Contesting Expertise and the Everyday Struggle for Unconventional Schooling in Ecuador

For almost two years during 2022 and 2023, I’ve been carrying out new ethnographic research. This project examines one school’s Kichwa-speaking teachers’ activism that seeks a contrastive curriculum and organization, even as the school constitutes a part of Ecuador’s intercultural bilingual school system that is directed by Indigenous planners for Indigenous students. I’ve been studying several things: how teachers work for and against the school system to which they belong as they seek a different form of schooling; how teachers’ expertise may respond to the philosophies, actions, and life circumstances of parents and students; and what schooling should look like when students and their families, who have recently migrated to the city from the countryside, work long hours overnight in the fruit and vegetable market where the school is located.

These teachers provide insight into the daily negotiations and contestations that accompany critiques of predominant discourses as colonial forms of knowledge, in this case based on insider cultural perspectives and years of professional experience. They have also taught me a lot about the everyday bureaucratic struggle to keep an unusual school open, such as the philosophies and practices of building alliances and teaching bureaucratic officials why the school is important. This project is simultaneously an ethnography of labor that seeks to understand what it’s like to work in the market and how that difficult life shapes possibilities for schools and student futures. The research has been funded by the National Academy of Education / Spencer Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and Columbia’s Center for Political Economy.