Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 198 | Enero 1998


Latin America

A School Where People Learn How to Learn

THE EFFECTS OF ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL GLOBALIZATION ARE DENOUNCED DAILY but, given that transnational interests move with the same objectives in the economic and cultural fields, we should denounce the hegemonic domination that globalization wants to have over culture with the same force.

Regina Leite Garcia

THE EFFECTS OF ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL GLOBALIZATION ARE DENOUNCED DAILY but, given that transnational interests move with the same objectives in the economic and cultural fields, we should denounce the hegemonic domination that globalization wants to have over culture with the same force.

They Love New York

The information circulating in the world today is ever more hegemonized by transnational interest groups that work to form-deform consciousness in an effort to make people submit to neoliberal "values." Neoliberalism needs to create a broad consensus around individualism, competition and consumerism, the three "indispensable" values for their project to be successful as the "only alternative" for our world.

In both form and content, the television, music, dance, movies, painting, fashion, publishing and publicity that we see in our countries are becoming reproductions of cultural products generated in the central countries, what were called "metropoli" in colonial times. Frequently, what is presented to us as a national product is no more than the imitation of a foreign creation and is simply imported, sometimes without even being translated, because English is more and more becoming the "official language."
This reality is so overwhelming that a well-known Brazilian journalist went so far as to say that the concept of illiterate had changed, that today "to be illiterate is not to know English." Computer language is English, propaganda language is English and so-called national theatre, in its search for an international market, has transformed itself into bad-quality American theatre. Compact discs are taped outside of the country, movies are edited outside, books are produced outside. While using the perhaps true justification that American quality is better than Brazilian and that costs are lower than in Brazil, our artists are helping destroy our incipient national industry.

At this turn of the century, in any corner of Latin America, our youths are dressing like youths in New York or in Europe; they listen to the same music, watch the same movies, follow the same television programs, receive the same information, have the same habits, incorporate words into their daily language that they often don't understand the meaning of, and do publicity with the same ideology on their shirts and jeans that are the same brands. Many of them "love New York," a city they have never been to but carry on their bodies with the symbol of the big apple... All of this is part of the "literacy" process that makes them "modern."
Community life is being contaminated with the postmodern narcissistic lifestyle in which men and women lose their national, local and family identity without acquiring the desired cosmopolitan identity. Rejecting the identity that they are being taught to scorn because it is anachronistic, they condemn themselves—or rather are condemned—to hang from fragile threads of belonging to a global cybernetic civilization incorporating the lifestyle and consumption patterns of the international bourgeois minority, whose lives they can only approximate through their fantasies and the denial of their selves.

Given this reality, the words of José Martí seem even wiser when he said to us: "One must be faithful to one's people, because from the people one receives the conditions with which to shine. And whoever would deny one's people would be, like a thief, deprived of one's very wings, one's brain and the guts of one's understanding."
The terrible feeling we have—negation of ourselves, our culture, our values, our nationality—is indispensable to the globalization process. On the contrary, affirmation of our own culture, our own values, our nationality, faithfulness to our people, as Martí proposed, is indispensable to the construction of an emancipation project.

What Was Bread and Circus Is Now Just TV

The imitation of the dominator is homogenizing the world, turning everyone into potential consumers, breaking the links of belonging as everyone starts competing with everyone else, even if they were once friends or even brothers and sisters. People leave neighborhoods where they used to live in community to take refuge in shopping malls, consumer temples where, if they can't buy, they take satisfaction consuming with their eyes. Family time is being replaced with television, which brings the world into every home, even before that world has been thought about, comprehended, criticized. The news itself tells us of populations massacred in the Third World, announces to us the passing of a comet, comments on the most recent politicians' robberies, shows us the derrieres of women at the Río de Janeiro Carnival. The presenter doesn't even change facial expression or tone of voice to communicate news of misery or luxury, repression of grassroots sectors and those who fight for freedom or the splendor of the great world fashion "events." The abyss that separates the so-called civilized world from the populations of Africa or Latin America, the birth of a cub in a London zoo, the hole in the ozone layer that is threatening the planet, or the world problem of unemployment: all are treated with similar neutrality.

The news is quick, superficial, fragmented, alternating the serious with the frivolous, presenting as natural what should provoke reflection and reaction. This is exactly what produces what Noam Chomsky calls "the making of consent." The people must be distracted, not educated.

There was a time when the people were given bread and circus. Now it is enough to offer them television and let them be distracted, so they end up alienated from their own miserable existence and powerless to react against the process of domination and exploitation that victimizes them.

Research shows us that there are many more televisions than telephones in the poorest areas of Latin America. This is not at all surprising, because it is more important to the system to have an informed public—naturally, with the information that is advantageous to those in power—than a public in communication. Communication could contribute to popular organization and build up the struggle for emancipation.

"Human Capital:" Everyone's Discourse

The globalization process is not only taking place through economic and political domination, but even more powerfully through cultural penetration. The school finds its role in this area, a privileged space for consolidating hegemony.

Given the current situation, our first question should be: why schools if the people are already being "educated" by television? And a second, no less important, question: why do such divergent interests currently offer the same discourse about the importance of school in the life of individuals and societies? Could the value of school, so often proclaimed today, possibly have the same significance for exploiters as for exploited?
The discourse of modernity continues to be accompanied by the discourse that insistently values education. Education would be the conditio sine qua non for Third World countries to emerge from underdevelopment. Sustainable human development and investment in human capital have become fashionable concepts that, beginning with the World Bank, are incorporated into the official and business discourses and are distributed through the media until reaching the schools, where these terms are defended by "modern" professors.

These professors do not know that one of the World Bank's most emphatic recommendations is the radical reform of the educational system in Latin America, which would undoubtedly affect them. Latin American public universities already feel in flesh and blood what this reform means, because it has reduced their resources in recent years. Today, an Argentine university professor at the height of his or her career and with a doctoral degree, earns a monthly salary of US$500, less than an unskilled worker earns in the United States. In many regions of Brazil today a primary school teacher earns less than $3 an hour and the monthly salary is below the official minimum wage.

While all of this takes place, Latin American schools are being "informatized," equipped with televisions and VCRs, and are beginning to receive pedagogical kits bought from transnational businesses or large national conglomerates like the Roberto Marinho Foundation or the Victor Civitas Foundation of Brazil.

Jokes in bad taste now circulate about what is happening in Brazilian schools with the arrival of "modernity": schools that have received computers while not one teacher has been trained to use them; schools that are supposed to begin surfing Internet but don't even have telephones; schools that receive all the paraphernalia of modern technology without having any space to put the "gift." Sometimes the television news shows—maybe mistakenly, maybe through conflict of interests—that they are not really jokes.

And when the crisis is manifested, the official discourse that so valued and prioritized education changes its tune. This happened in Mexico in 1994 during the financial crisis. On that occasion, the economist who runs the World Bank in Mexico let the mask on the discourse slip, revealing the model's true face: paying on the foreign debt was again top priority, and concerns about the environment or education were relegated to a back burner.

Latin America: Illiteracy Record

The educational project proposed by the World Bank, the neoliberal governments and the Latin American business classes is based on the statement that education is one of the essential factors for national progress and growth. Education should therefore be integrated with economic, social, political and cultural demands. Only with an integral education will our countries have the conditions to reach desired levels of production and international competitiveness. For these theoreticians, public spending on education is an investment in capital and a factor of equity and development.

The theoreticians of this conceptual focus on human capital have come to believe that the underdeveloped countries are responsible for their high unemployment levels. A population that does not have the educational levels the world requires today will cause capitalists to invest in countries with better educated populations, generating new jobs with those investments.

It is interesting to note that, despite the World Bank's exaltation of the value of education, and its proud claim that it has supported education on the continent in the last twenty years and is prepared to help Latin America overcome the difficulties it faces in its educational system, Latin America's illiteracy index is still among the world's highest. Close to 42.5 million Latin American adults do not know how to read or write.

Despite the World Bank discourse and actions, university access remains limited for the working class, for blacks, indigenous and mestizos; in Brazil's case, a worker's average education today is only three and a half years. The number of Latin American blacks and indigenous entering school, succeeding and obtaining a university degree is insignificant.

Discussing Latin American education seriously implies confronting the problem of education for the grassroots, which is in the majority indigenous, black and mestizo. They should be the priority, they the heirs of those who were already on this land when the first Europeans arrived, or descendants of Africans who brought here as slaves by the Europeans, or those who are the fruit of this mixture of Europeans with indigenous and Africans.

They are the ones who fail in school and later will fail in society. Despite the democratizing discourse, schools anticipate their social failure with their selection, classification, discrimination and exclusion processes. School failure is the first step in social failure and in maintaining the status quo.

They Enter School Requesting Permission

The school is an institution hegemonized by white, patriarchal, Western and Christian culture. Teachers are trained in this logic. Textbooks disseminate it. And everything that lies outside of that hegemonic logic is considered irrational, absurd and ignorant.

When a white middle-class or bourgeois boy enters school, he brings with him the cultural capital indispensable for success. He also brings the certainty that he will be successful because that is what his family, his socioeconomic-cultural group and global society expects. The saying "What is good is born that way" is applied to those "born already made" because of their class, their ethnicity, their race. Those boys and girls learn to read and write and during their time in school they learn everything necessary to become leaders later. Or more exactly: in global society's eyes it is accepted as natural that the sons and daughters of the bourgeoisie aspire to become leaders. Their class, their ethnicity and their race prepare them objectively and subjectively to be able to do that.

In contrast, when mestizo, black or indigenous boys and girls from the popular classes finally get into school after a long struggle to register, they arrive with the stigma of failure from their social class and socio-cultural group. They go in humbly, requesting permission, because no one has ever told them they have the right to study. Even before entering school they have already learned that they have no rights. At every moment of their life, society teaches them, especially through work relationships and ideology distributed through the media, that "those who can run things, and those who are well-behaved obey."
When these boys and girls overcome their fear of school—an unfriendly environment much different than where they live—and dare to open their mouth to talk, they often face teachers who react by correcting what they say, telling them they are speaking incorrectly. So they remain quiet and don't speak up again. They soon learn that school is a place for silence, where only professors should and can talk.

Children in the traditional school system are also prohibited from sharing discoveries and doubts. This is "copying" at school and brings punishment upon the children. The idea of sharing knowledge—when someone who knows teaches those who don't yet understand—is given a moral connotation that is particularly impossible for boys and girls from the popular classes to understand, because they share everything in solidarity; it is one of the survival mechanisms they know best.

What Is the Point of Learning?

There is no need to say that, when sharing is punished and penalized, schools are ignoring what Vygotski calls "zones of proximal development" where children will be able to do alone tomorrow what they perform today with the help of friends who already understand, thus becoming more intellectually autonomous.

Even if there had been no research by Vygotski, it is terrible that curiosity and generosity become objects of punishment, since the child who asks a classmate about what he or she does not yet understand is demonstrating a desire and curiosity to know the unknown. And the child who teaches the one who asks the question is generously sharing knowledge. Doesn't prohibition of and punishment for sharing this knowledge sharing actually exalt competition, such a beloved value of capitalism?
Children listen to teachers in school. The teachers have exclusive rights to words, to speak of strange things in a "strange language." They teach many things but do not teach what those things are for. That is why so many children go to school for eight years—the obligatory, though not always respected schooling in Brazil—without even understanding why school exists.

Some children go to school only to eat, because all public schools give snacks to the children. In Brazil, official television propaganda reinforces the idea that snacks attract children to school, by showing a succulent plate of food while a voice is heard saying: "Children who go to school are children who eat." Is it only the children who have the privilege of going to school who need to eat?
Television should be used to educate people and show the importance of school, of what is taught or should be taught, to convince them why it is so important to learn to read and write, to teach parents and children the social function of writing, which schools don't always teach. Perhaps if official propaganda would show adults and children using the written language, children would be more interested in learning to read and write. Then, if they want to learn they really will learn. We all know that we only learn what we have desired and felt has value for us.

When children don't even understand the importance of learning to read and write, it's very hard for them to understand the value of knowledge. They see no reason to learn what the school says is so important unless they can understand the reason for the publicly announced importance.

All pedagogical theories tell us that when schooling begins, children learn to learn and, above all, learn the sense and pleasure of knowing. But how can they discover the sense of knowledge and the pleasure of learning if they fail in their first attempt, which is literacy? How can a person learn who does not see the sense in what others insist on teaching them?
Illiteracy is one of the most serious problems facing Latin America, especially a country like Brazil. Over 20% of the population is illiterate, according to official statistics, taking into account that literacy in Brazil is defined as just being able to write one's name.

Who are the millions of Latin American illiterates? In Brazil, in Latin America in general and throughout the world, illiterates are always the children of illiterates or semi-literates, the children of those who never went to school, or who went and instead of at least learning to read, write and count, learned that they were incapable of learning. The illiterates of today are the sons, daughters, brothers and sisters of those who failed in school, of those who learned in school that their failure was their own fault.

Those who are "Thick-Headed"

How many times in my years as a literacy teacher have I found myself on the first day of class with a mother desperately imploring me: "Push my child, force her, see if she can learn, because she is thick-headed." Will a girl who grows up hearing that she has a "thick head" be able to shake off the judgment of her own mother who sees her as unable to learn? Will she be able to break the stigma of school failure in the family? Will she be able to perceive herself as capable of learning when her own mother says she will only learn if the teacher forces her to, showing a lack of belief in her own daughter's ability to learn?
According to the mother, only a very competent teacher—one able to goad her daughter—will be able to get somebody from an "unintelligent" family, with "thick heads," to learn something. The very image of goading, of forcing, is significant: like someone who forces a mule who stubbornly refuses to move from its spot. The stubborn mule stuck in one place only moves forward when someone pinches or goads it. This is the role that the mother hopes the teacher will play with her daughter, whom she sees as a mule.

We all know the importance of the first years of schooling. There is planted the seed of the future relationship between the human being, knowledge and the world, a world that includes people, groups, society and nature. In these first years, competent pedagogical action—which is committed to change—provokes "the passion for knowing the world" and passion for the world itself. Those who are formed in a committed and impassioned school become aware citizens committed to building a better world. Aware citizens committed to the collective good are forged in those first years.

As long as pedagogical action is linked to an excluding project like the neoliberal one, what will be constructed in school is conscious or unconscious subordination in the children from the popular classes, and possessive, competitive and consumerist individualism in the children of those in power.

Although schools are presented as neutral territory, they are actually a space for the hegemonic struggle. Hegemonic interests make the creation of a quality school for children and youth from the popular classes difficult or even impossible, while the interests that oppose that hegemony fight to spark political debate about the role of the school and culture as part of an emancipation movement in which those historically subordinated and hegemonized can participate.

To discuss the school's role in an emancipatory perspective takes us to Gramsci. His concern was that "the democratic tendency consists not only of a manual worker becoming a skilled worker, but of every citizen having the possibility of becoming a governing leader and of society setting up the real, not just abstract, conditions for carrying this out." The role of a democratic school in Gramsci's time was delineated in this ideal, a dream that is still only a dream, at least in the Latin American societies, where it is far from being transformed into reality.

What we have today is a school to prepare a minority for leadership positions and the majority for the subordinate role that their class, race and ethnicity assigns them. That is how it was, that is how it is now, and that is how Latin American education will continue to be if there is no determined movement within society to defend schools that are public, free, obligatory and of sufficient quality for those who always were and/or always felt excluded from them.

Enough of TV "School"

Hegemonic schools have always perceived the potential danger of education, the risk that the exploited and dominated will acquire the intellectual tools that will allow them to understand their situation, organize and fight to free themselves from the yoke that keeps them from developing, growing and defending the interests historically denied them.

In the current international scene it is obvious that the role to which Latin America has been destined in the international division of labor is not to produce state of the art knowledge which would convert it into a latent danger for the world market. If Latin America were to rebel against the established order, it would threaten the current "equilibrium," which is not in the interest of those who define what equilibrium is in today's changing situation.

With these assigned roles, Latin Americans who demonstrate talent and an ability to produce scientific and technological innovations will be attracted to the First World, where they will find not only better working conditions but also better salaries than any Latin American researcher. That has happened throughout history. The metropolis attracted those who stood out in their communities, so they ended up putting their knowledge at the service of consolidating the victor's hegemony.

Given the World Bank's reiterated discourse about the need to profoundly reform the Latin American educational system, we should ask ourselves this question: are the globalizing gentlemen sincerely interested in 200 million Latin American youths having a good and complete basic education? We already know that the excluding model only needs a few people. The rest only need training to behave well and be docile in the face of domination.

There is nothing better than television to achieve these goals. Sitting in front of a television—which is school at home—Latin American children and youth will learn discipline, obedience, conformity and neoliberal society values: individualism, competition, consumerism. They will learn that violence is the right of the strong, that success is the result of competition and effort, that beauty is a privilege of white men and women of European origin, that material wealth is a good accessible to anyone with capacity. Social inequalities and discrimination will be seen as something natural in soap operas, on the news, in imported movies, in all the images that the screen serves up daily.

This model works for those with power who are fighting to keep it, and presents a great challenge to those of us who are against this model. What can be done in the school to fight to reverse this desolating situation? What can be done by those of us still committed to an emancipating project for Latin America?

The Landless Movement

The most important social movement in Brazil today is undoubtedly the Landless Workers Movement. It is a national movement with international repercussions, whose organizing ability forces the government and the leadership classes to take it into account, although they try to ignore it and their police often arrest and kill its leaders. The landless are men and women who are fighting for the right to possess and work land. It is lamentable that Brazil at the turn of this century, a country that aspires to be accepted in the club of wealthy and developed countries, has still not resolved the land problem, a challenge that all developed societies already resolved a long time ago.

There is a lot to say about the Landless Movement, but here we will only talk about their schools. Whenever these men and women invade unproductive land to begin working it, they immediately set up a school for their children. Many intellectuals from Brazilian universities are participating with them in their educational project and, when they do, in addition to collaborating in the education of these peasant children, they have also learned a lot themselves.

The time spent on this political-pedagogical work allows us to identify very interesting characteristics. Years of work have led to changes in the selection of content, the choice of methodologies, the use of pedagogical materials, and even the relationships between teachers and students. The most relevant aspect in these schools is the emphasis on values, transmitted through all school activities.

Brushing History Against the Grain

In their schools, the children of Landless Workers learn the value of the collective, of participation, cooperation, generosity, solidarity, tenderness, compassion and courage. Movement leaders know well that those who hope to change social relations must also change relationships in school and in the community, to form future men and women with a different mentality; men and women who aspire not to have power but to transform society.

Children learn to respect those who are different, independent of skin color, religious beliefs or gender, in the daily life of both the school and the settlements. They are being prepared to build a pluralist, multiethnic and multiracial society in a school that is already pluralist, multiethnic and multiracial.

Boys and girls learn to reconstruct their country's history, tearing off the veils that historically have hidden the exploitation and domination that blacks, indigenous and mestizos have suffered. The process of dismantling official history—its deconstruction—is accompanied by a process of reconstructing a new history, one that rescues the struggles against the colonizer, against slavery, against racial and ethnic discrimination, against exploitation of the working class, women's fight against machista oppression; all of the many struggles that official history attempts to minimize or forget. Both in school and in daily life, the little ones learn that what can often appear to be a defeat is in reality the accumulation of forces and learning for future fights and desired victories.

History is being rewritten this way, based on the popular memory that conserves so many struggles and has been passed from generation to generation through stories and songs. The children are "brushing history against the grain," as Benjamín said, identifying clues and accumulating strength to build the future. Popular utopias are necessary building blocks for the construction of a feeling of collective potential.

Knowing and Not Knowing: An Adventure

Teachers who work in the schools on these settlements are as militant as the landless workers, as committed as they are to transforming society. They know the strength in the collective and in solidarity, because they see it every day in the settlement, and that is why the methodologies they use are geared to promoting collective and solidary action.

Children are stimulated to help each other, to exchange among themselves what they know and what they don't know and to learn that "not knowing" is transitory. "Not knowing" is understood as "not knowing yet." They also understand that it is the collective that is producing new knowledge. "Not knowing" thus loses its absolute character, always present in the systems of school evaluation, which is so damning to children from the popular classes.

The exchange of knowledge makes it possible for children to see themselves as capable; each person has some knowledge that not everyone else has, and carries many "not knowing yets" which will be converted into "knowledge" at school. They figure out that nobody knows everything and also that nobody knows nothing. Along these paths they may some day discover that "knowledge" carries within it, at the moment of its formulation, all the "not knowings" still to be known; not knowings that sometimes deny or overcome knowledge, other times complement or deepen it, and still other times open new shortcuts in the unending path of knowledge.

So that this rich process of producing-socializing knowledge can be fully realized, it is critical for the teacher to have the courage to confront the children's unexpected responses, ones perhaps incomprehensible to the teacher. It is critical that the teacher be able to wonder aloud, in front of the children, why not? That question may be the moment of illumination. Bachelard stated that this is the way to build something new, a philosophical courage that all researchers should have.

When the teacher allows herself to ask why not, and stimulates the child to continue on the path that led to his or her response, the teacher may be opening up the possibility of finding new knowledge that was unknown even to the teacher up to that point. And so much new knowledge will be needed to build the new society dreamed of by the landless workers.

Schools will be more stimulating and creative if the teachers in them learn how to ask "why not?" when their routine methods and techniques make them trip over what they find along the path. From schools like this will emerge scientists and artists, innovative and creative men and women able to reinvent the world because school taught them to go on adventures through the fantastic world of the known and the unknown.

Proud and Humble In their Knowledge

The teachers in these settlement schools know that one of the forms of domination is to make subordinates think that they don't know anything and the dominators know everything. They thus understand that a fundamental task of a school committed to overcoming subordination is to work to recover a positive self-concept, both collective and individual.

The knowledge of the group and of each child are valued so that all the children perceive themselves as subjects of knowledge. And so that no "stars" appear, who shine brighter than others, knowledge is always presented from the perspective of something in movement. Each child knows that he or she knows something and still has much to learn, and that's why they go to school. Everyone feels capable of knowing and there is an effort to develop humility in them about everything they know as well as everything they still don't know: pride in what they know without losing the humility for all that they still have to learn. This pride in themselves will not transform into arrogance, as in the oppressor's logic, and the humility that comes from the awareness of "not knowing yet" is not the same as the humiliation to which the powerful try to submit them.

Everything taught in the settlement school is lived in practice by the children. "To conquer knowledge it is critical to participate in the practice that transforms reality. To know what a pear tastes like, we have to transform ourselves by eating it," said a wise Chinese man quoted by Colombres. What is taught in these schools does not remain in the clouds, but is closely linked to the children's reality. Theory and practice are linked, making sense of everything taught and everything learned.

Collective work is both a takeoff point and a returning point for everything that is learned, because it is an education for workers who are proud of their work and find strength in collective work. They are workers who are fighting for the right to work, through which they survive, transforming unproductive land into land that produces, returning to those who work it the food which is the source of life. In this collective task, men and women are made more human, more generous, more solidary. This profound feeling is achieved with work that is not the result of exploitation.

The problems that the teacher presents in school have a clear link to the problems the group faces daily. When they are preparing to plant on the land, land measurements are presented to the children as problems to be resolved. They learn mathematics through concrete situations in their lives.

To learn Brazil's history, they start with their own short life histories, the history of their family and of the saga to reach the settlement where they now live; from this they can feel closer to previous histories. The overall and the individual are placed in permanent dialogue. They learn in practice that the whole is in the part and the part is in the whole, though only much later will they conceptualize it that way. Every concept is learned through the process of much learning.

The songs and stories that have passed orally from generation to generation and that each child brings to the group are converted into "pedagogical content" and are then related to the songs and stories of other groups, other cultures, other peoples. The children learn that songs and stories are pieces of what is called universal culture, humanity's legacy, of which they also form part. Although they don't know it, their teacher must have learned with Amílcar Cabral that the dynamic synthesis of culture is the foundation of liberation.

Playing with the Bones of Death

The classroom is, as it always should be, a space for critical and creative activities, not for passive consumption. Possessive individualism, so strongly inculcated and internalized in our society, is replaced by shared activities that reveal collective creativity to the children. It is in the collective that subjectivities, which are a social and historical production developed in time and culture, are generated.

Children who live in the streets, or in the camps, always travelling with an uncertain destiny and only finding places to stay when abandoned land with no signs of human activity is discovered, who are always moving, always threatened by the violence of paid assassins and military officials defending their property, even if unused, who live with death daily, build a different subjectivity than the one constructed out of the reality of children from the urban middle class. Their conflicts are different, their fears are different, their dreams are different. While one dreams of going to Disneyworld or winning a video game, the other dreams of having land, a house to live in, a stable place with their family. While one plays the games that advertising makes them desire, the other invents games with dead animal bones found along the path, as Sebastián Salgado recounts in his book Tierra. These children create toys and live happily with the remains of death.

The very idea of a continuum—which some say is indispensable to keep from losing ourselves—does not work for children of the Landless Workers Movement, since their path is not continuous and permanent, but full of daily changes. For them, organization is only possible based on the changes they experience in their lives, not on the indispensable stability of which theoreticians speak. For them, internal organization is based on external organization; of the group, of a surviving collective, and is strengthened because it organizes itself.

They Experience the Feeling of Collective Power

Children learn from the collective when they perceive that the quality of their school work improves as a result of collective action and not of the isolated activity of a child alone, which often leads to undesired—because anti-social—competition. That learning is reinforced when they learn in the settlement that the work done by the collective of men and women workers produces better results than the isolated action of just one person.

School materials are not individual property, but are for collective use. All the children are responsible for all the materials. They use them carefully, because they know the value of each pencil, each sheet of paper, each book, just as their parents know the importance of economizing the little they have so that it will last longer and can be used by everyone. They counteract the consumerism published in the media daily with economy, by recycling, reusing, recreating material.

In the same way that their mothers take advantage of food, using for dinner the cooked potatoes left over from the lunch soup, children learn to use the leftovers of different colors, transforming them into other colors altogether; many times a new color until then unknown. As their parents use the old chair they find that was thrown out by those who have too much, sanding it and painting it, making it into a new chair, the children also learn to make paint brushes from bits of wood and the hairs from millet planted by their parents. They learn they can recreate all things with care; cleaning them, painting them, making them beautiful and useful once again.

When children feel capable of recovering what appears useless and learn how to do it, they experience a feeling of power. In this learning action is the recognition of something and the indispensable knowledge needed to do it. There is also an underlying learning of ethics and aesthetics. They learn to respect materials and use them in the struggle, and they learn the ecological sense of recycling, developing an awareness of the beauty and use of materials that nature gives us and of objects that can be created with each of those materials. Recycling materials opposes consumerism and makes it possible to establish new relations with the materials and with people, more loving relationships based on awareness of others, whether a person or a thing, relations in which the senses are used for greater knowledge.

They Want to Learn, They Want to Write

The settlement children learn to read and write because there is a firm desire in the collective to do so and because their daily lives reveal the importance of knowing how to do so. The children see that other movement groups or their leaders send bulletins with news about their movement, speaking of victories, of technical knowledge that allows the land to be worked more effectively, better ways to market their harvests. These bulletins narrate the defeats when the settlements are invaded by hacienda gunmen, explain other groups' strategies in the struggle and want to share their discoveries with others.

The settlement children attend the collective reading of newspapers and listen to the commentaries of the adults, who know how necessary the written press is to their struggles. In this way, the little ones learn how important it is to read and write. Reading and writing begin to make sense for them. They see that the written language is a value in their community and thus it becomes a value for them.

An Alternative Pedagogy

The experience of settlement schools has much to teach those of us who remain committed to the construction of a pedagogy that opposes the official one because it is linked today to the interests of the neoliberal project. An emancipating pedagogy assumes responsibility for democratizing universal culture, understood as humanity's legacy. Since everyone is included in this without hierarchies, everyone can demand right of access.

An emancipating pedagogy will try to democratize and universalize national and popular culture. but one can only enrich oneself with the universal culture of which one's own culture is a part when one is totally immersed in one's own culture. Only those who see themselves as an integral part of the universal heritage, who feel that their culture is part of the universal culture and that the universal one is part of their own, can expose their culture to others, to the universal culture, broadening and deepening their own without losing their identity.

An emancipatory pedagogy must be inclusive. And if it is, it will set itself against the exceedingly exclusive neoliberal project. If neoliberal pedagogy is based on market values and is presented as "the only alternative," thereby showing itself to be extremely authoritarian, emancipatory pedagogy will be oriented to values of solidarity among the dispossessed and unsatisfied and will propose the plurality that respects differences. In practice a pedagogy of this type opens a path; we have an alternative.

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