Teachers have been out on strike again in Southern Mexico as part of their long campaign against education 'reform'. In Oaxaca teachers commandeered a digger to erect  barricades and halt traffic. 5000 police were flown in to Chiapas in an attempt to stop the protests there. In Guerrero teachers blocked the main motorway between Mexico City and Acapulco. In Michoacan teachers blocked the main road to the port and put it out of action.

All these actions have taken place despite the arrest of leaders of the teachers union, CNTE, and large numbers of police being deployed in an attempt to force through the reforms, in particular punitive teacher evaluations. Many teachers continued to resist the evaluations and as a result thousands have been threatened with the sack. Further strikes are planned for May 1st and May 15th.

Mexican teachers have been the most determined anywhere in the world to defend democratic public education and resist the Global Education Reform Movement which teachers and children everywhere are suffering under. To read more go here

In a gesture of solidarity, the UK National Union of Teachers, invited a colleague from Mexico, Professor Hugo Aboites, the Rector of the Autonomous University of Mexico City, to address its conference. This is the text of his speech: 

For almost four years, Mexican teachers have organized a nation-wide resistance against a government imposed Reform of primary and secondary education. During many months of 2013 tens of thousands of teachers from all across the country (specially from Oaxaca, Guerrero, Michoacán…) set up camp in the central square of Mexico City. With tents, they surrounded the National Palace, the Cathedral, the Supreme Court building, the seat of the City Government and some days blocked access to the airport , the stock market, the residence of the President and the highway to Acapulco: the main symbols of the State. In one of those days, even several points along the border with the United States were simultaneously closed by teachers. However, the most effective protest during the long camp days was what teachers do best: talk, analyze, discuss and collectively arrive to conclusions. In the same vein, and for months a group of experts on education traveled to different regions of the country to discuss the reform with teachers. The arguments and the determined stand of teachers of the National Coordination of Education Workers (CNTE for its initials in Spanish) began to attract a growing number of other teachers, angry and concerned about the reform. It is estimated that more than half a million, of a total of close to two million teachers, participated in the resistance.

With all this, the government was forced to postpone approval of the reform laws, and even to agree to organize massive gatherings of discussion with teachers and parents in strategic cities of the country. Eventually, these actions did not stop the approval of the reform in Congress, but did strengthen the opposition movement in a way that hadn’t been seen in 30 years.

Since 2013, the protests have continued. Sometimes receding, sometimes erupting with force. Just four months ago, for example, protests regarding the first application of a standardized evaluation of teachers were so strong that tens of thousands of federal troops had to be transported by air to protect the evaluation sites.

Why is this movement so strong? Why are teachers so determined? What kind of a reform is this? Let me try to give you some brief answers.

  1. 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.

Third, the coming presidential election. A very strong candidate in the presidential race has just declared that, if elected, he will cancel the reform. And this has created a state of alarm within the ranks of government and business. Because if almost two million teachers and their families, friends, parents, communities, older students, and sympathetic organizations, all of these vote, they could have a decisive impact on the result of the election and thus accelerate the fate of the reform.

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.