Questions and Methods
for a Study of Student Culture
Todos somos iguales. We are all equal. How many times had the students
spoken some version of this phrase to me, and in how many di√erent
contexts? In my early fieldwork at this secondary school, I dutifully noted
it down, but not until about halfway through the research did I realize just
how pervasive the phrase was.
How, when, and where did this phrase crop up? In many cases, stu-
dents asserted todos somos iguales in response to some prompt of mine.
They brought it up in discussions I initiated about group dynamics,
teacher favoritism, or a number of other school-related topics. I was
struck by the way the students unanimously and vehemently rejected my
suggestions that teachers might discriminate against students by ethnicity,
class, or gender. Sometimes the students smuggled the words in obliquely,
to mask how certain students appeared to be rejected by their classmates
or to justify wearing the same school uniform every day. Sometimes they
used the expression spontaneously, in heated conversation with other
students or in explaining something when I had not even broached the
subject. In every case, students said it with a kind of insistence, an urgency,
that always caught my attention. It was as if they were trying to convince
themselves and their classmates, as well as me, that it were true. It was as if
they were at once a≈rming and ordering their experience.
The rhetorical assertion of equality required me to rethink many of the
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