AUTHORAni Zotti Ani Zotti is a junior in the SFS studying Culture and Politics at Georgetown University. Originally from Chicago, Ani is also a member of the Women's Lightweight Rowing Crew team. For the fall 2011 semester, she is studying in Buenos Aires,...
October 28, 2011
December 21, 2011
The Junior Year Abroad Network (JYAN) connects Georgetown students studying abroad in a variety of cultures. Students share reflections on religion, culture, politics, and society in their host countries, commenting on topics ranging from religious freedom and interfaith dialogue to secularization, globalization, democracy, and economics.
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Argentine Civil Dissatisfaction Contrasts with American Students' Content Ignorance
December 21, 2011 | 1 COMMENT
But for an Argentine – particularly a porteño (resident of Buenos Aires) – this is a daily occurrence. Discussing the sizing and stretch of leather can lead to comparisons of U.S. versus Argentine pricing, industry subsidizing, and the relative merits of government economic intervention. The dog poop that lines the sidewalks can start a conversation about civil regulations and the corruptness of the municipal government.
The more traditional venues for these types of dialogues – a university classroom, for instance – are overwhelming at first encounter. At the University of Buenos Aires, the most prestigious institution of tertiary education in the country, the experience starts about a block away from campus. Groups of students can be seen congregating for the purpose of intense debate, and you will pass various eager faces and outstretched arms forcing pamphlets into your hands.
The buildings that make up the university are scattered all over the city, and serve over 300,000 students for free. Generally austere, a bit skuzzy, and without sufficient desks or classrooms, the aesthetics quickly diminish in importance once you step inside. Brightly colored political posters coat the walls and sometimes ceilings.
On the ground floor the entrance is jam-packed with the table of dozens of student groups. These groups represent a myriad of interests, including campaigns for the national presidential election, student parties running for positions in the university’s government, campaigns to stop crime in various neighborhoods, petitions about healthcare, abortion, HIV/AIDS… the list is endless. The presenters are not only well-informed and enthusiastic, but so are the crush of students that come through the doors of the building each day. It is not uncommon for students to take and thoroughly read the dozens of flyers they receive, and later seek out that particular group for further discussion.
While student political protests are not uncommon in the United States – Occupy Wall Street being a prime example – my experience with them has been remarkably different. The average student on campus, even a campus as politically minded as Georgetown, does not have the almost desperate energy that is visible on the faces of most students that I encountered while studying abroad.
Apathy and distrust of authority are the primary dispositions of the average American college student, without any real drive or ideas for change. Most people ignore anyone who tries to hand them a piece of paper, and political arguments are generally frowned upon among friends as either boring or promoting unwanted conflict. In contrast, in Argentina this conflict is what builds relationships between students across hugely diverse backgrounds.
However, this essay does not consist entirely of propaganda in favor of the Argentine political culture. The country has its own fair share of problems, revolving noticeably around the fact that although Argentines do enjoy a lively political debate, it is equally hard to implement serious reform in their country as in ours. There is constant complaint of corruption, both at the national level and in the municipal government.
For instance, just weeks ago part of a building collapsed in the busy downtown district due to lack of proper construction regulation. The two main news channels portrayed equally polarizing, perhaps equally incorrect accounts of the event. Streets are frequently blocked off due to protests, causing buses to be rerouted and making transportation difficult. There are parts of the city, known as the villas, where the police have little to no control and crime is rampant.
It is difficult to say which model is functioning better at the moment – the one of constant controversy and drive for serious change, or the one of stolid and reliable apathy. Perhaps it would be better to ask about the desired result – is a nation of content ignorance better or worse than one of civic involvement and dissatisfaction? It is a question that has been around for centuries, but one that sheds particular light on the comparative civic societies of these two states. Only time will tell.
COMMENT FROM COLIN O'BRIEN JANUARY 13, 2012
Ani’s article on the student interaction in the political life of Argentina is a great example of the difference in the educational system of Argentina and the United States. As Ani commented, students who attend the University of Buenos Aires (UBA) have an unusual desire to discuss, and even argue, some of the most basic aspects of the Porteño life.
The interesting difference is this same passion for politics and discussion is not shared with the students of the Catholic University of Argentina (UCA). The order of importance for the students is glaringly obvious after just a few weeks on both campuses; at UCA, students are much more preoccupied with GPAs, jobs and future careers, much like the educational system in the United States. At UBA, grades and GPAs are a secondary thought for most students (which, in addition to students working full time jobs, also might explain why very few students finish their degree in four years). Students who attend UBA go to class for the purpose of discussing things that truly interest them, and make no effort to appease a professor or beg for an A. In an UBA classroom, students have the power and professors are there merely to facilitate discussion and add another viewpoint. Unlike at UCA and in the United States, most professors are not put on a pedestal; in fact, most students go out of their way to challenge professors just for the purpose of questioning an authority figure.
These changes in the Argentine classrooms show a great divide in two different education setups, and I believe the American educational system could learn a lot from the passion that Porteños have in the classrooms.