On becoming an educated person: Salvadoran adult learners' cultural model of educacion/education

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Background/Context: In contrast to cultural constructs that equate education xvith cognitive development and formal schooling the Latin American cultural model of educacion encompasses academic knowledge and social competence. Prior scholarship has mainly investigated parental notions ofeducacion vis-d-vis childrearing and schooling, primarily among Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans. Analysis ofeducacion should include other nationalities and elucidate how adults believe educacion is acquired and linked both to schooling and nonformal adult education and literacy. Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: The purpose of this article is to explicate how former adult literacy participants in rural El Salvador perceived the meanings ofeducacion, how one becomes an educated person, and how educacion relates to schooling and literacy. Setting: The study took place in a Salvadoran village where, in 2001, a nongovernmental organization sponsored an adult literacy program. Like other poor, rural Salvadorans, participants had limited access to schooling and literacy. Research Design: Employing ethnographic, participatory methods, the original study (2001-02) examined how adult literacy education fostered or hindered women and men's empowerment. The 2007 follow-up study utilized eight interviews and one focus group with 12 of 17 learners (8 women, 4 men) who had attended literacy classes in one of the villages. Findings /Results: Participants identified four facets of educacion. First, speech included knowing how to express oneself; converse in a friendly, respectful manner; and use socially appropriate language. Second, educated persons were perceived to display respeto (respect) in language and conduct, especially toward elders and parents. Third, manners and comportment encompassed such practices as attending to guests and demonstrating good behavior (e.g., child obedience). Finally, participants believed that educated persons treat and interact with others in a kind, pleasant, friendly manner. Participants posited multiple pathways to becoming educado (educated, well-mannered), namely, parental instruction and modeling, teacher instruction and schooling instruction by their former adult literacy teacher or researcher, social interaction, and individual effort. Paradoxically, participants viewed educacion as simultaneously learned and innate. Lastly, learners believed that educacion did not depend on schooling and literacy, yet these could cultivate educacion by increasing one's exposure to, and understanding of, written messages and teachers' oral instruction concerning respectful, appropriate conduct. Conclusions/Recommendations: With its emphasis on communicative competence, respect, and proper relatedness, Salvadoran participants' cultural model of education closely resembles that of other Latino groups. By foregrounding the relational and moral dimensions of education and human development, this model shapes the perceived purposes and desired outcomes of schooling and adult education, the symbolic meanings attached to education, expectations of educators, and the insights learners derive from educational activities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1477-1505
Number of pages29
JournalTeachers College Record
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education


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