“Tuesday, June 1, 2010: 4,000 high school and university students march on Santiago. Similar protests in Valparaíso….”
AGAIN? Are you serious? Didn’t we just finish up a round of protests? Can anyone remember the last time we got through an entire semester without schools shutting down and students taking to the streets?
Rant topic: Student Protests
Please excuse me while I blow off a bit of steam… Please feel free to rant back, add fuel to the fire, or try to explain this whole thing. I think a serious conversation is long overdue.
I’ve given a lot of thought to these issues over the years. Read on some reflections on the subject, my proposal for a BILL OF RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES FOR STUDENT PROTESTS, and a final conclusion for each of three groups: students, university administrations, and governmental authorities… read on…OK, let’s back up and start with a couple disclaimers:
First: let me start by saying that I full-heartedly support students’ right to protest. Clear? This is a democracy, and people have the right to protest in a democracy. Punto. Period. ¿Cachái? Got it?
Second: Of course I know that not all students nor all universities (or high schools) are involved in the about-to-be-ranted-upon topic.
Third: I agree that students do have their reasons to be upset, disgruntled, seek change, etc. No argument from me there either. I also get it that students–around the world–have a boundless faith in their ability to change the course of humanity. I’ve seen it. They can be amazing. I applaud and encourage that.
Fourth: I am not, nor have I ever been, a conservative thinker or member of any right of center political movement.
So what’s my problem? In a nutshell: the apparent lack of understanding that:
Rights come with Responsibilities!
You want to protest? Something bothering you enough to ditch classes and take to the streets? Good, go for it… but be prepared to pay for your actions! That should be simple common sense!You want to be treated like an adult; act like one. Take a stand and accept the consequences! If your cause is strong enough to shut down the university for weeks or even months, then you should be willing to sacrifice the semester for that cause. If you don’t learn the required material for the given semester, you repeat the course in a later one.
But that’s not the case here in Chile. Student protests–and I cannot remember the last time we got through an entire semester without one–may range from simple one-day marches through the city, speeches, and serious discussions with members of the university and national governments, to long, drawn-out tomas in which students (even high school students–check out the Penguin Protests of 2006) take over the universities and lock themselves in squatter style for extended periods of time. The weird thing is how everyone kowtows to them instead of demanding they get out or go to jail. When marches turn violent–and they often do–and students (and more often hooded (encapuchado) non-related hangers’ on) destroy public and private property, throw rocks through windows, tear up streets signs, shatter bus stops… who takes the responsibility? Tax payers. Sure some offenders get caught and hauled off, but as I understand it, they are held until their parents come pick them up and neither offender nor parent is held responsible for damage done. Why not?
When the whole thing settles down, the tear gas dissipates, and the semester draws to a close, of course the full semester’s material has not been covered. Classes are extended for a week or so and exams are revised to cover only the material they actually had time to cover. (What’s that say about educational levels? When do the students actually learn everything they missed each semester?) Professors sacrifice the inter-semester break that they had intended for research, travel, or course planning to make up classes missed while the students were out on strike.
And did I mention that it’s a relatively small percentage of students who participate? The two main players are the two major state universities–the Universidad de Chile and the smaller, but no less important, Universidad de Santiago (USACH). The Universidad Católica and the private universities rarely–if ever–get involved. A quick Google search turned up that the U de Chile had approximately 30,000 students in 2009. I couldn’t find the info for USACH, but let’s guess about half and round it off to about 45,000 students most directly affected by university shutdowns. Of those, care to guess how many actually participate in the marches? Police estimate that approximately 4,000 high school and university students participated in today’s march. What did the rest do with their time?
This rant is going to end, as good rants often do, with a proposal of what I would do if I were in charge, which of course I’m not, so it’s easy for me to say, but oh so obvious that I don’t know why I should have to say it in the first place and I KNOW I’m going to catch flack for this but here goes anyway cuz I’m already on a roll…
Student Bill of Rights & Responsibilities for Protesting
- Your Right to Protest is guaranteed.
- Responsibility for your actions is your Obligation.
- Violence will not be tolerated. This is as true for the authorities as it is for those engaged in any form of protest.
- All persons caught committing acts of violence, vandalism, or other infringements of the law will be detained and held materially and legally responsible for their actions. This means that adult students and parents of any minor participant will be held financially responsible for any material damage done. In cases of mass damages when it is impossible to determine a specific responsible party, the total amount of the damages will be divided among all those held responsible.
- In addition to taking monetary responsibility for damages, violators will be assigned a specific number of hours of community service, during which they will present themselves–outside of school hours–to clean up, paint, scrub graffiti, participate in repairing damages and in overall city maintenance following a protest.
- All course work is the students’ responsibility. Semesters and course requirements will not be adjusted to accommodate time missed for protests. Exams will be given on the date scheduled and on the same material whether classes were held or not. Teachers will assign reading material to allow students to make up missed.
And finally, here’s what it all boils down to:
Students: if you take your cause seriously, by all means stand up for it and be prepared to take the responsibility. If you don’t like the consequences; don’t participate in the action. Don’t want to have to pay for repairs? Don’t do the damage! Don’t want to clean up after yourselves? Don’t make the mess in the first place. Don’t want to fail an exam because you missed the classes while others were out fighting for a cause that does not particularly motivate you? Don’t let the few dictate university strikes and shut-downs.
And by the way… try being more realistic in your requests and maybe you’ll get some of them without having to riot in the streets! Universities have staff to pay and operating expenses and have to charge tuition. And yes, they are going to make you take the entrance exam. Get over it… making those kinds of demands are like asking for the plane to Cuba…you’re not going to get anywhere.
Faculty & Administrators: Who’s in charge anyway? Make your policies and stick to them. This does not imply you are falling back on the tactics of past repressive regimes… it means you are running an orderly organization capable of accomplishing the goals it sets forth.
Also–since much of the students’ issue is focused on how to pay for an education, how about looking for some real alternative ways to study, such as part time, for example? That way a student could work AND go to school.
Governmental Authorities: Give the students and their families a break. Work with them to find a way to help those who really want an education to get one. Make student loans more accessible and give them a break on interest rates! And how about a grace period for payback? Give the student 6 months to find a job before having to start to repay the loan! Or have very low monthly payments while in school and bump them up after the student finds a job. Get creative! There must be ways for everyone student in Chile to have the education he or she wants and needs!
OK- have at it… comments?