Race, Indigeneity, and Language: 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

Just as educators in Peru must keep the context of indigeneity and inequality in mind when formulating a fair and just curriculum, those in the United States must also deeply consider the effects of race when philosophizing about education.

While exploring and discussing the context of education within Peru, one of the topics that has come up is that of social inequality, which can result from economic, racial, and linguistic difference. Because of Peru’s complicated history as a conquered, colonized, then liberated nation, questions of race and culture still plague their society. For example, when the Spaniards arrived, they attempted to eradicate the indigenous people’s cultures. Only those who were European were seen as full citizens and treated with basic human rights. The effects of this are still felt today, as many people who speak the indigenous languages of Aymara and Quechua are marginalized and may feel ashamed of their culture. The consequences of the racist laws and regulations that the Spaniards put into effect years ago are still felt today, including within schools. As I have seen over the past few weeks, educators in Peru, just like those in the United States, must seriously consider racial inequality within their philosophy of education.

In Peru, historically, racial issues arose because of the perceived dichotomy between the “superior” Europeans and “uncivilized” indigenous peoples. For many people, these cultural differences and ideas about cultural superiority are what gave rise to these racial inequalities. In Marisol de la Cardena’s piece “Reconstructing Race: Racism, Culture, and Mestizaje in Latin America,” she says that some Peruvians believe that “culture was the imprecise, yet powerful force, that determined race.” Language is intimately linked to culture, so, in this case, it is intimately linked to race as well. Since Quechua and Aymara were the languages of the “inferior,” those who spoke these indigenous languages were also seen as “inferior.” Mercedes Nino-Murcia describes how the consequences of this colonial idea is still present in the 21st century, in her work “English is Like the Dollar: Hard Currency Ideology and the Status of English in Peru.” According to this piece, many Peruvians view knowledge of the English language as important to one’s eligibility for work and to determining one’s social status. As I saw during my field placement at Colegio de La Inmaculada, the school placed a great emphasis on English classes, and believed that their students would greatly benefit from a bilingual education. And as I participated in language exchanges with students from UARM, in which we spent a half-hour speaking in Spanish followed by a half-hour of speaking in English, they too believe that English is essential to their careers — one student even mentioned how he saw English as his future. As we left Lima behind last week and entered the highlands of Peru, we once again witnessed the importance of bilingual education in schooling. At another Fe y Alegria school, this time in the small Peruvian town of Andahuaylillas outside of Cusco, we had the opportunity learn about their unique and important bilingual curriculum. However, the classes at this school were taught in both Quechua and Spanish, as opposed to English and Spanish. This Fe y Alegria has chosen to embrace the beauty and value of the Quechua language and indigenous culture in an attempt to increase the pride and self-confidence of its students. While many Peruvians consider English a necessity, there is also a growing movement towards preserving, respecting, and celebrating the indigenous culture.

Similar to the feelings of shame some Peruvians may feel, Carter Godwin Woodson argues that “the lack of confidence of the Negro in himself and his possibilities is what has kept him down,” in his book The Mis-Education of the Negro. Woodson argues that society has “educated” African Americans to accept their “place” as second-class citizens, and not challenge racist institutions. Within our city of Milwaukee, issues of race and schooling are especially apparent because the city is so segregated. Further, the prevalence of racial issues throughout the globe means that discussing race when philosophizing about education is not only important, but also essential. Part of this is because of how inescapable the issue of race is — it can (and does) affect job opportunities, amount of schooling received, one’s geographical location, incarceration rates, and so much more. Charles Mills writes in his Racial Contract Theory, “Racism…is itself a political system, a particular power structure of formal or informal rule, socioeconomic privilege, and norms for the differential distribution of wealth and opportunities, benefits and burdens, and rights and duties.” As Mills argues, race and racism are prevalent throughout society, and, therefore, cannot be ignored. As we consider the importance of education and the role of schools in today’s society, it is important to keep in mind racial issues and how racism has affected and continues to affect our students. Just as educators in Peru must keep the context of indigeneity and inequality in mind when formulating a fair and just curriculum, those in the United States must also deeply consider the effects of race when philosophizing about education.

Pedagogical philosophies that consider differences and race within the classroom are getting at the heart of inequality. As we have been discussing throughout these weeks, modern-day disparity is rooted deeply in societal structures, such as what Mills discussed in his Racial Contract theory and what we have witnessed regarding attitudes towards language in Peru. Because of the persistence and prevalence of inequality, it is important to consider inequality when thinking about education’s potential and purpose. From a Freirean perspective, inequality affects the potential and purpose of education immensely because it is from this widespread inequality, in the form of oppression, that Freire developed his ideas about the liberation goals of education. Often, education is seen as important because it equips today’s youth with the knowledge and skills they will use to build a better future for themselves. But what a “better future” looks like is not always discussed. In his chapter “The Moral and Political Aims of Education,” Harry Brighouse poses the following question for educators to consider: What kinds of people should we hope our students will be? I hope our future students, with guidance and support, will be people who both recognize systemic inequality and actively work to promote equality. Because I hope my students become people dedicated to justice and equality, the ways we combat inequality becomes the foundation guiding education’s potential and purpose, and the way our philosophical ideas regarding education are put into practice.

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