Today, or tomorrow, let’s say tomorrow, marks the start of yet another epoca of the SIT program– the ISP. ISP stands for independent study project. In addition to studying independently, I’m pretty much about to do everything else independently too. I’m in the midst of trying to figure out where I’ll live. Half of the people on my program stayed in Buenos Aires, three are going south, one to Valparaiso, which leaves three of us in Santiago spread around the city doing our own thing. I theoretically have a school to do my research in, an advisor, and recommended books, but I hear about all that tomorrow. So right now I have no idea what’s going on other than that by less than a month from now I should have a project done. It’s a bit scary to say the least.
I’m going to research how the dictatorship here affected Chilean national identity, and how that plays itself out in the education system, and theoretically I’m supposedly doing this by means of a video. I’m pretty stoked for the topic, but a bit overwhelmed about how to go about it as all I have now is Isabela Allende’s My Invented Country in spanish, and some theories. I guess part of step one is get a video camera?
In case you’re interested though, I’ll present my theory going into it, which is based on months of living here plus two weeks of viewing Santiago from afar in Buenos Aires. Before I say it though, I have to qualify this by saying that I dont’ claim to be any kind of expert. Everything I see is totally skewed by my own biases, and I’m not Chilean. If you are, and you think I’m wrong, please don’t be insulted. Just tell me.
Basically I see two parallel patterns, one with students and one with the country as a whole. Kids here who don’t have lots of money have very little hope of going to college, and the reality is that they won’t get a much better job having graduated high school than having dropped out after two years. Everyone around them is telling them that they have very little chance of success. So, they lose hope, they get disallusioned and stop. They need money so they stop. Even if they finish high school, the odds that their public schools have adequately prepared them for the PSU (think SAT but in Chile) are slim to none. So then they have a national test system also tell them they’re inadequate. They get jobs that don’t pay well, the same thing happens to their kids, the cycle continues.
The exception I saw to this was the school I observed in, the Instituto Nacional. Basically it’s the best magnet school in the country and it’s all boys (they have a girls one that’s equivalently good too). Everyone knows it and everyone knows that these boys are smart and they go to college. Ask any teacher there and they say the boys are the best there are. Their matriculation rate is like 85% while most public schools send close to no one. It has exactly the same resource allocation as any other public school, but those boys get told all day long that they’re the best, and they succeed. The Instituto has produced something like 16 presidents.
On a national level Chile seems to have a self-image problem too, especially in Santiago. Chileans will tell you that Argentina is better, that the US is better. My Chilean friend at the university where I study said his professor paints an idealized perfect picture of US university students when his classmates miss an assignment or a class. Chileans don’t seem to have a very positive self image of their country (except for maybe that the south is beautiful). Now think about the image you as an American have of Chile. It probably doesn’t exist. You probably just haven’t ever learned about it or thought much about it before. In contrast, Argentinians have great things to say about Argentina, and so does the NY Times travel section.
The differences between Chile and Argentina are so vast that you basically can’t compare them. The contexts before their dictatorships, the lengths of the dictatorships, the responses to the dictatorships, and the recovery processes, were all completely different. I’m not setting out to compare them. But being in Argentina for two weeks and seeing the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, and all of the other human rights movements that have blossomed as a reponse to their dictatorship, seeing posters that say “nunca mas” (never again), did allow me to look at Chile from a different perspective. I started to think about the direction Chile has gone since its dictatorship, and how much you can still see the remnants of it 18 years later, even in the government.
I think I’ve really been curious about Chilean identity ever since I started trying to figure out what Chilean culture was and struggling with that question. I’m pretty excited to have an excuse to sit people down in front of a camera and interview them about their thoughts on the topic. However, the task of figuring out how to ask the question is quite daunting. If you have any advice, please by all means share it with me.