US-Style School Reform Goes South
The Oaxacan teachers have battled successive state administrations for years. In 2006, a Sección 22 strike became a virtual insurrection, and the national government sent in heavily armed police to suppress the rebellion. In its wake, the left-wing Democratic Revolutionary Party and the right-wing National Action Party organized an unwieldy coalition and defeated the PRI in the 2010 state election for the first time. Heavily supported by Sección 22, former Oaxaca City Mayor Gabino Cué became governor, opening the door for the PTEO.
In 2012, however, the PRI regained the national presidency. In Mexico, the federal government controls education policy and funding. “The PTEO has to be evaluated by the federal government,” says Rendon. “A great deal of our resources comes from them, so if we don’t agree with their policy, it gets very complicated. Hopefully, we’ll be able to find points in common.”
“It is a very viable proposal,” he adds. “We still have to work on it, but it’s a dynamic process. We’re asking teachers to develop their abilities to form collectives and help them actually change the school. All that takes training. And any change in the system requires money.”
When Cué came into office, he signed an initial agreement with Sección 22 to begin implementing the PTEO, which began in 280 schools last May and June. Each had to set up a collective, analyze the needs of students and the community, and come up with an education plan.
In February, however, just before Gordillo’s arrest, Claudio González went to Oaxaca and warned Governor Cué that he had to “break the hijacking of education by Sección 22”; he also called the teachers “tyrants.” That was too much even for the state’s school director, Manuel Iturribarría Bolaños, who accused González of having come to the state to provoke a fight. Teachers picketed the Mexicanos Primero press conference, and González fled back to Mexico City.
Meanwhile, teachers deal with day-to-day problems. “I teach biology at the Escuela Secondaria General José María Bradomín, in a poor community at the edge of the city,” Torres explains. “To convince students to take an interest, I use music and computers. We leave the classroom and look at leaves on the trees. People who teach in a traditional way ask what I think I’m doing. They want a very ordered room with everyone in their assigned seat. I want my students to learn to work together.”
Migration from Oaxaca to the United States has risen sharply in the last twenty-five years. While the reform debate goes on, Oaxacan students still leave school every year and head north. Rendon coordinates programs to track them as they migrate with their parents in search of work. One sends Oaxacan teachers to the United States to help those students. Another brings California and Oregon teachers to Oaxaca, to better understand the culture of these migrant children.
That’s a more complicated picture than the one presented by ¡De Panzazo! and Mexicanos Primero, promoted by USAID and the OECD. “Today our challenges are very difficult, because we’re living in a globalized world,” Torres concludes. “We can’t be separate from it. We can’t just tell a student, ‘You succeeded because you went to school.’ The child must be prepared for life. The challenge for me is to give students in school the tools they can use to resolve their life problems once they leave it.”