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(4) Equity Impacts by Chilean Student Activists on Higher Education in Chile

Research Question: To what extent did Chilean Student Activism among the movements in 2006 & 2011 further social equity in Chilean Higher Education?

Thesis Moment: According to experts at the OECD, social inequality is widespread throughout Chile (GINI Index > 0.5). A “social imaginary” exists in the sense that while education is perceived as the means to a better life and a more equitable society, the current neoliberal education system doesn’t seem to change student’s economic situations – instead, it seems that the current system continues current inequalities. Neoliberal education derives itself from a market based approach to education – by using a voucher system to pay for public, private, etc. schools, it was thought that through competition between schools for students/voucher money, schools would have to improve. It’s a more laissez-faire approach to education. While it did create more access to schools – higher education in particular – it didn’t necessarily create the equity that was desired. So protests occurred in 2006 and 2011 to combat inequalities. I am going to show that, while protests called for greater reform, their short term effect has only been moderately successful – and we can judge this by the current state today.

Road Mapping:

I have to have some basis for understanding previous inequalities that happen pre-2006 – in this, I will establish a baseline of what the government has tried to do to combat inequality – I will use this as a context for a counterargument to the extent of protestors as the only agents of change – how government willingness to change limits the extent of protestors. I will also use this for a persuasive counterargument to their counterargument, saying something along the lines of how increasing access != greater equity for all. I think it would be wise to bring up something regarding protestors’ perception of the lack of action on the behalf of the government as cause for protest.

Further – I will need to argue how 2006’s protests didn’t do that much for higher education – besides the elimination of the PSU, and some transportation tickets… but that it set the stage for the 2011 protests, that focused more on higher ed. Though I can say something nuanced about how 2006 was a high schooler’s revolt – and how those high schoolers became uni students.

2011 – I need to contextualize the movement – what people were asking for – speak about student loans, tuition costs, first generation students, for-profit colleges, etc… Speak about how not all goals were met through this protest. But then maybe I can argue that in subsequent protests (i.e. not those in 2006, 2011), activists then achieved what they wanted – which allows me to suggest that 2006 and 2011 didn’t do all that much to help higher education equity. However, as a broader view, it was a significant part of the social consciousness, and that is something that must be considered.

I need to analyze post-2011 social conditions in Chile – how some new, wonderful things may or may not have resulted from those specific protests… just because new legislation came out recently doesn’t entirely mean the 2006, 2011 protests directly affected its creation. That is a nuance that I want to argue.

Reframed Research

Here is the link to my infographic:

To break down the main takeaways from the session of revision and genre modes presentation, I’d like to enumerate three areas of criticism that I received. First, during the outside of class rough draft revision of the Research Proposal, I remember sitting with my partner and speaking about the length of my introduction, and how the politics and history of neoliberal education contributed to later protest. My partner told me that while it was interesting and did provide some context, it didn’t tell all that needed to be said about the socioeconomic issues faced by the country. I concurred, and in my revisions, infographic, research proposal, and further RBA work I plan to contextualize student movements as an indirect attempt to fix socioeconomic inequalities that exist in Chile.

In my infographic presentation, I took the opportunity to frame what neoliberal education is, from both the perspectives of those who believe in its ability to create better schools as well as those who contend that it serves to further stratify education and reinforce social inequalities. It was important to clearly scrutinize and define what a neoliberal education is from a variety of perspectives, and I believe my audience members appreciated having the new understanding. What they suggested that I needed to improve upon in the infographic was my presentation of it – reducing the number of “ums”, but I believe that I can better illustrate what neoliberal education has meant and how it has developed a bit more throughout history. That will then help me in my RBA.

In further draft revisions for the proposal, I received feedback that suggested I leave my proposal to be a little bit more open, and that didn’t immediately attack what I wish to focus on in my RBA. For example, previously I was thinking that I should write almost explicitly what I am planning to write about in my RBA, but feedback gave me the insight that perhaps I shouldn’t, and instead leave the problem space a little bit more broad so that I could demonstrate potential questions that I still had. In that sense, not speaking so concretely was a benefit, and I believe helped me in my proposal, and will set me up better for my RBA

For my tentative thesis, I plan to explore how two Chilean student movements, the 2006 “Penguin Revolution” and the subsequent 2011 “Chilean Winter”, called for increased educational equity (and access to it) and to what extent it achieved it in the context of a neoliberal education system. I am leaning toward narrowing down this thesis to pertain to higher education in particular.

Possible avenues of approach

Before I begin to list the subjects that I might want to write about, I wanted to reflect a bit about why the overarching theme seems to be activism related in some capacity to individuals from Latin America. This past summer I spent 2 1/2 months in Chile through Stanford’s BOSP, and I had the opportunity to learn about Chile’s more recent past, its entrance into dictatorship in 1973, and its return to democracy in 1990. Each transition seemed to be based on issues of the economy, and general zeitgeist in the country – but we must, too,  give weight to the psychological effects of activism in a country who, from at least in my experience, seems to value protest and activism at a level (at least among adolescents) that I haven’t experienced in the US thus far. Anyways, I’ll get started.

  1. The Chicano Movement in the United States. This movement, during the 1960s, had the goal of empowering Mexican Americans through a variety of methods, whether that be through increased opportunities to education or enfranchisement, or the address of negative ethnic stereotypes. I think that a study worthy of scholarly attention would be a cross-comparison of activism to fight negative ethnic stereotypes then versus today, especially in the rhetoric used by the political sphere.
  2. Movilizacion Estudantil (Student Mobilization) en Chile 2006, 2011, (maybe 2016). In Chile, there is an active consciousness regarding levels of economic inequality – this is something that permeates all aspects of life in which even the name your high school is required on your job applications. In other words, if education is a vehicle, then 45% of children and adolescents take the bus. The massive marches on the part of students are rather cyclical, happening about every 5-7 years. I would like to take a look at comparing the protests of 2006 and 2011 to see pertinent differences.
  3. “Jornadas de Protesta National” – In other words, “Days of National Protest” that occurred under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet during the 1980s, usually with a human rights aspect. I think that it would be interesting to analyze solidarity during this time as the protests seemed to become more frequent when some of the most fervent supporters of Pinochet, the middle class, began to experience economic hardship with the decline of copper prices worldwide (Copper is an important aspect to the Chilean economy even nowadays.)
  4. Mapuche people and social movement solidarity and linkage in Chile. The Mapuche are indigenous to Chile (and Argentina I believe), and experienced trouble under colonization. Today they face forms oppression from the government and private corporations, usually in regards to what they consider ancestral land and resource rights. There has been a form of solidarity between human rights activists, environmental activists, scholars, and other indigenous peoples. There would be an interesting study in which one could analyze possible substantiation of their demands from those who have allied with them.
  5. Latin America and Environmental Activism. Latin America seems to be the deadliest place for environmental activists, with hundreds of activists being killed (a number that seems to be increasing if we look at the data provided through sources such as Scientific American). Approximately 40% of the activists killed were indigenous. Their reasons, or causes were fights against hydroelectric, mining, and agrobusiness operations. There would be an interesting paper or presentation that could prescribe a normative argument for activists concerned with indigenous and/or environmental rights to join in force with these murders against a hegemony that seeks to destroy opposition from traditionally persecuted groups.

Oppression as Catalyst for Activism


Subcomandate Marcos of the Zapatista revolutionary force, quoted in Tim Jordan’s 2002 novel Activism!, alludes to the alluring concept of the “tree of tomorrow”, which represents humanity’s ability to plant change (through activism) now in hopes of attaining an ideal future of mutual respect alongside a robust rejection of the “false light” that serves to deny us the liberty from oppression that we desperately need (137). To extend his metaphor, let us consider a barren and contentious plot of land with a relative low property value as a result of its quality. An oppressive force, that we will call Self, controls what the Others can and cannot do on this land (Jordan 144). Through this oppression, the Others, beings of the trees, have greatly suffered, as the bleak reality they experience today does not permit them to enjoy their particular definition of the “good life”. So instead, they plant the seeds of change, and over time, they begin to receive shade from a Self that, in the past, threatened their way of life and overall wellbeing. This quasi-fable represents what it means to be an activist! throughout history and into the present today. It demonstrates a refusal to accept the present desolate reality of an oppressive life or regime, and instead to work toward a more idyllic future, wherein activist!s may derive their ethics. The denuded plot of land symbolizes the right of activist!s to create a movement in the space where oppression exists. Certainly if we think of other cases, its blank state would allow for other activist!s to create different movements, which is vital in our understanding of activism! as a whole according to Jordan.

In the end, this extended metaphor represents a broad, but still limited representation of the ways that activism! can transform societies for the better. It demonstrates that even in the darkest of situations, bleakness and oppression can serve as a catalyst for activism. The aspect of activism that I find more interesting is the effect on the society, or perhaps the Self, itself. In this metaphor, the Self becomes the eventual mutual recipient of a plot of land that has certainly appreciated in value through the planting of a new forest. In this sense, it signifies that a rising tide lifts all boats, and that our society is improved through a sense of solidarity with the activists who wish to change reality for the better.