This Is Not a Service Trip: Dr. Melissa Gibson

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.  

Dr. Melissa Gibson

As students of education, we are trying to understand the relationship between pedagogy and the social contexts of schooling.

In Pamplona Alta with Luís & Yisella.

People keep asking us, What are you doing here in Perú? We are not volunteering. We are not missionaries. We are not voluntourists. What are we then? There doesn’t seem to be a familiar paradigm for answering that question, and we always get a bit of a cock-eyed look when we explain, We are here studying education in Peru. Researching, do we mean? Teaching about education, do we mean? Practice teaching, do we mean? Nope. We are studying education in Peru.

Why, then, the trip to Pamplona Alta, where families opened up their bathrooms to us to show us the engineering marvel of a dry/compost toilet? Or why keep going back to El Agostino to play soccer and jump rope? What is this, if not slum tourism or voluntourism?

Pamplona Alta, a pueblo jóven, or informal settlement. Lima is over-populated and unplanned, and there is a shortage of livable space. Pueblos jóvenes were settled by folks living in other parts of Lima or in the highlands who wanted homes of their own. From nothing but a dusty and rocky mountainside they’ve constructed, from scratch, a community. This one, Nueva Rinconada, is especially tightly knit and committed to the gradual improvement of living conditions. With only one public school serving all of Pamplona Alta—much of which is inaccessible by car and without running water—the question of context in education is especially pressing.

As students of education, we are trying to understand the relationship between pedagogy and the social contexts of schooling. I guess you can do that theoretically, but those relationships become clearest when we are actually immersed in differing contexts and when we can actually begin to experience different philosophies of education put into practice. Because we are working with a Jesuit university partner while we are here, we are lucky to get to visit and learn about various Jesuit social projects. So in Pamplona Alta, Luís, a biologist working with PEBAL, walked us around to show us his work—which included installing fog catchers and dry toilets. In El Agostino, Patí and all of her Encuentros programs welcome us visitors to get to know their work with children in the neighborhood. Through partnerships and relationships, we learn about not only the different neighborhood contexts of Lima but also about how different people are approaching their work in these contexts.

Legos, ping pong, foosball, soccer, and scooter riding. Every kid’s dream of how to while away an afternoon.

The Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm calls us to cyclically move through an investigation of context, experience, and rigorous reflection. We are, therefore, here to experience a context both similar and different from our own; our seminar readings provide some structure and prompts for our reflection. We continually cycle through these three phases of Ignatian pedagogy, knowing that the final two components—action and evaluation—will come later, in our own context, where we are actors and agents and not visitors.

So no, we are not volunteers or missionaries or teachers or researchers. We are not here to fix anything, to engage in charity, or to feign to have the answers. We are also not here to ogle. No, we are here to learn, and we are lucky to do so in partnership with communities and individuals who are so deeply involved in positive social and educational change.

We are students, and we are here to learn.

Looking down on El Agostino from the losa, or slab, in the mountains where we played soccer and practiced our Spanish with neighborhood kids.

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