The Chilean Winter: A Student Revolution

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Samuel Harris Pickett


The 2011 Chilean Winter was a student movement that fought to end the rampant inequality found in the nation’s neoliberal education policies, which found their origins in the reforms enacted during the 1980s by Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet. In response to the nation’s economic crisis, he attempted to cut government spending by decentralizing and privatizing the education system. The results were largely unfavorable; Chilean education came to be known for its socioeconomic stratification, unequal schools, and its exorbitantly expensive universities. Despite the undoubtedly negative outcome of Pinochet’s policies, they remained relatively untouched until student movements in 2006 and 2011 began to challenge them. Although almost all of the issues that the 2011 Chilean Winter addressed were the result of Pinochet’s policies, it would be incorrect to claim that the students were protesting his reforms. Instead, the movement was a reaction to the failure of the nation’s post-dictatorship governments, the Concertación coalition and right-centrist presidency of Sebastián Piñera, to restructure Chile’s neoliberal education system despite its numerous problems. This work aims to disprove the erroneous view of many newspapers and academic journals that the student movement was caused directly by Pinochet’s policies. In other words, I wish to separate protest against the legacy of the Pinochet reforms—that is the current system—from protest against the reforms themselves. The work will be divided into two main sections. The first section will focus on demonstrating the lasting impact of Pinochet’s education programs, with a particular emphasis on statistical studies performed by other researchers. The second section will be devoted to analyzing the roots of the 2011 student movement. This part of the investigation will focus on rhetoric from the students themselves, especially movement leader Camila Vallejo.


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Pickett, S. H. (2018). The Chilean Winter: A Student Revolution. IU Journal of Undergraduate Research, 4(1), 04–09.


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