I was in a conversation recently with someone who was extolling the virtues of Camila Vallejo, the student “body” that somehow got millions of Chilean university students in the streets demanding free education. I have to admit that I was honestly confused about this movement when it first began, being a naive gringa who was at the time still working on paying back the student loan on my own Master’s degree.
Is there anywhere in the world besides California (whose taxes and living expenses are one of the highest in the United States) where post-secondary education is free?? If there was no tuition, how would the professors and administrators get paid? What about the library and information systems, the operation systems, the bathrooms, the property taxes the edifices sit on, the IT support and their “housing”, the comfort levels of all in centrally heated and air conditioned rooms that we as gringos take for granted, the solid walls and doors that keep all distracting noises of construction and student groups and socialization out of the learning-centered spaces? If all this was subsidized by the government, what would happen to students of universities sitting on lower-tax-bracket property? What would happen to the quality of education once the professors and support become underpaid and overworked (as if this hasn’t already happened…)?
Ok, I have to give Camila some credit for getting millions of students behind her. They managed to forestall the beginning of the “FAll 2011” semester in Chile (I’m re-translating the season for North American viewers) by about two months. They also managed to destroy countless windows, fences and campuses; entire buildings completely destroyed and/or graffitti’d over, almost like a smaller earthquake. Protests on the street left litter and trash everywhere, and closed down transportation for people needing to get to places such as their jobs. However, protests are always good because they provide an opportunity for the “pacos” (Chilean for “cops”) to showcase their student-grabbing strategies on the international news, making Chile look like some kind of war state with their military-colored police vehicles and uniforms running around with a caveman bat stick in one hand and plexi-glass motorcycle sheilds in the other. Oooh, the world should fear Chile the way they used to alternatively fear Russia, China, Germany and the U.S. Because if we can’t be proactive with future problems, then the next best option is to instill fear in all that pertain to our world.
Anyway, you go, girl, stay skinny and fashionable so you can keep your face on tv… you will make diputada someday, sistah!
Sorry for my cynicism, but what did all this serve the students as much as it served Camila? They didn’t get their free education. In the end, everything went back to normal as suddenly as it all started, with a pushed back calendar for all due to the semester forestall. Someone had to work overtime to get the campuses cleaned up and fixed up and ready again, and it sure as hell wasn’t the very people who trashed it…
Did Camila serve the students? Did she serve the Educational System of Chile? Well, let’s see… what happened? The students went back to paying their tuition for primary, secondary and post-secondary education. No free tuition, discounts or tax breaks… not even new/improved scholarships. No changes in the Chilean educational system; not that I’ve heard about anyway… Some universities are working hard to improve various departments, but those are on a more individual level. So in the end, who got their needs met? Ohhhh, it was Camila! She managed to keep her face on tv even after all the shit went down and out then disappeared into hopefully some annals of historico-political obscurity.
…Or am I missing something? Did something good for the students or Chilean education come about from all the drama? Usually protests and mass marches first draw social and media attention and thus turn into the first drop in a large bucket for change. Look at the protests in Vietnam and how they threatened Lyndon Johnson’s intentions. Those marches and protests in part killed Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, but it was the price paid for the eventual birth of desegregation and civil rights laws. And of course it took time. So maybe Chilean students just need to be patient and continue (peaceful and clean) protests. The question is, do they need Camila Vallejo to do that?
But please, if I am missing something, misinformed (I think that I must be–extremely!), not getting the whole picture, I would love to learn more about this situation and what is happening for all involved, so PLEASE post a comment, send a message, whatever and enlighten me!