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Research Article

Bad Education


Debra A. Castillo


In this article I study the U.S. 2005 documentary film, The Devil’s Miner, co-produced  by Kief Davidson and Richard Ladkani. Like many other internationally produced documentary films of this sort, it combines an ethnographic view of its subject with a mission of critique, in this case, the denunciation of child labor in the extremely dangerous and physically exhausting environment of the Cerro Rico mine in Potosí. The general message to the viewer is an emotionally-laden appeal to support children, an inarguable good. The resolution falls back on cultural approaches directed toward the future, specifically, toward keeping children in school, and increasing formal educational possibilities. There is a way in which this universal panacea misses an important point bluntly and correctly outlined by Saskia Sassen, when she argues that economies relying on a significant pool drawn from the laboring precariat tend to be based on a shared understanding that the nation is afflicted with a surplus population (too many migrants, too many children, etc), and for that very reason there is tacit permission to render a significant category of workers temporary and disposable.  Indeed, the economy requires this body of workers, and in this context education—while an evident good for the small numbers of children who achieve it--does not address the fundamental underlying conjunction of needs: for workers on the one hand, for survival on the other. To propose education as the solution, then, seems an unintended distraction from a difficult challenge posed by globalized economic systems.  In Bolivia, the children’s union UNATSBO has taken a different approach, arguing for the rights of children as workers.  

How to Cite: Castillo, D.A., 2017. Bad Education. Latin American Literary Review, 44(87), pp.45–52. DOI:
Published on 26 Apr 2017.
Peer Reviewed


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