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LibreOrganize 0.6.0 - Documentation

Mexican Teachers Fight for Real Education

from the Nov. 3, 2021 Bulletin

unions indigenous peoples social movements education

Eligio Valdés now serves as the principal of a primary school in Michoacán, where one-size-fits-all mandates for what and how to teach aren’t meeting the needs of indigenous students. Valdés, an activist who formerly led the Michoacán section of the independent CNTE teachers union, is working to change that. And so are his fellow CNTE activists, who currently earn only a quarter of what US teachers make — and sometimes not even that. They’ve been striking and blockading railroads because Michoacán’s Morena governor hasn’t been paying out their paychecks as promised.

Teachers in México have been in the vanguard of social change for a century. Why have they played such a militant role?


Eligio Valdés: Teachers and priests have been the main educated people in small towns across México. Teachers have always lived among the people, as part of the community. Through many phases of history they’ve been in a position to see what needs to change, and they have the ability to develop alternatives to the existing system.


Today, in Michoacán, in spite of great difficulties and limited resources, we’ve been able to construct and put into practice a “Democratic Program for Education and Culture” for our state that challenges the official program of the government.


The 1.4-million-member SNTE teachers union  Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación — ranks nationwide as México’s largest union. But in Michoacán the independent Coordinator Nacional de Trabajores de Educación — the CNTE — has become the primary teacher voice. How does the CNTE operate?


In the CNTE, a broad collective of democratic teachers, all members make decisions and act together to solve the problems we face, a process completely different from the authoritarian charro union structure, where the leader alone makes the decisions, behind closed doors with government officials, all acting with complete impunity. This opens the door to corruption.


Teacher protests in México have inspired US labor activists. Do you see the independent teachers movement as part of the union movement or more of a social movement?


The CNTE has gone through different stages. At first, it functioned like a conventional union. At its first congress, in 1989, CNTE’s demands focused on raising salaries and building a more democratic union. In the next period, we became more involved in social issues like the privatization of energy, social security, and, acting together with our communities, protesting police attacks.

Does everyone in México have access to an education?


Class remains the biggest barrier. If you want to continue your studies after high school, it can get expensive: books, transportation, even often having to move and find new housing. Marginalized communities, indigenous and otherwise, have the worst situation.

Indigenous teachers seem to have played an oversized role in the protests calling for reforms. What have these protests accomplished?


Teachers in the sector Indígena en Michoacán have displayed a high degree of discipline, seriousness, and determination in the daily struggles. In Michoacán, they’ve designed a model curriculum for indigenous education for the four original peoples: Mazhua, Otomi, Nahua, and Purépecha. They’ve rooted the curriculum in the communal philosophy of those cultures. In all, they have 3,330 indigenous teachers in 713 bilingual schools, teaching in Spanish and in each of those four languages. In all of México, only about 5 percent of teachers rate as bilingual in an indigenous language.


Do teachers support AMLO’s anti-neoliberal reforms in education?


During the presidency of Peña Nieto, who preceded AMLO, teachers in the CNTE fought heroically against the reforms that made rote testing on subjects determined by the neoliberal state the basis for students to pass and for teachers to keep their jobs. Over the Nieto years, teachers paid a high price for their resistance and disobedience: in lives lost, in disappearances and incarcerations, in physical and administrative repression. The government succeeded in containing our movement, but they could not stamp it out.


When AMLO was running for president, he promised the CNTE that he wouldn’t leave in place even one comma from the neoliberal education reform. But, over the past three years of his leadership, that promise has not been kept. His administration’s education reform remains pro-corporate, still in essence the reform of Peña Nieto. And so we continue to fight for the children, for teachers, and for the nation.