Teachers' work has always been ambivalent. On the one hand, we prepare young people to live in capitalist societies, to work and act in ways which are acceptable to the state. On the other, we have the possibility to work with young people in an effort to understand the world critically and creatively, to see what are the causes of oppression and injustice and to imagine and begin to struggle for a different world. It is this aspect of our work which frightens the elites. All the 'reform' efforts - from the common core curriculum in the US, to standardised testing and performance related tenure in Pakistan - are designed to take away teachers' potentially transformative role.

While resistance to the 'reform' agenda is inspiring and global, what is equally important is the efforts by teachers and communities to reimagine education so that it can serve the oppressed instead of the oppressor. Nowhere has that been more consistently done than in Latin America - and the epicentre of that effort is in Oaxaca in Mexico, where teachers are currently facing the gravest threat in their history. As film-maker Jill Freidberg put it:

The Coalition of Indigenous Teachers of Oaxaca (CMPIO) . . .  have been world leaders in their explorations of bilingual education, community-led indigenous education, and new models for developing indigenous educators . . . They have worked closely with Navajo educators in the U.S., and with Maori educators in New Zealand. . .  With this most recent union-busting move . . .they are essentially all being fired, and many of them have arrest warrants. In short, some of the world’s most important work in community-driven public education is being dismantled as we speak, and that part of the story is not being reported. 

Other educators are making similar mostly unacknowledged efforts around the world. We have reported the work of Avehi Abacus in India, where teachers are working in public schools promoting education based on ways of learning and teaching which emerge from the culture of that country and not from its previous colonial masters. The 'Rethinking Schools' initiative in the US shares experiences of critical educators there. In Washington state, indigenous education leaders have rejected the standardised curriculum and testing model being imposed by reformers and are building a new kind of education. In their statement they quote an Iriquois elder who told English colonists: “...you who are so wise must know that different Nations have different Conceptions of things and you will, therefore, not take it amiss if our Ideas of this kind of Education happen not to be the same as yours. We have had some Experience of it...”

If our unions are to get the support of communities in resisting corporate 'reform' and defending public education, we have to acknowledge that public education has often failed the most oppressed in all our countries, and support educators and communities in developing their own vision for education. Of course the main reason for the inadequacy of public education in the North and South is that it is starved of funds. But if we are to resist the spurious social justice rhetoric of the World Bank, the OECD and education corporations, we also have to develop our own vision for an education which both enhances the possibilities for children to make their way in the unjust economic and social relations to which we are currently subject, and for them to understand those relations and participate in the struggle for a more just world.

And because they are in the forefront of this effort, we must also give full support to the teachers of Oaxaca.