Today I met with my first two interviewees from the 2nd-year "bachillerato" (college prep) class I've started visiting, a group involved in the so-called Integrated Project, which is a class that meets once a week to design and carry out hands-on, creative projects integrating skills from across the curriculum. Some have written their own scripts for short films they are making. (I was included as an extra in a scene last week for a short about a girl whose emotions materialize and talk to her, berate her, and leave her so bewildered that she finally abandons them altogether; the idea is existentialist and eerie. I played the part of a teacher who walks up a flight of stairs amidst a rush of students.) Others are designing activities for the inauguration of the school library, which their teacher will be in charge of once it opens. Another student is attempting to interview all the international students on film and learn more about their lives.

Their teacher is a soft-spoken man with wry humor and a clear sense of purpose who seems to motivate them effortlessly. They are a bright and engaged group. They ask questions, engage me in conversation, tell me about their plans for university, talk about travelling... I like their maturity, sophistication, sincerity and enthusiasm. The first time I introduced myself and my project to them, they asked me about Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Maricopa County; several of them had just seen a tv special about him and how he made undocumented detainees wear pink women's underwear and live in the middle of the Arizona desert. They were astonished. They called him crazy, and they asked if people were really like that in Arizona. The conversation turned, as it so often does, to the issue of arms possession, and when I told them that the UA was considering allowing guns on campus, they responded with incredulous laughter, "Pero, por qué?!" And I said what I always say when people ask me this: "I don't know." (I tried to qualify my statement by explaining that the political rifts in the U.S. can be boiled down to beliefs about how much government should be involved in the lives of private citizens, and that the right to bear arms has become a flashpoint issue, but the whole thing rings hollow to me, anyway. It makes no sense to me. It scares me, though as an anthropological fact or an extrapolation from our prideful pioneering, individualistic ideologies, it is also a symptom that the democratic system is working in its lurching, imperfect way, that it hasn't gone stagnant or turned into something else, although that could all change if more people are allowed to have more guns more easily.)

A problem seems to be that kids with their level of interest and motivation are few and far between. Even my two first interviewees said as much, that they were members of a minority who is engaged in studying and has plans for the future. They told me that the majority of youth their age have opted for neither studying nor working, that they have been given all they need by their parents, see bleak possibilities for work, and aren't interested, besides. Many, according to them, spend their days online, smoking up, and drinking. I suggested that youth nowadays might reject the idea of working in a greenhouse because they have more options available to them, unlike their parents and grandparents. They shrugged, "But it's just that they don't want to do anything at all. And then they make fun of you for studying, they call you a nerd, and you end up distancing yourself from those people because they don't accept what you're doing, either." I mentioned the term I heard not long ago, the Ni-Ni Generation ("Ni estudian, ni trabajan"), and they said yeah, they knew lots of people like that.

A related discussion came up during comida with a group of teachers after school. They are trying to organize among themselves to improve conditions at their schools, and among the first proposals they made was to make their schools seem less like prisons by allowing the older students to come and go from campus as they pleased. "Have you seen the schools here? Everything is closed up, and so even a kid who's 17 gets there at 8 in the morning and can't leave till the end of the day. It's silly." "They treat all the students like small children," another teacher said. They asked KB and I about schools in the U.S., and I think my own memories and impressions are strongly influenced by the three years I spent at Springdale High School, where a lot of us kids drove ourselves to school and left campus for lunch then came back. There were no gates surrounding the school grounds, only one around the football stadium. But that was another moment, and I admit to being out of touch. So much depends on where the school happens to be, on resources, on community support. Some high schools in Tucson have high fences and gates.

It was interesting to hear teachers make the comparison between their schools and prisons; I thought this was just a way the students had of talking about their schools, an evocative, if somewhat predictable reaction to having to be there for six hours every day. "Only the guards and watchtowers are missing!" one teacher joked today, and it's striking that panopticon jokes come from those presumably charged with upholding the system. "There are already cameras in the hallways," another pointed out. But these teachers are concerned about the learning environment in a more holistic way, and especially about fomenting a sense of initiative, responsibility and autonomy among students. These are qualities they find lacking in their own workplaces: their group is not expressly forbidden from having meetings on campus, but it's been made clear that their activism is not appreciated; one teacher suggested staging a Wikileaks operation so that information would flow more freely between administration and faculty; another shook her head and lamented, "And every year, the test results are worse. Every year."

There was a sense among them that their hands were tied, even though they were doing their best to promote grassroots, progressive change. "We want people to pay attention to the school," one of them said. "We want them to care about it and to know what goes on there so that we can improve it." She went on to say that at a parent-teacher meeting in which they'd discussed the cramped classrooms and lack of space for incoming groups, the parents responded with laughter, not with suggestions for solutions or demands that a new addition be built. "They don't care," she said, "y no lo entiendo. Si tienes a tu hijo ahí en una clase donde no hay espacio, y sabes que no hay espacio para los que van a venir el año que viene, tienes un problema! Tienes un problema. Pero les da igual."

They told us that a big reason this was the case was that the political parties manage everything, and they won't allow people to start efforts that aren't backed by them or somehow promoted by them. In other words, they've gained such power that they are the ones who decide what gets done, how, and when. After Franco died, one teacher said, the neighborhood associations came together to fix things up. They put up lamposts and worked together to repair what needed to be repair. They didn't have to wait for anybody to make decisions for them--there was popular energy and initiative that carried things along. Now, the same neighborhood associations pass out sandwiches during the town festivals, but they don't do anything else, because the political parties went about grabbing more and more power to the point that you can't do anything without involving them. It's sapped any initiative for doind things at the local level. "Everyone just sits around waiting for things to be fixed somehow," said another teacher. "I mean, with the outrageous level of unemployment in Spain, you would think people would be protesting. But no. Nothing."

All of this makes me wonder about the effects of Spain's vertiginous political change, from a paternalistic dictatorship ("Las cosas no estaban bien, pero por lo menos funcionaban las escuelas y había respeto," a teacher in Santa María told me yesterday) to a democracy that threw its doors wide open to modernity, excess, material and social wellbeing that seems to be reaching its (logical?) end in a civil society marked by intense consumer culture (Vivan las rebajas!) and a sort of diluted sense of what matters.

The "story" here is only partly interculturality. It's bigger than that, even. As my intuition told me early in planning this project, this is all symptomatic of changes in 'values' -- but how do people come to value certain things over others? How do they come to care about a certain way of life or look for ways to change it? These are generational and historical questions, embedded in what people can, might, or think about doing everyday. What are the ways that a lack of motivation, on the one hand, and blocks to popular action, on the other, shape civil society? What is it, exactly, that we see emerging in Spain?