This past week, we traveled to Cusco to experience the Andean schooling context. In comparison to Lima, the Andean educational context was different because of the cultural and physical challenges that some students face. In the Andes, many students must walk for hours to school, facing violence and facing the world that sees them as lesser simply because many Andean people speak a different language. These different contexts and the ideas of superiority between the people of Cusco or Lima and students at Fe y Alegria, the equivalence of a charter school in the United States that is publicly funded, influence education. Similarly in the United States, segregation of Caucasians and African Americans perpetuated racism and created further ideas of white supremacy, and not to mention that once the Brown decision was made, the equality of education was not remotely a focus. Here in Peru, the Quechua speaking community is discriminated against by the Spanish speaking community so much so that children from Quechua speaking families are not being taught their language in hopes that they will not be “tainted” by their culture. In both of these contexts, racism exists because of the idea of the “status quo,” including education. Schools, like Fe y Alegria, are realizing this trend and empowering students to be proud of their heritage and their community, by seeing it as an asset-based difference. We must acknowledge discrimination and educate others within the classroom to take down perceptional stereotypes and empower our students to advocate for their own human rights and the rights of others. These different contexts shape school culture and education in many ways. Context is arguably one of the most important things in education, as in order to educate, one must acknowledge different backgrounds, unique perspectives, and cultural relevancy. Yet, while the context in Lima and the Andes are different, this should not impact the equity of their education.
When comparing education in Lima and the Andes, I am unsure if education is equal, but I feel that the equity of education is more important to examine. Equity, a foundational belief of education in that each student should be differentiated in order for success to ensure, should give each student the extra boost needed to succeed within the classroom and within a broader context. In order for education to be equal, it must be universal, which systemically is prohibited throughout the world. However, even if equality could be made possible, it would not work in my opinion. Equality is most definitely a step in the right direction, as it would in theory provide each student with equal opportunity and resources, but equality does not account for individualism. Schools should be reinforcing students’ individualism by providing what each student needs. By not acknowledging that each student has different needs and different perspectives, the system is inherently unequal. I propose that equity is most important as it examines the individual student as a person; someone who does not fit into a mold that education attempts to solidify. Equity within our schools would give all students in turn the true equal opportunity to flourish.
Too often, certain schools are portrayed in a negative way due to damage centered research; a type of research that aims to document all the negative aspects of communities and schools. For example, when looking at a school like Fe y Alegria, one might be tempted to focus on the negative aspects rather than the all the positive. Not only does this damage the self-esteem of students, but it is the exact opposite of asset-based education. This damaging practice only prolongs stereotypes and dismantles progress. In reality, Fe y Alegria is a student centered school that does have their own obstacles, but does not dwell on them. They acknowledge them and work to combat them by empowering their students to grow and be the person that they are destined to become; true flourishing. Even when communities are “broken and conquered,” they are so much more than they seem. They are towns with loving people, a rich culture and self determination that is beyond compare. Social realities exist and there is no changing that. But, it is what we do to adversely fight portrayal of stereotypes and provide students an opportunity to grow within classrooms and a voice to share their own stories that makes a n impact on students lives. In order to humanize education, one must look at all perspectives.
This past month is something I will never forget. Yes, traveling around Peru was absolutely amazing; the sights were unlike anything I had ever seen before, the food was spectacular, and Machu Picchu was everything I had expected and more. Yet, what I will remember the most is love. The love and sense of welcoming that radiated from each of the students I encountered, the love of the rich culture of Peru, the love and equal humanity that made Peru feel like home, and my own love of learning, exploration and equity. In this month, I have changed. I have been empowered through experience, knowledge, and self-reflection in such a way that I cannot ignore. Once I am home, this empowerment will fuel me to face the inequalities in education within my own classroom by providing mentorship to my students, by giving my students a high quality inquiry based education to facilitate their academic and personal growth, and by encouraging them and proving to them that despite the obstacles systematically placed in their way, they can be anything they want. Every student, no matter their socioeconomic class, race, or gender deserves an education that will empower them, give them equal opportunity for knowledge, and create relationships that will instill security, mentorship and positive self determination. Thank you Peru for allowing myself to grow as a person and as a future educator and for allowing me to discover the inequities living right before my eyes back home. My passion that I take away from this trip will guide me for the rest of my life, and my soul has been awakened.