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La Educación
Número: (116) III
Año: 1993


A definition of democracy that draws attention to micro levels or interpersonal relations has substantial consequences for education.

It brings to the fore a much greater need to transform the hidden curriculum of schools, not only to affect the overt content.4 In addition to sex stereotyping leading to preferential treatment and higher expectations of boys, schools display authoritarian teaching modes. They also offer administrative structures that present hierarchical distinctions with dichotomous representations by which male authority (administrators and principals) and female obedience (teachers) are created. The everyday practice of schools, which still tend to be authoritarian institutions with authoritarian figures in both administration and teaching, must be a subject for both research and reform.

Some other aspects of the hidden curriculum must come under increasing scrutiny. As Arnot argues, sexuality, the language of sexual abuse, physical harassment, and the male use of space in the school shape girls’ negotiations of not just segregated labor markets but also the marriage and sexual markets (1991, 11). An important aspect of democratization in the schools will call for a more horizontal relationship between teachers and parents, especially mothers, so that the latter are treated in less condescending ways. Because of the class and ideological location of teachers in their relation to the state, it is likely that only a few teachers are ready to undertake alternative gender construction measures in schools and that the state itself may not be willing to invest in a new gender consciousness. This knot—the desirability of working with teachers and the anticipated obstacles to working with them—remains one of the most difficult to disentangle in the quest for gender equality.

Regarding content, since authoritarian patterns at home develop in part through physical coercion by men, there is a need to introduce knowledge about violence and its limiting consequences for women in the schools.5 Education should also recapture the radical and courageous actions of organized groups of women and mothers such as those in Mothers of Plaza de Mayo of Argentina. Courses in history and civics should include these experiences as well as the new forms of democracy.

A significant potential for educational transformation resides in the informal and nonformal education carried out by women’s groups. One of the major blocks to the politization of low-income women might be their lack of reading skills. In the case of Chile, a country where there have been notable gains in the political activism of women, Schild (1992) reports that one of the obstacles to women’s increased political engagement is that many of them are illiterate, thus choosing handicraft workshops where their inability to read and write is not an issue. Literacy is an elusive goal for low-income, overworked adult women (Stromquist 1992); nonetheless, it looms important in the long march toward democratization.