La Reforma

I woke up at 5 am to check my twitter feed.  I was sure that something would have happened overnight, as the teachers once again met with government official the night before.  The government has been pleading with them to open the roads- that their actions are causing innocent civilians to suffer, with both imports and exports unable to make their way in or out of the state, these road blocks could easily cause the economy to collapse.

But nothing.  I went back to bed.  I woke up hours later and trying to plan what I might do for yet another day, in a hotel room in Tuxtla Gutierrez.  I checked my twitter feed.  A road had opened.  I started throwing things in bags.  Another road opened.  I took a shower.  I checked the news and saw that the teachers were now allowing individual cars to pass the road blocks.  Nilo and I quickly headed out.

As I got on Highway 190, cars were backed up for 6 kilometers.  It took me over an hour to make it those 6 kilometers, and I feared that I would once again be turned around, as I saw many cars jump the median and turn around.  I finally reached the point in the highway where I had been confronted by that angry man a few nights ago.  But there was no angry man, no downed trees, just a line of smiling teachers, on each side of my car, waving their bandanas as a signal for me to pass.  I started to cry.  

Tears running down my face, I smiled at them all, thanking them in both English and Spanish.  Occasionally I'd see someone look at my plates, then look at me, and give me an even bigger smile.  I wanted to jump out of my car and hug them, to tell them that I was a teacher, that I was against the reform too, that I was so proud of them for standing up, but so thankful that they opened the roads.

Here, in San Cristobal, there is still much evidence of the strikes, and of the violence in Oaxaca.  I stood in front of a barricade today, where I took the photos below and, again, I cried.  

"This is not a reform that has been preceded by any sort of serious diagnosis and certainly it has not consider teachers´s points of view. It is based exclusively on the policies and concrete initiatives mandated by the Organization for the Cooperation and Economic Development (OCED). These have been adapted in Mexico by a foundation called “Mexicans First”, which includes powerful corporations: The Mexican national TV empire (Televisa), the beer and refreshments businesses (Corona, Coca-Cola), Kimberly Clark, the paper monopoly, and the various businesses of Carlos Slim, the third richest person in the world. Don’t forget: Mexico is the 14th richest economy in the world, although more than half of its 110 million inhabitants live in poverty. So this is a reform that represents what big businesses think is necessary not to educate creative and socially responsible human beings, but to prepare students to become human capital. It is the reform of the rich.

It is a reform against the poor, including teachers of public schools. Teachers are a strong and well organized social force and a formidable obstacle to the educational plans of big business. And that explains the depth of the class confrontation. The teaching profession in Mexico is an off spring of one of the most important armed social movements in Latin America in the 20th century. The State recruited hundreds of thousands of sons and daughters of poor peasants, of workers, and low income employees and educated them in public Normal schools especially created for that purpose. They teach reading, writing and counting, but also teach indigenous communities, peasants and urban workers on how to defend themselves as well as their right to live in an independent country, free from their colonialized past and from subordination. In a nation of poor people, the poor created the conditions for the education of the poor and did this backed by an ideology of social progress. Understandably, teachers of today see the reform of the rich as a fundamental threat to the idea of education that has sustained the country for a century, and they also see it as a personal threat of exclusion. Neoliberalism has changed the State but, as is very visible, not the needs of the majority of the people in the country. Colonization and subordination to predatory free trade agreements is at its height.

To demoralize and corral teachers, the instrument of choice is standardized evaluation. It’s very useful to create a climate of fear with exams that decide who will be fired or excluded from teaching and relegated to administrative duties. A single standardized test designed in the cosmopolitan capital of the country, is being applied to the vastly different groups of teachers of a variety of regions and cultures of the country. Just to give you an idea, Mexico has about sixty different original languages, and the desert and cold mountains of the north of the country are radically different in society and economy from the rain forests, rivers and ocean towns and cities of the south, and the gigantic capital. A single exam cannot capture this diversity, nor the diversity of teaching strategies and teaching knowledge that every region and culture requires. As has been proven in other countries and in Mexico, this type of exam will specially eliminate teachers who are women, poor, or who are most distant from the values, culture and vocabularies of the center of the country. It it is a tool for demobilizing protesters. 

Evaluation only works as an omninous threat if teachers do not have full labor rights. In Mexico all workers, including teachers, were protected by an article of the constitution (Art. 123) that establishes the basic framework of labor rights (the right to strike, the right to belong to a union, to bilateral negotiation, and protections in the case of firing or punishment proceedings, and so on). To remove this obstacle, the education Reform began in 2012 with a constitutional change that removed teachers from under the umbrella of the above mentioned Article. As a result, the aggressive Law of Professional Teaching Service now adds seven reasons for firing a teacher, and for which the union could not intervene. Article 65 of the law is a good example. It states that if the authority considers that a teacher has done something wrong (whatever it may be), he or she will be notified and then given ten days to gather proof of innocence. And unilaterally, the authority will decide the sanction. The law also states that if after three rounds of evaluation a teacher repeatedly appears as “unfit” he or she will be automatically and permanently removed from teaching or even fired, without Union intervention. Furthermore, if a teacher refuses to participate in the test, the punishment is the immediate separation from the job. By the way, tens of thousands of defying teachers refused to submit to the standardized test and now some have been fired.

All this is only against public teachers. The changes introduced to the General Law of Education made it clear that teachers from private schools would not be touched. They will be evaluated and then invited to continue their training, but will not be sanctioned no matter how many evaluations show they are “unfit”.

What is happening now? First, increased repression. The long years of resistance have been harsh and difficult. Some teachers have been apprehended and are held practically as political prisoners, many others are being sought by the federal police, there have been two teachers killed and repression against teachers takes place in a country where political murders and disappearances are common, like the case of the 43 students teachers from Ayotzinapa. But nevertheless, these years have had a substantial impact on the fate of the reform. It is true that the government has won the constitutional and legal battles, but every time they try to apply the law to fire teachers, there are strong protests in the streets, highways are blocked, schools closed, specially in the southern states. Clearly big corporations and government deeply miscalculated the determination of teachers.

Second, the search for alternative proposals for education. For years teachers have been working on the creation of an alternative, a sort of educational reform of their own. This is something that has to do with change within schools , but in some cases, like in Oaxaca, it has gone as far as constructing an initiative for an alternate local law on education. This experience reinforces teachers bonds, creates a strong link of schools with the communities and cannot easily be destroyed. Even in Mexico City, for example, the laws of the reform are not applied to teachers of an alternate secondary education system created in 2000 by the City government. Since it will severely damage the alternative nature of this system so far authorities do not dare to confront teachers to force them to submit to evaluations and other aspects of the new laws. In the City, other similar models, like the City University will also vehemently oppose the reform even if its faculty by law will not be directly affected.

Let me finish by mentioning Monterroso, a Guatemalan author who wrote one of the shortest stories in world literature. The story says: “And when he woke up, the dinosaur was still there”. Every morning for the past four years the Mexican Government officials and the corporate reformers wake up only to see that the dinosaur is still there, protesting. And we shall win."

-Professor Hugo Aboites 

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published