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Chilean revolution: Education or politics?

"Chilean revolution: Education or politics?" Continued...

Issue: "A warmer Chile," Nov. 9, 2002

Barbara Eyzaguirre Astaburuaga, a CSJ director, added, "If a student breaks the desk we make a great fuss." She smiled and said, "The Ministry of Education thinks our methods are authoritarian, that we're teaching kids to adjust to the needs of business people, we're not letting them be. We think the students should get good jobs, so they do not have to work in the fields anymore." Are any of the government's rules for good education sensible? "Municipal teachers can't be fired if they are doing bad things, unless they are actually murdering kids," she noted sardonically, and told of drunken principals, child abusers, and other sad happenings. CSJ's building once housed a school so troubled that the government gave the private school the building for 10 years; the Fundación has now bought it.

The school began with contributions from Mr. Astoreca's friends but continues by receiving the per-student stipend from the state for which all schools, whether public or private, religious or not, are eligible. (In the United States nine out of 10 children attend public schools, but in Chile 55 percent of students attend government schools, 35 percent attend private ones that receive government funding, and 10 percent attend schools that are completely privately funded.) CSJ also receives contributions from corporations that garner a tax deduction for giving; the school owes its five Internet-connected computers to that rule. Donations also allow CSJ to buy its own textbooks, because-in Mrs. Eyzaguirre's words-"the Minister of Education gives us new books, but they change every year according to the latest trends. We get our own books so we can have a stable program."

Crucially, says Mrs. Budge, "We have some liberty. We can hire and fire as we please." But the central need is to give students vision: "If kids don't do their homework they have to stay late. They have to want to succeed. We try to make the students feel that if they lose this school, they're losing something important." CSJ tries to make the entire community feel that way, starting with the room closest to the street: the library room, open to the community and sporting a sign, Esta sala es nuestra ("This room is ours").

CSJ is demonstrating both social improvement-fewer problems with drugs or pregnancy-and academic improvement as well. When the socio-economic level of students is factored in, it is the best school in Chile in math, and is in the top 5 percent of all schools. But many parents in the area do not know that. Test results are published in newspapers, but many among the poor do not read newspapers. Some do not read, period.

Besides, with schools like CSJ not as readily available as the municipal schools, parents have to take into account other factors. As Mrs. Budge said, "Most parents select the school by how near it is to home. It's dangerous to be out late." CSJ students who play Donde esta [where is] Waldo? during recess need to get home quickly, or else their mothers will worry, Donde esta Juan? But for those students, the interests of one deceased engineer, the contributions of his friends, and the willingness of their school to emphasize what they need rather than what state education authorities prefer in any given year, is giving them the opportunity to move into the middle class.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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