To my past high school teachers :  

I want y'all to know that I am a first-generation college student whose parents immigrated to the US from México. Además, I want you to know that I am thriving at WashU. Yes, I got into WashU and am in my third year. I never got the chance to break down my high school experience in a way that was analytical and “academic.” Entonces, even though this letter is addressed to y’all, this is an opportunity for me to articulate thoughts I had lingering en mi mente with concepts that I’ve learned aquí. Here is a list of things I want you to know about what y’all are doing in hopes that you don’t do them. Since some of the articles I’ve read include some type of “instead of this, do this,” I will add my own deseos or desires for change.

La primera cosa that I want to highlight is how some of y’all trained me to think individualistically, en vez de un colectivo. El enfoque on the individual perpetuates what Mijs describes as an unfilled and unfulfillable meritocratic deam. El sueño americano. Por ejemplo, I remember some of y’all would announce, “Only fulano, fulana y fulano passed the geometry test. The rest of y’all failed. Work harder.” This narrative puts emphasis on the individual successes of others, pitting students against each other. That everyone else failed and didn’t work hard. These myths were ingrained in my head so much that I started believing I made it to WashU because I worked hard and other people didn’t and therefore there was nothing wrong with the system. This mindset fits the repercussions of meritocracy that Mijs describes, where meritocracy “poses a barrier rather than a route to equality of opportunity.” These myths also put a lot of pressure on me because every time I failed at something, I would think “Okay, Ale. Hay que echarle más ganas.” Although these things seem trivial, the implications are more dire when failing a math test becomes a college rejection, or not even applying because of the expectation for rejection. Instead of realising the systemic inequalities and college admissions game, I would think of my shortcomings as personal failures that cannot change. Mi deseo, entonces, is for y’all to foster cooperative group work. Perhaps, instead of an individualized test, groups can be formed to collectively solve a set of math problems. Then, the groups come together to go through how they solved the problems, hopefully enlightening others who were stuck on a particular problem. These are practices that Anyon finds are used in the “executive elite schools” where she found that children are encouraged to explain how they arrived at an answer as a group. En resumen, focus on collective group work.

La segunda cosa I want y’all to know is that some of y’all painted personal experience and intellectual exploration as mutually exclusive. The separation of the personal from the academic contributes to what Paulo Freire describes as “banking education” in his book Pedagogy of the Oppressed. In his conception, y’all were the bank clerks, whose role was to deposit information into us. Our only role as consumers was to receive and store these deposits. Por ejemplo, during my Senior Seminar, we were supposed to design and carry out our own personal research project. I was excited to finally write my first and last paper of my high school career. In the one class that I thought I could use the word “I,” you told me it was unprofessional. You told me that research papers never use the word “I” because research is never personal. El ejemplo that I used represents how some of y’all prohibited personal reflection even in a personal research project. En vez de banking education, Freire proposes problem-solving education or education that provokes action and reflection in order to transform the world. Así que mi deseo is for y’all to encourage personal reflection in the classrooms. Encourage students to write about themselves, as I am doing now. Bring culturally relevant materials to the classroom. I wish I knew that people like me can do research and be themselves. Shor offers some practical ways to engage in reflection: journaling, “extended peer discussion of problems posed in class,” and “writing that include adequate time for successive thinking, composing, and rewriting.” In the case of the seminar class, students can derive research questions from questions they are grappling with in their personal lives. They can reflect on these through journaling and group discussion. Not only was my person stripped from my education, pero otro deseo que tengo es for y’all to share your personal narratives too. Bettina Love describes how one of her teachers, Mrs. Johnson was transformative in her life because she made her feel like she mattered. Mrs. Johnson also “shared stories with her students of her childhood in New Orleans. She was vulnerable in front of the class.” En resumen, education and personal stories go hand-in-hand. Share your stories and allow us to share ours too.

La útlima cosa I wanna bring to y’alls attention is the limiting beliefs some of y’all imposed on us. Por ejemplo, I’ve heard everything from “There is no point in teaching y’all today. Do whatever you want” to “You are not meant to go to college.” These comments made me feel trapped and hopeless for future transformation, the second part to Freire’s problem-posing education concept. After reading Anyon’s piece, “Social Class and the Hidden Curriculum of Work,” me di cuenta de que my classmates and I were treated like the students in the working-class schools of this study. I was viewed as a consumer who doesn’t need to learn beyond puntos y comillas because some of y’all thought “that’s all they’ll ever use.” Después de leer a De Lissovoy, comprendo que lo que sentía was a result of neoliberalism. Just as he describes neoliberalism to make people feel as if “there is no alternative to its organization of society,” I thought there were no other educational structures and experiences. Pensaba, lo que tenemos es lo que hay. Entonces, mi deseo es that y’all implement what Love describes as abolitionist pedagogy: “Abolitionist teaching is not just about tearing down and building up but also about the joy necessary to be in solidarity with others, knowing that your struggle for freedom is constant but that there is beauty in the camaraderie of creating a just world.” The feeling of building up comes from another concept she describes as “freedom dreaming” which are “dreams grounded in a critique of injustice… and collective resistance.” Not gonna lie, I’m still thinking of practical ways to implement these concepts. But for now, let us dream.

You probably know this was happening in your school, but if you didn’t then, ¿por qué? And if you were aware, then why ain’t you doing anything? I used to think education practices weren’t changing because that’s just the way they were supposed to be. I normalized my experience because I didn’t know anything else. Now I know that inaction from some of y’all wasn’t a sign of normalcy, it was a sign of complacency. If I had learned about the power of collective work, I would have been more inclined to seek out help from others at the start of my college career. It’s taken me años to feel comfortable talking about my personal experiences with friends and family, let alone in the classroom. Had I learned the power of vulnerability through sharing these anecdotes, I could only imagine how many more connections I could have made with people. The limiting beliefs still haunt me hasta hoy en día. I’m only beginning to become friends with its ghost: imposter syndrome. Instead of adding more darkness to my nightmares, I wish I had learned how to dream of social changes. Como dice Freire, education should be reflective and transformative. I’ve done my reflecting y estoy lista para la transformación revolucionaria, pero necesito que ustedes estén de acuerdo también. Los dejo con esto de Freire: “The pursuit of full humanity, however, cannot be carried out in isolation or individualism, but only in fellowship and solidarity.”


Future Dr. Uriostegui

P.S. Y’all never pronounced my last name right. It’s (oo-ree-ose-te-guee). Soft on the last g, as in goddess.