Blog Post #7: Educational philosophy without topic of differences: Is it possible?: Aditi Narayan

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.  

Aditi Narayan

There were many parents who did not see the point of sending their girls to get an education. Some parents allow their daughters to attend school long enough to be able to write their own names, before taking them out of school to help with household chores.

Hello Interwebbers!

If we address education only in terms of the logistics and the pure subject matter of academics, cutting out the social and cultural aspects of what we learn over the course of our education and our lifetimes, we would not be philosophizing about education. This is merely the act of talking about the information that schools teach their students: Math, reading, science, etc. If we were to philosophize about education, we would talk about the differences in the ways that schools all over the world teach the subjects and how we can use our knowledge to better ourselves and our communities. From a philosophical standpoint, it is not possible to talk and think about education without addressing the many differences that we encounter in our lives, including race.

Throughout this whole trip, we have experienced different ways in which we can philosophize about education based on how the inequality affects the way we conceive of education’s purpose and potential. The Fé y Alegría number 44, for instance, is a perfect example of this. When we went to visit the school, we talked about how the students have so many differences that range from different languages to communities. While the school teaches the students the various courses that they need to know (Math, Reading, Writing, etc.), there are many programs for the students and the parents to interact with one another as they learn. The school is trying to increase on the equity between boys and girls, so that girls may learn as much as boys do. With each passing slide from the presentation, I learned more about their mission and what it means to be part of Fé y Alegría.

We learned about a girl and her friend, who walk for hours just to attend school. One of the girls, Dina, lives in a small house up in the mountains with her mother and father. It is so cold up there, and they have a small fire that they use for cooking and for heat. Dina has problems washing herself because the water is well past freezing cold. The water burns her skin to the point where she was near frostbite. Her skin around her hands, cheeks, and feet would turn black. Her parents explained that they are living too high up for plants to grow. So, she comes to school dirty, and her classmates keep asking her why she comes to school covered in dirt. There were many parents who did not see the point of sending their girls to get an education. Some parents allow their daughters to attend school long enough to be able to write their own names, before taking them out of school to help with household chores.

The family said that they raise alpaca for a living, since they are the only animals in the region that can live at that high of an altitude. The teacher giving the presentation explained that this video that we watched about Dina was the reality for so many other students at this Fé y Alegría school and others like it. We learned that the students who attend this school come from impoverished families who either live close by or hours away. I asked if there was any type of motor transportation that could take the students to school. According to the teacher, there aren’t any roads that far up in the mountains, and the gas to fuel the bus would be very expensive, about 30 soles per tank, which the parents cannot afford to pay.

The students and teachers at this school learn about values as well, such as respect, acceptance, and understanding for all people from different walks of life. This particular school started their program as a bilingual language school, where they would initially teach in the students’ native language, but slowly integrate Spanish into the curriculum to the point where the subjects would eventually be taught in Spanish. Most of the teachers were not from this region where the students are from, so it is difficult to communicate with the students. The students were absolutely terrified to communicate with their teachers. Some girls would go so far as to cover their faces with their scarves as they attended school, to avoid speaking at all. The students very quickly acknowledged the differences between them and the teachers, who were considered to be outsiders. Slowly, but surely, the students started warming up to the teachers. They started to talk more and have more fun learning in their classes. Despite the variety of languages, the barriers went down as the students learned a formal written form of Quechua in their primary years, how to speak in Spanish later on, and how to integrate their knowledge into their lives in their secondary school years (for those who attended secondary school).

Another problem that the school faces is the age range of the students in each grade level. In a first-grade primary class, there could be students ranging from ages 6 to 15. There are many parents who refuse to send their children to school at a young age from such a great distance. The walk alone is dangerous, and the children would have to make the trek on their own. This is a great problem for girls especially. There are many young women who start primary school at age 15 and feel embarrassed and ashamed to be sitting in the same classroom as young children who are significantly younger than them. Some drop out of school after primary, but those who choose to move on to secondary school can take classes during the nights or during the weekends, because they will be expected to work as they get older.

These are just a few things that I learned from the meeting in Fé y Alegría that pertains to the idea that there are many differences surrounding the students and teachers at this school and others like it, that serve the impoverished population that live higher in the mountains. As far as race is concerned, that is a worldwide problem that needs solving. Even in the US, there are still problems with race in our schools, workplace, and in our homes. Even between men and women, there is prejudice and discrimination in the American society, despite the various movements, such as feminism, vocally fighting to generate more equality and better equity for everyone. This education must start in schools from the beginning. Our men and women of the future need to understand that we are all human beings and are to be treated with equal respect. Carter Godwin Woodson, author of The Miseducation of the Negro: An African-American Classicdescribes how African-American students have been getting beaten with the short end of the stick for a long time in the education history. The text describes various laws that did not allow the ‘Negro’ population to vote (I use the word Negro because it is used quite frequently in the text). These laws permitted ignorant (uneducated) white people, specifically white males, to vote while keeping educated black citizens out of the voting booths.
Charles Mills explains in his book, The Racial Contract, that “White supremacy is the unnamed political system that has made the modern world what it is today…What is needed … is a recognition that racism… is itself a political system, the particular power structure of formal or informal rule socioeconomic privilege, and norms for the differential distribution of material wealth and opportunities, benefits and burdens, rights and duties…” What all that means is that our society and economy, for a long time, has been based around the idea that there is a particular population of people that will always succeed over others, no matter how much the minority population tries. Mills refers to the majority white, or Caucasian, population in the United States. There are still many work places that would hire a white person over a person of any other race simply because they can relate to the typical employer the most. Generally, we like to gravitate towards people who look like us, have similar backgrounds and act like us. However, it becomes a problem when people think that it is acceptable to deny other people their rights to a job, rights to proper healthcare, rights to vote, and other such important rights simply because of the color of their skin or sexual orientation or sex (man/woman/other), that is when we need to reevaluate how we think of people.
I would like to instill in my students in the future that we all are citizens of this world. Our blood looks the same, our bones and organs look the same, and how we treat each other should with equal amounts of respect. This also applies to how we take care of the environment, and how we can create a better society as a whole. With the idea of racism and segregation still looming over our heads, it is our job as teachers to instill into the minds of our students that we need to speak up and take actions about the problems we face. It is not acceptable to treat one person with respect and another with complete disrespect. If we want to see a new and better world, we must start with those who have just arrived into it, mold their minds to create a whole new world of equity and justice for all.

Until next time,
Aditi Narayan

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