Sumak Kawsay or criolla mana Alli yuyaykuna The search of eth(N)ic studies in the classroom

Since I began teaching, I’ve been telling my students that Ecuador is a beautiful and friendly place. A multicultural and multiethnic country where the concept of Sumak Kawsay is the core of the whole nation, of who we are and what makes as one as a republic. A concept that can be defined as the search for the “good living”, as the coexistence in harmony with ourselves, our communities and most importantly, with our breathing environment. It is the constant search for the harmony that will bring happiness and well being to every citizen of our country. It is the the essence of what our multicultural country has to offer. It is the greatest goal that we, as citizens of Ecuador, can wish to achieve.

A nation proud of its sense of community

Sumak Kawsay is not an old wives tale that floats around the homes of the people living in the deep parts of the highlands or in the folk legends being told around bonfires in the darkest jungles of the Amazon. It is a key element of our curriculum and an ever present reminder of our cultural heritage that has been brought to us thanks to the reforms that the government has brought to the classroom. It is now a new goal that we, as teachers, are striving to achieve in every classroom as form of applied ethnic studies approach.

Power, action, knowledge and willpower. All in benefit of the community

Unfortunately, these ideals of community and wellbeing are constantly crashing with a long an unfortunate behaviour that is present in every level of our society: the sadly popular “Viveza criolla” (roughly translated as “native cunning”). A philosophy of living that is characterized by the lack of respect toward rules and consideration toward others in order to achieve the maximum amount of advantage in any given situation, with a sense of pride and wittiness, even if this means affecting others in negative and destructive ways. An approach to life where distrust and anomie toward others are parts of everyday’s life and where the sense of community and collaboration is mostly seen as a sign of weakness and those who play by the rules are seen as plain “suckers”.

The (in)famous "Mano de Dios" by Diego Armando Maradonna
Following the rules is something that "suckers" or "losers" do.

Inside the classroom, teachers fight a never ending battle between these two stances. A battle that represents a true challenge to our environmental readiness, because society has nurtured the idea that in order to be successful, shortcuts have to be taken every time they are available. A battle where “doing the right thing” is seen as a flaw and not as sign of integrity. Where respect toward others is a lapse, and where the sense of community is a frailty and where the sumak kawsay is no more than a joke. A battle where we must fight this construct with our example, a battle that we won’t win by ourselves, but where the seeds of change will be laid in our students for them to grow, if they decide to do so.

Daily occurrences where the "Criolla mana Alli yuyaykuna" happens around us

This new responsibility becomes a challenge to the teacher, because this requires a deeper understanding of the students background and the personal stories they bring to the classroom. It requires a dynamic classroom where the Sumak Kawsay can be brought up naturally, as a value to seek as a part of our heritage and our cultural pride. To be able to academically and responsibly take on the role of cultural educators through the inclusion of ethnical studies in our classroom. To show with our way of life that the "criolla mana Alli yuyaykuna" (Viveza criolla) is not part of us, and that it is actually the antithesis of our nature. To bring to life the idea that we are a community and that we have what it takes deep inside of us, waiting to be become a part of us again to make us whole.

To bring back the Willingness to be more, to be part of something much bigger than us

Are you willing to include the Sumak Kawsay as a part of your class through the inclusion of ethnic studies, to achieve a way of life based on millenary wisdom, or are you happy with being to skip a couple of places at the line, while fooling yourself into thinking you are clever for the rest of your existence?

Your students will remember you for some reason or other.

Created By
Jose Boroto
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Created with images by Rinaldo W. - "Swing at the End of the World, Baños, Ecuador"

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