Fé y Alegria… y Dinero: Grace Chambers

This summer, seven of our undergraduate teacher education students and one intrepid faculty member are spending a month in Peru studying the educational system and discussing their own philosophies of education. They are writing and reflecting on their journey, and we are following along! Read on for excerpts and blurbs from Dr. Gibson and the students’ blogs. You can read more on Marquette Meets Peru and check back for updates here.  

Grace Chambers

And I was absolutely sick to my stomach. I hadn’t felt that close to vomiting since I got the stomach flu in 7th grade history class. My stomach buckled under the pressure of the privilege.

Teachers are told time and time again, “Those who can’t, teach.” While there are few things that can make me angrier (don’t ask me about the link between vaccines and autism, or the 2016 Stanley cup playoffs), for the most part, I’m over it. I know that teachers are kind, caring, capable, and college-educated. My teachers have been some of the most influential men and women in my life. I know teachers can, most people know that teachers can, but the third thing that will make me angrier that this ignorant statement, is someone saying that students can’t. As an aspiring inner-city educator, I am frequently asked about low test scores, below-grade reading levels, lack of resources, yada yada yada. The stigma surrounding urban education – especially in schools where the majority of children are young people of color – is that students cannot achieve.

The notion of achievement discrepancies is carried in countries all over the world. During our time in Peru, we are given the opportunity to observe schools that teach students of varying socioeconomic backgrounds. So far this week, we were given the opportunity to tour two schools. One is named Fé y Alegria (faith and happiness), and it is a middle/working class school that serves students aged pre-k through high school. It is a public school run by a private religious institution, a concept foreign to me because in the United States we have separation of church and state. The school more or less met my expectations, and I was excited to observe educational practices here. The school offers classes to students that are similar to the classes I took at school. They have math, history, science, Spanish, English, gym, and art. It has a newly painted blacktop and other gymnasium space outside as well. The teachers are kind and helpful, and from what we could tell have a positive relationship with the student body. When I was walking around, I felt like the school was wonderful, but by some educational standards, it measures at only an “average education.” The second school we visited was Collegio Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It is an American international school that serves elite members of the Lima community. Many students are children of diplomats or other upper-class members of society.

Roosevelt was the most impressive educational institution I have ever laid eyes on. They had state of the art technology, innovative learning spaces, and eco-friendly buildings. The students are given freedom to learn about things that they choose. They can develop their passions and interests in their classrooms, work collaboratively on projects, and explore fields of entrepreneurship and engineering. There are countless after school activities available and outdoor spaces out the wazoo. And I was absolutely sick to my stomach. I hadn’t felt that close to vomiting since I got the stomach flu in 7th grade history class. My stomach buckled under the pressure of the privilege. Even though it was constructed as an open campus, I felt increasingly claustrophobic with every step I took. After visiting each room, my heart sank thinking about my students back home, who have struggled to afford books, and this school can provide its students with dozens of beanbag chairs. I was overwhelmed by the vastness of the resources; however, I was not that surprised. The way that this school is structured ties into a few pre-departure readings we did covering topics of racism and linguistic prejudice. Racism in Peru isn’t exactly racism, as it is closer to classism. Those who speak English are typically the most affluent individuals in Peru, and it is seen as a language of privilege. Those who speak Spanish are associated with a middle or working class. Those who speak only indigenous languages are often discriminated against and kept at a low socioeconomic status. Roosevelt is an English immersion school, therefore all the classes except Spanish and French are taught in English. The students who attend Roosevelt are children of diplomats or other wealthy upper-class members of society. Part of the reason parents send their children to Roosevelt is because English education is viewed as “good schooling,” because of the privilege associated with speaking the English language.

The feelings I felt after leaving Roosevelt were not those of anger. I was not bitter that Roosevelt students are offered insurmountable opportunities. I was not upset by the technology or the facilities. I was extremely disappointed because so many of my students will not be offered the same. Most of them will not have educational recourses that come close to matching those available at Roosevelt. I am profoundly disheartened by the inequity between Roosevelt and almost every other school that exists. I am most disheartened by the fact that my students deserve a school like this one. They are smart, talented, capable developing individuals who deserve every opportunity to express their intelligence and interact and explore the world they live in.

On days like today when I am dwelling in the hopelessness of systemic racism and educational inequity, it helps to consider what my students have done without the same opportunities schools like Roosevelt have. My students are reading 40+ pages per night without a school-wide library. My students are developing their passions and talents without an idea lab or a performance center. My students are writing papers and doing research without computers at home. My students are working for months, creating presentations to stand against injustice without professional editing tools. My students have written books, solved complex problems, developed professional skills, taken a stand, and proven their passion for learning. While I will never stop wishing and working towards equity, I will teach successfully knowing that my fellow educators are molding students to build on their assets. I will teach passionately knowing that my past, present, and future students can.

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