Strategy and Analysis to Defend and Transform Public Education

What can Oakland Learn from Chile?

“Miles de jóvenes se han tomado sus colegios y universidades, exigiendo al gobierno una educación gratuita y de calidad, despertando a un país entero.  Paros y huelgas han marcado un año repleto de la creatividad constructivo de una generación que se ha atrevido a luchar por la gratuidad del conocimiento.”

“Thousands of young people have taken over their schools and universities, demanding that their government provide free, quality education.  In the process, they have awakened an entire country.  Hunger strikes and work stoppages have marked this year, a year that has also been full of the creativity of a generation that dares to fight so that knowledge can be free.”

– “Shock” by Ana Tijoux (French-Chilean hip hop artist)

Written by an anonymous Oakland high school teacher

The demand for “free and quality public education” has been reverberating through the streets, classrooms, business places, work stoppages, hunger strikes, and kiss-ins of Chile.  This phrase is the simplified message behind a much more detailed list of demands addressing issues such as access, funding, public control, equality, and privatization of the Chilean education system.  In the current moment of accelerating privatization, testing, austerity, and cuts in the US education system we have an incredible amount of learning and inspiration to draw from the education movement in Chile.

This movement erupted across the worldwide stage in April 2011 (although its seeds were planted in the 2006 student movement in Chile that shared many of the demands of today).  Throughout 2011 we saw students taking control of their own high schools and universities across Chile.  There were also vast alliances built between high school students, college students, teachers, professors, unions, labor coalitions, and political organizations.  These alliances led to mass marches, work stoppages, and the takeover of schools.  Feeling pressured by this mass mobilization, the government first responded with police repression and later by offering various proposals back to the movement in order to begin communication with young people about the demand for a radically different education system.  These proposals did not ultimately fulfill the demands that the movement was fighting for, yet it has made the issue of education central to political struggle in Chile and has inspired the world.

If we are to wage an effective fight for the education that we so badly need in this country, we must look to examples like Chile.  Our demands in many cases remain too small or too broad.  We struggle to keep open 5 schools and even if/when we succeed in this struggle (which will be a huge and important victory—for those school communities and for OUSD) we are still entrenched in an education system that is unjust, unequal, highly competitive, and becoming privatized and corporately dominated in a way that is nothing less than terrifying.

It is true that our struggle must include speaking at board meetings and holding protests with thousands of people in attendance to oppose the elementary schools that are being shut down (such as the 5,000 who attend the rally at Lakeview Elementary School on November 19th).  Yet, for us to achieve the education system our students and society at large deeply need, we must imagine more creatively and powerfully: organize smarter and more militantly.  We must begin to have hundreds of school occupations and takeovers like Chile had in the end of June.  We must have committees at each school and a national structure of coordinating these groups (various national student organizations were crucial in building the mass mobilizations in Chile).  We must begin to coordinate with strikes and worker struggles around the country.  We must have hundreds of thousands of people in the streets demanding a different education system (400,000 students, teachers and community members filled the streets of Chile during July and August).  This is where we must move the struggle because our education system shapes our society and the power to build our world will never be willingly handed to us. We must take it.

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This entry was posted on February 5, 2012 by in Action & Organizing.
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