Educational Processes and Equity: 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

The variety of cultures and traditions present throughout Peru have helped me understand how schooling can be a cultural process.

However, simply acknowledging multiple cultures is not enough.

As I have learned throughout my studies in the College Education at Marquette, schools are more than a place to simply teach children their letters and math facts. This idea has been reinforced during my month in Peru; based on my observations, I have seen that schooling is a social, political, and cultural process. Over the past four weeks, my classmates and I have visited five Peruvian schools, both public and private, that have solidified the idea that schooling is more than just an intellectual process.

Besides teaching students content knowledge, the social process of education is also an important role of schooling. As Annette Lareau found in her study “Invisible Inequality: Social Class and Childbearing in Black and White Families,” children from poorer families are more likely to spend time alone. Because of this, the social activities that students engage in during the school day are important. As I saw while observing in Peru, there are many opportunities for students to interact and develop important social skills. For example, while in Fe y Alegria II in Lima, the students were encouraged to play with one another during free time, and if they began to quarrel, the teacher would step in to mediate and give them advice on how to better handle their disagreements in the future. The opportunity to interact with peers and receive support and guidance from teachers shows how schooling is also a social process. In addition to socialization, schooling can be considered a political process, especially when schools are funded by the government. What should/should not be taught in schools, how resources are allocated, and ways of measuring achievement are common issues that are debated in governments. In addition, schools can also get students familiar with the political process and how to be active within local and national politics. While I did not observe any formal political science or government instruction taking place in my field placements, the chapter “Our Strength is in the Power of the Community,” by Mark Warren and Karen Mapp, gives an example of students in Denver who organized and advocated for changes to take place within their school, which they felt was not adequately preparing them for college. This work was done through the Padres y Jovenes Unidos initiative, a group of parents and students actively working to improve their community and school. As this example shows, although still in school, young people can participate in the political process and work to make positive changes that will directly benefit themselves. This piece demonstrates the importance of the political process of schooling: “Political education…is the process by which the members and staff get to examine what impacts structural inequalities and power structures have on their daily lives.”

One of the “structural inequalities” that affects Peruvian schools is historical cultural inequality. As I have learned and written about, indigenous cultures are seen as inferior to the European ways and lifestyles that the Spaniards brought over during their conquest and colonization. Because of past attempts to eradicate indigenous cultures, some of the contemporary Peruvian schools we visited have placed a larger emphasis on the cultural process of schooling. For example, schools like the Fe y Alegria in Andahuaylillas, which delivers instruction in both Spanish and the indigenous Quechua, and Universidad Antonio Ruiz de Montoya in Lima, whose signs are written in indigenous languages and Spanish and hold cultural events every Thursday, are actively working to not only preserve indigenous culture, but also promote it as a source of pride. Many of the schools in the city of Cusco are also celebrating indigenous heritage. Each day we were in Cusco, the main plaza was filled with dancers and spectators. The dancers were from both schools and universities, performing traditional dances in preparation for an upcoming city-wide celebration for the Festival of the Sun. The variety of cultures and traditions present throughout Peru have helped me understand how schooling can be a cultural process.

However, simply acknowledging multiple cultures is not enough. As Paul Gorski and Katy Swalwell write in “Equity Literacy for All,” educators should be more focused on promoting equity than culture when discussing diversity. “A meaningful approach to diversity or multiculturalism relies more on teachers’ understanding of equity and inequity and of justice and injustice than on their understanding of this or that culture,” Gorski and Swalwell write. As I have witnessed and studied this past month, there is a series of complicated structures that both preserve and promote inequality within the social, political, and cultural processes of schooling. We know that there is a lot of work that has to be done to make these processes more equitable, both within the United States and Peru. The really difficult part of our comparative study of education comes when we start to formulate ways to actually promote equity in schooling. Peruvian and American educations exist within different contexts and face different problems and challenges, but during the past month, I have been able to consider some ways to make these more equitable. As Gorski and Swalwell argue, promoting equity involves an interdisciplinary and integrative curriculum for students of all ages. Making the processes of schooling more equitable involves implementing a high-quality, just education, which we have discussed in previous blog posts, for all students, especially those in marginalized groups. In addition to the suggestions from Gorski and Swalwell, the work done by Padres y Jovenes Unidos is an example of concrete progress towards equity. The social, political, and cultural processes of schooling directly affect the students, so it is important to get the students themselves involved. Making them aware of the issues that affect them and providing opportunities to actively work towards justice is a way that students and teachers can be collaborators in the struggle for equity. Visiting Peruvian schools, studying philosophies of education, and thinking critically about contemporary educational issues has shown me that creating a just education for all is extremely difficult. But instead of feeling discouraged by all the challenges, I am hopeful that current and future educators and students will work together to promote educational equity.

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