Mexico’s Teacher Uprising

Conflict and struggle are key words at the beginning of the 2013-2014 school year in Mexico. After a summer break, the controversy over education reform laws promoted by the Pena Nieto administration and backed by the country’s major political parties is back at center stage.

In recent days, tens of thousands of teachers and their allies have taken to the nation’s streets, plazas and highways to register their firm opposition to the education reform package, including the professional service law approved last week by the Mexican Congress that establishes a new educator evaluation system requiring teachers to pass No Child Left Behind-like standardized tests. President Enrique Pena Nieto hailed the new law as a “step forward” in improving Mexico’s educational system.

Backers of the measure contend it will raise teaching standards and clean up a corrupt job assignment system, both of which form a “notoriously dysfunctional public education system” in the words of Univision.

For their part, opponents decry the reform as an outright attack on labor rights, a culturally insensitive policy for an economically and ethnically diverse nation, and an instrument to cleanse dissidents from the ranks of the teaching profession.  Protesters demand the abrogation of the Pena Nieto educational reform.

In the first days of September, protesting teachers disrupted traffic to international airports in Mexico City and tourist-popular Baja California Sur, seized highway toll booths in Chihuahua, Puebla and Veracruz,  slowed traffic crossing the Bridge of the Americas between Ciudad Juarez and El Paso, blockaded  Cancun’s hotel zone, and “collapsed” the Chiapas state capital of Tuxtla Gutierrez for six hours on Friday, September 6.  Protests have broken out in at least 22 states, or more than two-thirds of the national territory.

In Mexico City, teachers held a read-in at a historic monument. Among the shouts heard emanating from the educators: “Read to be free!” “Books against barbarism!  “We teachers read!”
Significantly, the movement has expanded beyond the traditional strongholds of the National Coordinator of Education Workers (CNTE), a large dissident force within the official SNTE union, and spread to areas not usually known as hotbeds of activism. In the small Pacific coastal state of Nayarit, 17,000 teachers rallied against the professional service law last week, while thousands of educators staged a weekend march in Merida, Yucatan. In some areas of Mexico, teachers have declared strikes, including in the usually quiet state of Campeche.

First erupting last February,  the now more than six-month-old teacher movement has acquired a fresh sense of urgency and a rejuvenated burst of energy.

The CNTE proposes that instead of the Federal Education Secretariat as stipulated by the professional service law, teacher evaluation should be carried out collectively by school principals, educators and parents.
Further, protesting educators complain that the new education laws ignore pressing problems like classroom overcrowding and decaying school buildings. Another common grievance of  teachers is that they were not consulted in the drafting of either the primary education reform law that was passed by the Congress last December or the newly-approved professional service legislation.

“In order to carry out an education reform, one first has to take all the necessities into account, beginning with the (school) infrastructure,” said a member of the Resissste movement in Ciudad Juarez.

Teacher militancy has provoked counter-reactions by sectors of society.  Some groups of parents demand a re-opening of shut-down schools, and even the use of the soldiers as substitute teachers to break the strike. However, contingents of parents and students have joined the protest movement in Veracruz and other states.

Lawmaker Ricardo Anaya, president of the lower house of the Mexican Congress, implored federal and local officials in Mexico City to take action against teachers who’ve repeatedly filled streets with demonstrations in the Mexican capital.

“I am definitely convinced that minorities can’t be taking the city hostage, and much less the (political) powers,”  Anaya said. “In this Chamber of Deputies, we have been very clear in saying that everyone has a right to be heard, but there is a limit and that limit is the right of third parties.”  State officials in Chihuahua and Baja California have announced that they will dock pay and levy other sanctions against striking teachers.

“We will not allow teachers to halt work and damage the education of the little ones through demonstrations,”  said Pablo Espinoza Flores,  Chihuahua state education secretary. “We accept their right to demonstrate their disagreement, but let them do it outside working hours.”

Pedro Gomez, Chiapas teacher leader, blamed the government for escalating tensions. “The social explosion is getting nearer, and we are not provoking it-the federal government is,” Gomez insisted.

The CNTE and its allies are busy organizing a “national civic strike” for Wednesday, September 11, with support from scores of other unions and social organizations.

More border crossing blockades, toll-booth occupations and school shut-downs are possibly in the works. The rising teacher protest coincides with emerging protests over gasoline price hikes, proposed border zone tax increases and the Pena Nieto administration’s  energy reform legislation awaiting action in Congress.

“This is a fraternal call,” said Oaxaca protest leader Ruben Nunez.  “We are building the unitary front and going together to the national strike and civic stoppage in this season of resistance and civil disobedience.”

Bubbling up from below in an ample stew of social protest, the convergence of causes is promising a very interesting fall. Ciudad Juarez sociologist and political commentator Carlos Murillo noted in a recent column that the fall season has long figured prominently in the political bio-rhythms of his country.

According to Murillo, September is the time of national independence, October the anniversary of the 1968 student revolt and massacre, and November the month of the 1910 Mexican Revolution.

“The autumn has a profound significance in the historic memory of Mexicans,” Murillo wrote. “If some important event in the life of the country is going to happen, many possibilities exist that it will happen in this season of the year.”

Some warn of repression against the burgeoning teacher movement.

“This might not occur in Mexico City, but it could happen in the states,” wrote Jesusa Cervantes, a columnist and political analyst for Proceso newsweekly. “There, far from the reflectors, in faraway communities, with a communications media more co-opted than in the center of the country,  (repression) is easier to do.”

Sources: El Sur/Agencia Reforma, September 8, 2013. El Sol de Tijuana, September 7, 2013.  Article by Feliciano Castro Loya.  La Jornada, September 4, 6 7, 9, 2013. Articles by Emir Olivares, Roberto Garduno,  Enrique Mendez, Arturo Jimenez,  E. Gomez, Karina Aviles correspondents, and editorial staff. Proceso/Apro, September 4, 6 and 8, 2013.  Articles by Isain Mandujano, Rosa Santana, Sergio Caballero, Arturo Osorio, Patricia Mayorga,  Jesusa Cervantes, and editorial staff., September 6, 2013. Article by Carlos Murillo Gonzalez., September 6 and 8, 2013. Univision, September 4, 2013. El Universal, September 4, 2013. El Diario de Juarez, September 4, 6 and 8, 2013.  Articles by Francisco Javier Chavez, Alejandra Gomez, Excelsior,  Agencia Reforma, and CNN. La Opinion, September 5, 2013. Article by Gardenia Mendoza Aguilar.  El Semanario de Nuevo Mexico/Agencia Reforma, September 5, 2013. Article by Enrique Lomas. La Jornada (Guerrero edition), September 4, 2013. Article by Margena de la O.

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