz Feliz, a community education and sustainability project in Lima’s biggest district; and of course, El Agustino’s Casitas after-school program and Universidad Antonio Ruiz de Montoya, our constant partners throughout our month here. These visits did not give us easy answers to our big questions about justice, equity, and education. In fact, throughout seminar this week, many students expressed the feeling that they understand these ideas even less now than when they arrived in Lima on May 20.
I get it. It’s hard to stare inequality in the face, especially because it can feel so overwhelming. Are these educational inequalities actually fixable? I think that’s where students’ sense of being overwhelmed comes from, and they’re right: a single teacher, a single school, a single educational experience cannot singlehandedly undo centuries of systemic and systematic inequality and oppression. But we can contribute our own grain of sand, in the classrooms where we will teach, in the elections where we will vote, in the choices we will make for our families and communities. As the Colombian saying reminds us, all we can do is contribute our own grain of sand. Therefore, as we move into this last week in Peru, I hope students will start to consider, What am I going to contribute? What is my grain of sand?