Youth’s Citizenship Education in Chile, by AC4 Grad Student Fellow, Luis Rodrigo Mayorga Camus

Photo: A student protest in the streets of Santiago

Over the past years, citizenship education became a hotly debated topic in Chile. Several political corruption scandals involving elected officials and businesspeople called into question the strength of Chilean democracy, the probity and civic virtue of its representatives, and the institutions entitled to educate these traits, particularly the school system. Before the end of her term, president Michelle Bachelet tried to address these issues and passed a law mandating Citizenship Education Plans in all schools in the country. While all of this was happening, high school students were demonstrating in the streets and occupying their schools, as they have been doing almost without interruption since 2006. Their actions were originally a way of demanding the eradication of the neoliberal pillars sustaining the Chilean educational system since the 1980s, but, in the past few years, they also allowed these youths to participate in the design and implementation of a national educational reform that attempted to achieve this goal.

Photo: A performance against neoliberal educational policies during a student protest.

All of these debates and conflicts might seem too ‘big’ and even disconnected from the ‘ground’ where people actually live. However, they have important material consequences for Chilean schools and all the actors within it. My research – a ethnographic study of formal and informal citizenship education practices in a public Chilean high school – has allowed me to witness these from the front seat. Understanding how laws and social movements’ actions affect the everyday experiences of Chilean students is particularly important, since through these experiences they are becoming ‘political beings’. Further, this scenario reveals important tensions in how the different actors of the Chilean educational system understand “what kind of citizen” should be educated by the school. Even more important, it is by observing students on their everyday activities how I have been able to recognize the ways in which they are not only affected by these debates and conflicts, but the ones in which they are actively helping to shape these discussions, as transformative actors. I believe that one of my research’s most important outcomes will be exactly that: illuminating how educators and researchers can engage productively with students as active subjects constantly producing and interacting with new opportunities for citizenship education, political action and social change.

Photo: A mural painted by students, which says “During the school occupation, I educate myself and organize with others”.

Author: Luis Rodrigo Mayorga Camus, 2018 AC4 Fellow, who is pursuing a doctorate at Teachers College in Anthropology and Education focused on high school students in Chile who are taking initiative for more inclusive and non-sexist education. Rodrigo’s research in Chile examines how the student protests affect traditional citizenship education provided by the State, and produce several new informal citizenship education practices, both inside and outside the space of the school.

All photos provided by author.

Read second reflection on Youth Citizenship Education in Chile by Luis Rodrigo Mayorga Camus, here.

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