[OPE] class struggle and education in venezuela

From: glevy@pratt.edu
Date: Sun May 25 2008 - 12:41:55 EDT


via Mike L.

Not all buying Venezuelan school revolution 

*By JUAN FORERO,* Washington Post 

May 24, 2008 

CARACAS, VENEZUELA - *A*t the sprawling Fermin Toro School,
students 
take classes that extol President Hugo Chavez's brand of
socialism and 
highlight the menace posed by the imperial power to
the north, the 
United States. 

Teachers file into
workshops every afternoon to celebrate the 
government's
self-sustaining economic model and its superiority over 
Washington's
"neoliberal" one. 

In virtually every activity at the
school, administrators say, the goal 
is to help create "a new
man," instilled with communal values, filled 
with love for the
republic and ready to battle "internal or external 
aggression" against Venezuela. 

"What's the kind of
citizen we want?" said Principal Juana Sierra, who 
has pictures
of Chavez and Argentine revolutionary Ernesto (Che) Guevara 
arranged
under a glass desktop. "A Venezuelan who's highly humanistic, 
with solidarity, who knows his history, who knows the Venezuelan Indian,

who knows all the resources the fatherland has, who knows the
history of 
oil, about why we're so dependent, about why we're
underdeveloped." 

The school in Caracas exemplifies the
Venezuelan government's approach 
to education, one that amounts to
the latest phase in a decade-long 
revolution that has seen Chavez
steadily extend his influence over the 
legislature, the judicial
system, local governments and the military. 
Officials are planning
to overhaul schools and install a curriculum that 
hails collectivism
over individualism and socialism over capitalism, 
with an emphasis
on what Chavez perceives as Washington's desire for 
world
domination. 

The government, however, has encountered a hitch:
a growing movement of 
irate parents and educators who already turned
back a government 
education overhaul more than six years ago. 

"What worries us is the politicization of Venezuelan
education," said 
Antonio Ecarri, who heads an education
commission for the affluent 
Chacao district of Caracas and speaks
frequently to parent assemblies. 

"The curriculum is more
about ideology than about shaping citizens," he 
said.
"Venezuelan society has been steadfast in opposing the educational

reform, and on the implantation of models that inject our children
with 
ideology." 

The 550-page curriculum, which was
first leaked in September, has been 
temporarily shelved, though the
government did not explain why. The 
Education Ministry, meanwhile,
did not respond to requests for an 
interview. But Chavez has not
wavered in his plans. He recently said in 
a speech that he might
hold a referendum in 2009 to win approval for 
education reforms. 

"The new curriculum marches forward," he said.
"Those who criticize 
shouldn't just criticize but provide
ideas. Of course we're moving ahead 
on this, but we're open to
debate." 

To glimpse the future, as the president
envisions it, one need go no 
further than the Fermin Toro School.
The public institution is a 
Bolivarian school, one of 5,700 such
schools named after the president's 
inspiration, Simon Bolivar, the
19th-century liberator. As such, 
officials see it as a crown jewel
in the public school system. 

Although the new curriculum is
not yet being used at Fermin Toro, the 
school's approach is one that
the government hopes can be used as a 
model nationwide. The focus is
on art and culture -- and providing an 
oasis for 850 children, many
of them from the poor, teeming 
neighborhoods in the city center.
Whereas children once went to school 
for half a day, they are now
taught and tutored from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. 
The basics are taught in
the morning. Afternoons are left to painting, 
cooking and theater
production classes. 

At the same time, students address
teachers by their first names, and 
scamper in and out of principal
Sierra's office, no knocking required. 
Not surprisingly, the system
here has plenty of supporters. 

"We never did this
before," said Yanieles Salazar, 16, who said she's 
particularly
happy taking cooking classes. "The teachers are cool. I 
can't
say more. Everything is good." 

It may seem hippie-dippy,
but teachers said they are serious about their 
mission. 

Ivonne Lanz, a math teacher and administrator at Fermin Toro, said the

education system's values had veered from "what our founders
wanted." 
She said the school is now focused on developing more
"humane" citizens. 
And she said the workshops that
teachers attend were designed to produce 
a curriculum that would
reflect those new values. 

"We're the ones who are
developing it," she said. "These are proposals 
that are
being fixed, added on to and eliminated. And in the end, we'll 
have
a new focus -- the new person the republic calls for." 

In
a country as polarized as Venezuela, such talk has generated 
near-hysteria among parents, particularly in middle- and upper-class 
districts, where distrust of the president runs high. Many of their 
children go to private institutions, but they are fully aware that the

president has said those schools would also have to follow a new 
curriculum, or face being closed. 

The parents' slogan,
splashed across banners at rallies, is "Don't mess 
with my
children." And at numerous parent assemblies, they often break 
into shouts of "No means no," a reference to a Dec. 2
referendum in 
which Venezuelans rejected constitutional changes that
would have 
enhanced presidential powers. 

"Reading
the school material, you see the hidden Marxism," said Reyna 
Ordaz, president of the parents association at the Santiago de Leon
School. 

 2008 Star Tribune. All rights reserved. 




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