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On Becoming an Educated Person: Salvadoran Adult Learners’ Cultural Model of Educación/Education


by Esther Prins — 2011

Background/Context: In contrast to cultural constructs that equate education with cognitive development and formal schooling, the Latin American cultural model of educación encompasses academic knowledge and social competence. Prior scholarship has mainly investigated parental notions of educación vis-ŕ-vis childrearing and schooling, primarily among Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans. Analysis of educación should include other nationalities and elucidate how adults believe educación 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 of educación, how one becomes an educated person, and how educación 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 educación. 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 educación as simultaneously learned and innate.

Lastly, learners believed that educación did not depend on schooling and literacy, yet these could cultivate educación 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.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 113 Number 7, 2011, p. 1477-1505
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16075, Date Accessed: 8/1/2014 1:45:30 AM

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About the Author
  • Esther Prins
    Pennsylvania State University
    E-mail Author
    ESTHER PRINS is an assistant professor of Education in the Adult Education Program at Pennsylvania State University, as well as the codirector of the Goodling Institute for Research in Family Literacy. Her research examines the social and cultural dimensions of adult and family literacy, with particular attention to the ways that adult education reproduces and/or mitigates gender, racial, class, and cultural inequalities. Her recent publications include “‘It Feels like a Little Family to Me’: Social Interaction and Support Among Women in Adult Education and Family Literacy” (with B. W. Toso and K. A. Schafft, Adult Education Quarterly, 2009) and “Defining and Measuring Parenting for Educational Success: A Critical Discourse Analysis of the Parent Education Profile” (with B. W. Toso, American Educational Research Journal, 2008).
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