This week I spent observing classes at a school in Santiago, Chile, a high school dedicated to adult education and to students who have been rejected from the traditional education system. A month ago we were asked what kind of school we wanted to visit, and I chose a school that utilizes popular education. To be honest, I wasn’t completely positive what the term “popular education” meant, but after a seminar on popular education last week, I knew that this school was the place I wanted to observe.
Folders that translate as (from top to bottom): Sadness, dreams, happiness, goals
Today I observed the equivalent of freshman/sophomore class in high school. Caleta is distinct in that all of its courses are dual programs in which students complete two academic years in one year. The students in this class ranged from 17-84 years old. I was disappointed by the first class, history, in which I observed the teacher simply writing summaries of the history lesson on the board and waiting for students to write it down, then she wrote more. There was little engagement between the teacher and the students.
The second class I observed was mathematics, which has never been a strong suit of mine, so I hoped to see if the employed pedagogy made the subject more interesting. 10 minutes into the class, a group of students started passing around a phone laughing at something, then they passed it to the teacher to show him what was so funny, and the profesor laughed and asked follow up questions about the photo. I was so confused as to why the profesor would let students interrupt his lecture to talk about something completely off topic.
I left the school that day feeling discouraged about their “popular education model” which was created originally to teach liberation not domination and to create a political and education revolution. But to me what I observed seemed a little chaotic.
Today everything made sense. I sat in on a history class for the 7th and 8th classroom with 7 students and one teacher. There were 16 questions listed on the board and the students and teachers sat in a circle facing each other. I sat there observing while the teacher asked students to reflect on their community: what they’ve heard about it from people living in a different community, what stories their parents have told them about it, the role of gangs and drugs in the neighborhood, and more. After the discussion, the teacher asked students to write down a list of 10 things the students would like to keep in their community and 10 things they would want to change in their community. While the students worked, I chatted with the professor about her experience at the school and I asked her about my preoccupations that I observed the day before. She told me that the alternative education at this school is unique in that the teachers’ main goal is to facilitate education and serve as a mediator rather than the all knowing individual. She shared with me the importance of listening to students not only so they know that they matter, but also because when a teacher spends time getting to know students, they can teach in a more engaging way. The math teacher from the day before wanted to learn about the interests of his students so that he could use relevant examples in his math lessons.
This realization changed my outlook on everything and redefined to me what the purpose of education is. I grew up attending private schools in which I was expected to be quiet and listen unless asked for my opinion, but at this school, the children’s interests ran the curriculum and informed the teachers’ approach to the classroom.
I am very grateful to this school for allowing me to observe the classes and for giving me a look into a popular education inspired curriculum.
10 things students would change about their neighborhood: 1) the lights 2) the dumps 3) the busses 4) location 5) the streets 6) the sidewalks 7) a better life 8) the positions without permission 9) the mayor 10) the schools