- Chelsea Viteri
Question, dream and learn with an eye on the sky and an eye on the earth
Updated: May 9, 2021
Since I can remember I was a dreamer, una soñadora. Like many of my classmates, I got constantly called out for staring at the window day dreaming instead of pouring all my attention to the teacher’s lecture. I liked to imagine what the world would look like once I was a “grown up”, or how would it feel like to fly, or be another person in a different reality. That is why the one day a week I had Theater class was such a gift. In this class I could play and move beyond imagining to embodying my thoughts. If I wished, I could be less of a “girl” and explore being a “boy” without being told by teachers “That is not what ladies do”. I could dance and not be called inappropriate. I could recreate a classroom scenario and not be called disrespectful and be sent to the inspector’s office. I remember wishing school would be more like my Theater class. As I look back I wish most of my education could have been more like my theater class: a place where I could dance, stretch my body, work collectively, think critically about the world, imagine incessantly and leave with a big smile on my face.
I was introduced to education as if it were a mandatory activity that took place inside a classroom, where people were told to sit still, follow orders, wear uniforms, not talk back to teachers and stand up if an authority at the school would enter the room. The inspector of my school would take attendance first thing in the morning and verify that student’s uniforms were “appropriate”. If a student was not wearing the correct sports socks they were punished by being sent to the library all day and getting an F in all their classes. If a student would act out or speak back to a teacher, they would get kicked out of class and were once again punished by being sent to the library. Discipline was of the most important characteristics of a “good” student.
From the beginning of my education journey I did not fit the category of a “good” student. I was described as too loud, inquieta, rebellious and preguntona. On various occasions, I ended up getting kicked out of class and spending all day in the library. A number of times I was ordered to stay in the class during recess writing in my notebook “I will not misbehave in the classroom.” “I will not misbehave in the classroom” over and over again until the bell that marked the end of recess rang. This exercise reflected much of the pedagogy my school was built on: repeat what the teacher said. I will not say I was an angel, but I will say that repeating “I will not misbehave in the classroom” or having to remember the exact words my teacher said to pass the quiz were not my favorite education methods. The intense focus on discipline was useless in getting me excited to learn. What I gathered from my first 10 -11 years of “education” was that discipline, repetition and education were one and the same.
On my last year of high school, I gained a little more independence in the classes I could choose and was lucky to have teachers that created spaces for questioning by motivated students to generate our own ideas. I felt less censured than previous years and was more confident in expressing my thoughts. However, it was not until I got to college that I got to dig deeper and critically think about the world I lived in and my position in it, in a classroom setting. Before, the deep conversations with friends about politics and ideologies rarely reached the classroom setting.
During my college years, I felt a significant shift in my education. I was no longer solely being trained to be a cog in the machine, or digesting information like pills down my throat. Because of a few lefty-feminist professors and activist friends I was exposed to writings by feminist of color, de-colonial thinkers and critical pedagogy scholars. I learned more and more about the deep violence on which our present is build on and the way the structures of society I interacted with perpetuated that same violence. I began to question the ways in which human beings relate to each other and to identify the infused colonial legacies in own micro cosmos. Though college was a great introduction to information that could serve the purposes of emancipation, the way in which we learned was still limiting.
In the classroom, our topics were fascinating, many of them challenged and questioned the dominant paradigm, nevertheless very few classrooms strived to challenge such paradigm. We would talk about critical texts like those written by Paulo Freire, bell hooks or Patricia Hill Collins, yet an effort to break the oppressive structures of dominance in our same classroom was rarely made, nor was there an academic initiative to become active in the current US movements for liberation such as BLM, or Standing Rock. Do not get me wrong. I believe class discussions, readings, and writing assignments can be very productive exercises to walk towards emancipation, I would go so far to say they are imperative practices in today’s world. However, I question what is the purpose of critically reflecting on oppressive structures if we are not willing to take action and strive to change the dynamics we critique.
Education is an inherently political act. What an institution decides to include in the curriculum and the methods they choose to teach are political decisions that will shape the ideology of future generations. The fact that my middle school taught me to be disciplined rather than reflective is a tool for the powers at play to keep me dormant and as an unquestioning cog in a machine. In high school, I was never taught black-Ecuadorian history, nor modern native peoples history, additionally women historical figures would appear once in a blue moon. In college, I was taught to critically think yet never was I incentivized to imagine, create or embody change. It would be naïve to see these as coincidences, they are rather evidence of the latent legacy of a colonial, patriarchal and racist past.
I still imagine and wish education spaces could be more like my memory of that Theater class, with an additional commitment to justice and solidarity. I have been fortunate to have mentors who have taught me many lessons on how to walk a path that seeks to go beyond academics and traditional ways of doing school. I have also been lucky to have had the opportunity to lead and shape learning spaces as a youth workers and as a Teaching assistant. It is not easy to be an educator, particularly if you are striving to create de-colonial relationships and learning environments. However, I am confident is it not about being perfect, or having a prescriptive recipe of how to practice de-colonial- inclusive- popular education, rather the commitment and effort to embody principles of justice, solidarity and love are where the magic happens. I envision spaces where together we can challenge the dominant paradigm, be human with each other, have reciprocal relationships, nurture our creativity, and rehearse and imagine change to then go to the world and be people ready to walk in a different way.