The New Idea
Julio's work is a rich orchestra of ideas whose overarching themes order the many particular elements and individual solutions. Many of the parts are powerful, often elegantly clean solutions to problems facing similar communities in other places. But their effect is multiplied because they grow out of the values, concern-rooted practical observation, and broad understanding of people and how the world works that Julio has developed life.The first of Julio's themes, which grows out of his varied experience with grassroots and adult education in Mozambique and Mexico, is that for education to work, especially in developing countries, it must be a central part of an integrated attack not only on illiteracy, poverty, ill health, and malnutrition -- but also on the underlying deep sense of helplessness and fatalism. This is in part because a malnourished student coming from a family that urgently needs his or her work, especially if the schools seem poorly connected to these needs, is unlikely to long remain a student. In the area where Julio is working, 78 percent of the children have historically dropped out before reaching sixth grade, generally perceived as the threshold of functional literacy.Even more, it's because helping people take the leap to take charge of their own lives and communities is both essential and very hard. This realization leads to Julio's second controlling theme. Each element in the overall score must be played, as quickly as possible, by the community itself.Guided by these themes, Julio's work breaks into two major areas -- educational and developmental.Operating in a mountainous area with terrible communications, where the predominantly indigenous people generally must farm week after week to survive, Julio has built an intensive Tuesday to Thursday residential high school. The students, who range from 12 to 25 years old, work in their scattered home farms Friday through Monday and make the trip to and from school only once a week. While there, they work intensively from early morning until late in the evenings, covering more ground than they would in the normal schedule of five half days. There's far more that's out of the ordinary about this cornerstone of Julio's work than its schedule. The teaching methods the school uses, while covering what the official syllabus requires subject by subject, does so in ways that engage the students' existing knowledge and interests and are organized in order to engage students in educating each other.For example, mathematics begins with what is for these students the most gripping and obviously relevant of issues -- how to measure land. Pythagoras' theorem comes up somewhat later -- in the context of how to build a roof.How the school teaches Spanish illustrates its overall approach. Each week the students go home to observe and think about a subject, be it death or parenthood. While still at home they write a composition capturing their reflections. Back at the school they read their paper to the class, which then discusses the theme as a group. That evening the students reassemble in small groups of five or six students and help one another improve what they had written -- correcting spelling, straightening out grammar, and tightening logic and style. Each group has access, as needed, to faculty advisors as it goes about this job.Each student's finished papers are ultimately bound into a book he or she takes home at the end of each year. The portion of the work extending beyond the school is a mix of successful conventional interventions (e.g., vaccinations), the introduction of familiar techniques that are new to the area (e.g., fish farming, manioc and pig production) and true innovations such as raising macaus and a rare local parrot in captivity for both species preservation and sale.