Neither to obey nor to buy: Education to think and create

Art, music and history are optional in the program of 2020, a call which minimizes its importance and adds even more those students distanced from the cultural scene in Chile. The education is intercepted again by the need of a limited labor market, not very responsive and precarious. “It is not 30 pesos, it is 30 years”, years in which we see situations in this eduactional model taking the streets, triggering in emblematic protests as the revolution of students since 2006, or those led by REPROFICH, the Chilean philosophy teachers network in 2016. This new year began with the boycott of the PSU,  the Chilean university entrance exam, critisized by the ACES because it discriminates and segregates people. The exam has choices, with a result prone to inequality and exclusive of soft skills, the same which are acquired through the now optional subjects, enough to change the way if the background does not change?

The concept of Cultural Capital, coined and popularized by Pierre Bourdieu, implies that educational institutions have a clearer role in the democratization of cultural appreciation. Commonly pursued by social democrats, the ideal is practiced more rigorously in powerful welfare states such as the Nordic or European ones, not only because it is part of a comprehensive education, but also because it reduces the gaps in cultural access by providing knowledge and tools that many children do not obtain from their family context.

“Caught between a labour market that does not change, supported by a social structure that exalts certain occupations; and an educational system that responds to the requirements of that market, how do we break into this dialect?”

Why make school education responsible and not the parents? In 2016 Chile was the OECD country with the greatest inequality: the wealthiest 1% concentrated 26% of the country’s wealth. Not for nothing do the chants and pamphlets on the streets call for concrete changes on the subject. Sociologist Pedro Güell explains that income inequality is associated with less education, and this with less cultural access. What starts out as money alone is the transgression of cultural capacities, for example, having less free time to access and enjoy culture. In this sense, access becomes a luxury: “There are those who have more affinities with culture, but these affinities are structured by the social stratification in which we find ourselves, reinforcing the distance from groups that have less familiarity, less education, fewer linguistic resources, etc.” Added María Luisa Méndez, Director of the Centre for the Study of Conflict and Social Cohesion (COES).

The Education of the Princess of Peter Paul Rubens, 1624. In the pyramid: Apollo, god of art. Athena, goddess of wisdom and Hermes, god of tongues and eloquence.


The political scientist, Modesto Gayo, who has focused his work on the political behaviour and cultural practices of the middle classes, explains that the humblest families – thinking of intergenerational transmission – support to some extent the formation of their children. They feel it is more necessary for them to do other tasks and it is enough for them to be part of an educational system, which in Chile “lacks the means to provide a complete education, which allows them to settle down, internalize and project a social and linguistic code with which a person can manage”. This is why the middle and upper-middle classes will always have a more elaborate code. “Not being educated is one stage, but another stage is having the tools to be an intellectually more autonomous individual. The education system provides a minimum. The school-family combination is an obstacle rather than a support base here in Chile where there is a large excluded population,” adds Gayo.


Who hasn’t been influenced to hopefully “want to be” a lawyer, doctor or engineer? No one wants to see their child fail because they are interested in an occupation with a job market, such as the arts, undervalued. Méndez states that Chilean education has been taking the demands of the occupational market to the educational sphere, prioritizing skills associated with good insertion, without attending to fundamental areas in training such as critical thinking, aesthetic appreciation and sensitivity to diversity. At the same time, the social structure and the labor market favor such skills and occupations. As a result, we have a model that is not very sensitive to innovation and to the diversification of professional spaces. An example of this is the State itself, which, as a work space, is quite limited: “There are no development or innovation study units in the ministries as there are in France, for example, which, by having these units, attract different occupations. There can be philosophers, mathematicians and sociologists working side by side. There is a more diversified social structure in which the value of other kinds of training is appreciated. On the other hand, the Chilean system rewards certain types of professions and subjects, to the detriment of training in other areas,” explains María Luisa.

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Caught between a labour market that does not mutate, supported by a social structure that exalts certain occupations; and an educational system that responds to the requirements of that market, how do we break into this dialect? Considering that there are areas in regard to critical thinking, reflective autonomy, and empathy that are understood from the humanities and social sciences. The director of COES argues: “These are areas that often cannot be treated exclusively from a formal perspective. They must be dealt with from an affective, emotional and aesthetic point of view”.

The Study on the Contribution of Arts Education to Cross-Cutting Labour Competencies published in 2013 by the Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage, concluded that participation in arts workshops explains the differences in the development of socio-affective skills, those contained mainly in the personal sphere such as achievement orientation, the ability to express and elaborate ideas and decision-making; and in social skills, such as the ability to set standards, work in groups and participate.

Ministerio de Educación, 2017.

Since 2013 – if not before – there are so many benefits in an arts education, why does it remain an option? And even if it were compulsory, it is necessary to spin it even more finely, because what is being considered here goes beyond learning how to hold a brush or build models (which is also important). Pedro Güell, who was also director of public policy during Michelle Bachelet’s second administration, says that it’s not just about the number of hours, but what happens during those hours: “It’s not enough to teach who the greats are (musicians or artists). They must teach you how to navigate the cultural offerings. Less memory and more “toolbox” that by identifying and enjoying the goods people develop the capacity to shape a society with more civic culture and with better capacity to build themselves in democracy”.

It seems that artistic-cultural knowledge and enjoyment should be validated through the “gain” of other skills to be incorporated into education, relativizing the existence of a cultural scene today devalued. “Beyond the professional performance you have, the cultural sphere in Chile would benefit greatly from having an audience open to consuming cultural goods and attending to the artistic spheres. We cannot complain that there is no audience if we don’t produce it today,” adds Modesto Gayo, also taking into consideration that many talents “from poor neighborhoods” are lost, and the recovery of all those lost talents could bring out new ideas and opportunities: “The promotion of imagination can induce in the industry in a positive way. Rebellion, in that sense, as something constructive. Use it to change paradigms”.

Finally, and beyond the 2020 program, what role should the State play in all this? Güell adds: “Understanding art as a language that often evolves radically and can possibly hurt sensibilities, which does not mean that the State should create prejudices around art forms, much less vandalize them. It must understand them and allow society to discover what is art and what is not, because the State is not called upon to be the arbiter of an aesthetic”.



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