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Colección: La Educación
Número: (129-131) I,III
Año: 1998


1. I have used pseudonyms for people and places for reasons of confidentiality.
2. Dissertation research was supported by grants from the Woodrow Wilson Foundation Center for Latin American Research, the Organization of American States, and the Rackham School of Graduate Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
3. “Me encanta escuchar como se pronuncia las palabras,” is the phrase she used.
4. Historically, under each new State Administration, the new Ministry of Education has modified the structure of the educational system (Hansen 1989; Albornoz 1993). Briefly, the institution popularly referred to as high school (“el liceo”) includes the last three years of primary education or the “basic cycle”; and the two years of secondary education, which at the Liceo Parra consists of the “diversified cycle.”  The “diversified cycle,” created in 1969, refers to the diversification of the curriculum into a Sciences and a Humanities track. The Ministry of Education also established two other branches or “cycles” of secondary education: Technical and Normal Education, which as of 1973 grants the degree of “técnico medio,” equivalent to the baccalaureate. (Ministerio de Educación, OSPP 1990.)  These latter two were not provided at Liceo Parra, the only secondary program in town being the Diversified Cycle.
5. Here, and throughout this paper, I am drawing on informal conversations, taped interviews with individual students or entire classes, and a written student survey (school-wide) which I conducted at the Liceo Parra.
6. Below are similar written comments made by 4th and 5th year students in a school survey:
“What I want for my adult life is to become a good professional, and in this way be able to help my mother in her old age, make her happy, etc., as she helps me.”  (4th year female student)

“What I wish is to finish the 5th year, accomplish my goals (realizarme) with a university career, in order to have the means of traveling abroad, and helping my mother and my family to get ahead and give them everything they don’t have because they are like a mirror for me.”  (5th year male student)

“The greatest dream of my life is to become a great Botanist. Even though I don’t have my father’s support I am going to continue, I want to pay my mother back for all she has done for me.” (5th year female student)
7. See Diego Gambetta (1987) for an interesting, if schematic, discussion of the combination of factors that constrain and compel individual students making decisions regarding their educations. Gambetta’s book offers an interesting critique of now classic reproduction models of education such as that elaborated by Bourdieu and Passeron (1970).
8. “Licenciado(a)” is the formal title given to individuals with undergraduate university degrees. I frequently heard people (usually men) greet each other in the street with this and other titles (“Doctor,” “Poeta,” “Profesor,” “Maestro”), in earnest or in jest.
9. The phrase commonly used in Venezuela, “ella salió embarazada,” which can be translated as “she ended up pregnant” or “she came out pregnant,” better captures the sense of haphazardness with which people often describe this occurrence.
10. In contrast to what I was told about past moral sanctions leveled against unmarried woman who became pregnant and would often leave town or hand over the baby once born to a sister or aunt in another town (all in order to preserve an image of chastity and thus desirability as a spouse), neither these young girls nor their parents expressed any shame at the girls’ conditions. The general consensus at the time I lived in Santa Lucia, seemed to be that it was more shameful for a daughter to live informally with her boyfriend (“en concubinato”) than to become an unwed mother. At least this is what was borne out in discourse and familial practices.
11. Across the vast literature examining minority student failure, whether they draw on “reproduction theories” (Bowles & Gintis 1976) “cultural incongruence theories” (Phillips 1983, Heath 1983) or “caste theories” (Ogbu 1978), there are certain assumptions about what kind of home environment is optimal in producing an academic achiever, and what kind of home environment tends to produce a failure. While the study may focus on certain details such as language or literacy practices within the home, the implicit model of the optimal home environment is that of the dominant class.
12. Between 1950 and 1980, the percentage of the national female population enrolled in primary school rose from 42% to 56%; in secondary school from 3% to 25% and the percentage of women in higher education rose from 0.3% to 4.4%. In the State of Mérida, the percentage of the female population enrolled in primary school rose from 24% to 47%; in secondary school from 0.8% to 19%. The percentage of Meridenian women enrolled in higher educational programs was 6%, much higher than the national average. (OCEI 1992). This was probably related to the location of the University of the Andes in the State’s largest city.
13. While I refer to this important educational fact in passing here, in the context of the larger research project of which this article is a part, I look at its basis in gendered pedagogical practices.
14. There was also a marginal number of students (less than 5%) who repeated a particular year of school. But the overall attrition rate was nonetheless impressive.
15. Venezuelan public schooling has a system of “reparaciones” that takes effect after the 6th grade, in which students who have failed no more than two subject matters, can study over the summer and retake the final exams for those subjects in order to “repair” those classes and pass into the next year — a rather penitential approach to education, dare I say?
16. It is interesting to compare the negotiation of conflicting gender expectations Santa Lucian boys faced in order to succeed academically, with accounts of minority students in the United States disguising their academic achievement negatively valued by their peers and subcultural community, by excelling in more culturally acceptable areas, such as sports or music. (Ogbu 1987; Andrew Williams, pers. com.)
17. In the matter of career choice, Santa Lucian students were markedly different from the urban students I surveyed in Mérida. Out of nearly two hundred students from three secondary schools in Mérida, fifteen listed journalism as a career choice.
18. See Foley (1991) for a critical overview of anthropological approaches to minority students failure; and Achor & Morales (1990) for a case study of “high-achieving Chicanas” which problematizes cultural ecological and “caste-theory” explanations of school failure in particular.
19. This term has been used by certain “resistance theorists” (see for instance Scott 1985, or McLaren 1985; cf. Reed-Danahay 1996) in distinction to “explicit” forms of resistance. This seems to be a polite way of distinguishing between self-conscious acts of refusal and other practices of non-cooperation or contestation which the analyst, not the actors, interpret as resistance. It seems to me that the increasingly inclusive use of the term “resistance” (much as has been the case with the use of “ideology”) lessens its value as a critical analytic concept.
20. Several of the case studies in Levinson, Foley, & Holland’s recent collection The Cultural Production of the Educated Person (1996) address these and other anomalies. See also Margaret Gibson’s (1982) interesting discussion of the counter-intuitive relationship of gender and racial status to school achievement in the United States Virgin Islands.
21. Here I am implicitly arguing for an approach to the study of social life that resembles the “processual analysis” discussed by Renato Rosaldo in his essay “Putting Culture in Motion” (1989). Processual analysis illuminates the temporal, often improvised and certainly unpredictable dimension of social life:  that “certain ‘something more’ that can neither be reduced to nor derived from structure,” (1989:104) and which, as Rosaldo suggests, non-processual, objectivist analysis is fundamentally blind to.