Educating the Elite: Kelsie Lamb

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.  

Kelsie Lamb

Privileged children do not have to deal with the everyday realities of inequality and systematic oppression; therefore, educating them so that they care about their less fortunate neighbors can be difficult.

During the past two weeks in Peru, we have visited two privileged private schools, Colegio Roosevelt and Colegio de La Inmaculada. I was impressed by the schools’ resources (which included 3D printers and an actual zoo), but I also felt a bit uneasy knowing that these schools have so much while those in the surrounding areas must make do with so little. In the case of La Inmaculada, a wall separates them from the impoverished people living on the other side of the hill. This trend of “walls of shame” is common throughout Lima, as highlighted in this piece by Belen Desmaison. When we visited one of the neighborhoods that has been sectioned off by walls, Pamplona Alta, my classmates and I talked about what a fair and just education would look like for students who struggle to have their basic needs met. Grappling with these ideas was not easy, but now that we have spent a week in one of the schools on the wealthy side of the fence, I have started to realize that crafting a curriculum that promotes social justice and equality within elite schools comes with its own set of challenges. Privileged children do not have to deal with the everyday realities of inequality and systematic oppression; therefore, educating them so that they care about their less fortunate neighbors can be difficult. With my experience at La Inmaculada in mind, I can start to think about a just education for the elite and the roles of privileged schools in an unequal society.

As mentioned, one of the challenges in educating privileged students is their ignorance of inequality. As Ruben Gaztambide-Fernandez and Adam Howard write in their piece “Social Justice, Deferred Complicity, and the Moral Plight of the Wealthy,” “individuals with economic privilege have little awareness of economic oppression and sometimes deny that it even exists.” Because of this, a just education for the global elite should include first-hand encounters with widespread economic and educational disparities, bringing students face-to-face with the realities that are radically different from their own. La Inmaculada and Colegio Roosevelt both try to do this in various ways. For example, Colegio Roosevelt has monthly events that bring together their students with the children of their support staff; and La Inmaculada participates in “student exchanges” in which they come together with students from Pamplona Alta’s Fe y Alegria school for a day of activities and friendship building. Of course, simply making students aware of widespread inequality is not enough. It is also important for educators to teach students about why many people do not have equal access to resources. Much of the world’s privileged population believes that poverty is the fault of the poor. A truly just curriculum, especially in elite private schools, would explore how social and economic disparity is the result of hundreds of years of oppression and inequality. This is obviously a difficult topic to discuss with children, but student-friendly resources can help teachers facilitate this conversation, such as Susan Gage’s illustrated textbook Colonialism in the Americas: A Critical Look, which explores how some modern-day issues are the consequences of colonialism. I believe it is important for educators of the elite to expose their students to the causes and realities of modern-day poverty and injustice.

Once students are made aware of widespread disparities, it is also important for educators of privileged youth to use this knowledge productively. Often, when exposed to the realities of oppression, the privileged “may feel inadequate, powerless, overwhelmed, or hopeless to bring about change,” as Gaztambide-Fernandez and Howard describe. To avoid this, educators should foster students’ desire to work toward social justice. One of the ways this can be done is through the promotion of diversity and inclusion. In the piece “Diversity and Inclusion: Toward a Curriculum for Human Beings,” Maxine Greene writes that as students of various backgrounds are brought into contact with another, sharing their experiences and stories, “It is at moments like these that persons begin to recognize each other and, in the experience of recognition, feel the need to take responsibility for one another.” La Inmaculada’s “student exchanges” are a good way to bring students and teachers of various backgrounds together in a collaborative, meaningful way. Another way to help motivate students to work towards justice is by giving examples of people and programs that are helping the impoverished communities. For example, El Agustino’s Casitas Social Project has a variety of arts and sports related extra-curricular activities for students living in the hillside communities. My classmates and I were able to spend a few Saturdays and afternoons at various Casitas sites and witnessed the important developmental and social work that Casitas is doing. In addition, many of the older students from La Inmaculada work with Casitas, organizing activities and volunteering. Casitas’ relationship with the students of La Inmaculada is a good example of how students can be not only aware of social issues, but also actively work towards providing solutions.

Within this discussion of a just education for the global elite comes some ideas about the role of privileged school communities in an unequal society. While school trips to build houses or playgrounds in impoverished areas may seem like a good way to get students active and promote justice, this type of service is not always enough, as described by Jacob Kushner in his article “The Voluntourist’s Dilemma.” I believe it is important for privileged schools to do more than occasional charity work, and instead focus on promoting justice. Schools should frame their curriculum and philosophy around a mission or vision that promotes social justice. As a Jesuit school, La Inmaculada’s pedagogy is guided by the Jesuit ideals of “men and women for others” and “agents for change.” Colegio Roosevelt is not a religious school, but their mission statement calls for their students to “lead lives of integrity and create socially responsible solutions.” Having these socially-oriented goals is important to creating a just education for the elite. Privileged schools should go beyond activities and programs that provide short-term solutions for their surrounding communities; they should also embrace a justice-oriented curriculum that will (hopefully) produce socially-aware students who can think critically, problem-solve, and create sustainable solutions to promote equality.

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