As I sit in my new “home” in Cusco, I cannot help but to reflect and begin to digest the past week and all my time spent in Lima. The busy sounds of car engines and horns bumper to bumper and the sounds of children singing and laughing together in play, the smells of dirt and the oh so many dogs in the city, the sights of rich history, architecture and loving people, the taste of ceviche and rice at every meal, and, most importantly, the feelings I feel when thinking about this city all feel like home. Saying goodbye to our host family and our friends at Casitas this week was truly heartbreaking, but I know that they will all be with me wherever I may go. A piece of my heart is still in Lima.
For our last week in Lima, we traveled to Tupac Amaru and Roosevelt; two different schools, one public school and one elite private school, that we were able to observe and tour. Tupac Amaru, who welcomed us with open arms and even our own “paparazzi,” educated lower income students through focusing on the trades, including sewing, mechanics, cosmetology, and woodshop, to ensure that they will have the skills upon graduating if they are not financially able to go to college. The school has more traditional values with some valuable twists, such as collectively deciding upon rules prior to class taking place to ensure the students’ utmost autonomy. Roosevelt had an immaculate campus, with nearly every resource available to their students. From multiple libraries, countless computer and “maker” labs, and extracurricular activities with facilities on campus, to small class sizes, well trained and sought-after teachers with experience, and innovative, problem-based learning techniques used campus wide, Roosevelt was overwhelming to say the least. Aside from touring the two schools, we were able to participate in an alternative night school, P.E.A., in El Agustino. At this school, education is rethought to provide an education for students who otherwise were either set up to fail in the traditional school system or took a different path earlier in life and are studying to earn the equivalence of a G.E.D. We also were able to return to our Casitas, the after school program in El Agustino, which offers significant and effective ways to view students and their role within the classroom. The utter differences between these three schools and after school program was astounding, and the undeniable systematic inequality is at the forefront of my mind whenever I think of Lima.
In my opinion, educational inequalities are not fixable if the political, social and economic inequalities are not also addressed. It is well documented that students in poverty suffer both academically and physically, which also thus negatively influences their education. This cyclical effect on educational outcomes is not just from inequality of educational offerings, which is evidently present, but also results from the economic disadvantages and other obstacles that were systematically designed to keep the poor in poverty and the rich more rich. Educational inequality is far more than simply a material problem; it’s about the system by which we are building up our students’ self-esteem while exposing them to inquiry of real life problems. If it were solely about materials, it would be easy to equalize resources for every school in the world. But, it is the systemic racism against minorities within all systems, including political, cultural, social, legal and moral, that perpetuates the educational inequality. Justice is far more than a short term band aid on a ubiquitous problem; it is a constant battle that we must fight for the rights of each student. Every student is simply human, and it is about time that we implement this in our school to universalize the value of our students regardless of their backgrounds or what big government or systems tell us to believe about our students. They can do anything with the right tools and guidance.
When solely examining education, since it is our duty to provide a just, robust education for all students regardless of their area code, the aims of our current education system are wrong. The educational gap, stratified by race, class, gender and ability presented in a hierarchy calls for justice in order for flourishing to occur. Systematically, the educational system is put in place to encourage students who are able to memorize and regurgitate information on standardized tests that are biased towards wealthy white members of society anyways. In order to thrive, I argue that a focus on inquiry, through problem solving and critical thinking, beneficial differentiation, cultivating curiosity within the classroom, and true collaboration between teachers and students must occur. This then encourages flourishing, or students living out their purpose and the ultimate growth of the whole person and their soul. This flourishing looks different for everyone, which once again reinforces the need for a new system that attempts to shape all students to fit into an identical mold; this is not education! This is conforming to a system and true flourishing will never occur!
Some potential approaches within the classroom to aid in the fight against educational inequality include learning alongside your students, providing outlets that are otherwise deprived of students within school, and problem posing education. By simply teachers not acting as authoritative, omniscient figures but rather as inquirers alongside their students, barriers are broken down that elicit more meaningful, productive learning and discourse. This humanizing relationship allows for mutual care for students and teachers alike beyond an academic setting and allows for students to best learn. By cultivating this type of relationship with students, teachers are able to have more open conversations with students, positive school interactions, and simply to show students that teachers also share the common humanity with their students. Additionally, another way to approach educational inequalities is to provide students with opportunities to engage with manual labor and craftsmanship. Often times, the downright depressing traditional classroom is depriving students not only of true flourishing, but also of working with their hand to produce. This type of engagement allows for the critical thinking process to shape students interactions with the craft and provides more than traditional schooling. Finally, by using essential questions and problem posing as a form of inquiry within the classroom, the teacher can craft authentic learning experiences that will engage students in critical thinking prepare students for their future. Since our dehumanizing system relies heavily on memorization and recitation, students are objectified as test scores and are turned into zombies who give up their autonomy. However, by challenging students to reach their full potential through real life problem solving, they are able to truly flourish, despite the system sometimes not wanting them to.