The probable massacre of 43 student teachers in Mexico is a matter of great importance to teachers all over the world. This is not only because we mourn the suffering and deaths of our young colleagues, but because they were at the sharp end of the struggle against neoliberal education ‘reform’.
The young people were ‘normalistas’, that is they attended a so-called Escuela Normal, schools which were set up to train young people from small farming families to become teachers and to help to emancipate their communities from oppression and poverty. They have a long tradition of fighting for democratic education and of training new young teachers to work with their communities. More recently they have been in the forefront of the struggle against the kind of reforms which see education as a purely economic process, to produce ‘human capital’ for corporations.
For this reason many normal schools have been closed, those that remain have been starved of cash and students have been subject to oppression by local and national state forces. It was to collect money to keep their school viable that the young people had gone to the town of Iguala on that fateful September day.
For Esther Elba Gordillo, the deeply corrupt and now jailed leader of the teachers union SNTE, the normal schools are ‘seedbeds of guerrillas’. This is the view of the government too. And those in power are right to fear these young teachers. As education academic Maria de la Luz Arriaga Lemus, ex Normalista and education academic puts it: ‘We teachers, both primary and secondary are dangerous to the system and to those in power and it is for that reason that we are being attacked.’
The World Bank has just produced a book, which is nothing less that a prolonged attack on teachers in Latin America. They are described variously as ‘dismal’, ‘lacking in aspiration’ and as being in need of ‘weeding out.’ The writer lauds the ‘reforms’ of President Peña Nieto, which are so contested by the progressive teachers of Mexico. For her, education’s prime goal is the production of human capital. This is exactly at odds with the philosophy of the escuelas normales.
Latin America has produced some of the most inspiring educationists in the world, not least Paulo Freire. The teachers of Mexico have prosecuted a long and imaginative struggle, together with their local communities against neoliberal ‘reform.’ The young people who risk poverty, torture, and assassination to train as teachers are an inspiration to us all too. Teachers all over the world must demand justice for the 43 (and their six comrades killed on that day in September) and see their sacrifice for what it is – a seed from which will grow a strong movement for the development of democratic and liberatory education all over the world.
A solidarity message from India
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