Well, as of yesterday, most of my program-mates and my academic director have headed back to Chile, so I guess it’s extra super official: I’m staying in Buenos Aires for another month to do my Independent Study Project! Woohoo!
I know, I know, I had my whole project theme worked out for Santiago. But before that I had a different theme, and before that I had a different theme, so I’m just fickle when it comes to picking themes, okay? But my proposal is very much written and turned in now, and I really like the theme I ended up with, so that’s good. I’m not actually going to tell you about my ISP right now, though, because first I have to cover the past two weeks of wonderfulness! If it try to do it all in one post, that post is going to get unbelievably long, so I’m going to be a good student and talk about the academic side first.
I have to admit that, academically, I was kind of checked out these past two weeks. I think most of the people on my program were; for one thing, we were all anticipating starting our ISPs, and didn’t really want to try and deal with anything academic other than the themes we were developing. (We turned in our proposals on Friday.) For another, it’s so not fair to bring us to a HUGE city full of TONS of things to do for only two weeks, and fill all our time with seminars and observations. And, for a third, people here stay up ridiculously late — 10pm is a completely normal dinner time, even on weekdays — which becomes problematic when one has to wake up at 6:30am to make it to activities that start at 8:30am. The things we discussed in our seminars and saw on our visits were incredibly interesting (so much so that I got an ISP proposal out of them!), but I think our priorities were definitely more on the side of experiencing a new city/country/culture and less on the side of paying perfect attention in class all the time. Still, we did some cool stuff!
My three favorite academic experiences in BsAs:
- Getting to hear from and march with las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, a group of truly amazing women. They started marching around the Plaza de Mayo during the military dictatorship to try and get some answers about where their children (who had been arrested and disappeared) were, and more recently to try and bring to justice the soldiers and officials responsible for disappearing their kids. They’ve been marching for 35 years now, and while they may not have gotten satisfying answers, they’ve raised a huge amount of awareness and sponsored tons of housing and education projects in poor communities in Argentina. One of them spoke to our group very eloquently about their fight and their progress; she is 98 years old, and still marching and protesting. That’s some serious badassery right there.
- Visiting an escuela de reingreso (reintroduction school) for teenagers who have dropped out of high school for whatever reason, but want to come back and finish their secondary education. Argentina has a huge problem with kids dropping out during high school: there are over 800,000 students enrolled in eighth grade, but by the time you get up to twelfth grade, enrollment drops to less than 400,000. Escuelas de reingreso try and combat this trend by providing a slightly different school format. At the one we visited, students don’t have to repeat entire years if they fail one subject: they’re placed in each subject independently based on the level they’ve passed in each one. For example, if they passed 10th grade math but failed 10th grade language, they can take 11th grade math and repeat 10th grade language. In a traditional school, they would have had to repeat all their 10th grade classes the next year, but the escuela de reingreso lets them progress at different rates in different subjects if that’s what they need to do. The school also has very dedicated staff who work full-time in the school, teaching classes and acting as tutors and “support teachers” for other groups of students as well; in the general public school system in Argentina, many teachers teach at four or five different schools to make ends meet, and so don’t have the opportunity or energy to help their students outside of class. Finally, they let their students take as much time as they need to finish their education — a student that works or has children can take only a few subjects at a time, and get their diploma when they’ve completed all the necessary courses on their own schedule.
- Visiting a bachillerato popular. The general high school diploma (as opposed to a technical, commercial, or arts diploma — there are lots of different kinds of schools here) is called a bachiller, and this organization provides the type of education (in terms of subjects & levels) that would get you that diploma. It’s also targeted towards kids who aren’t incorporated into the regular schools system, but unlike the escuela de reingreso, the bachillerato popular isn’t technically a school; instead, it’s an informal organization created by members of the community and volunteer teachers to educate students who have dropped out or been kicked out of the regular system. It uses a philosophy of popular education, which says that both teachers and students have something to bring to the table when it comes to learning, so classes are (almost) all based on discussions, debates, and critical analyses of the assigned readings. It’s a pretty cool way to do education, and the students we met with were probably the most well-informed and eloquent students we’ve talked to on this trip. What’s even cooler is that as of very recently, the government has started recognizing the bachillerato as an official educational organization, so its graduates leave with a diploma equal to that of any regular high school.