18 April 2013

Shirley Youxjeste : Mexican Feds Crack Down on Teachers Protesting Educational 'Reform'

Mexican federal police confront protesting teachers in Chilpancingo, Guerrero, on April 4, 2013. Photo by  EFE / STR. Image from La Prensa (San Antonio).
Mexican teachers take the streets
against standardized tests
Teachers in Guerrero, tired of the hostility of the business class, shut down two department stores in Chilpancingo for eight hours, using shopping carts as barricades.
By Shirley Youxjeste / The Rag Blog / April 18, 2013

GUERRERO, Mexico -- The image had an impact in and out of Mexico: an older man with the appearance of a campesino, surrounded and subdued by five federal police officers who employed fists, boots, and three fire extinguishers. The man’s crime was to attend a demonstration in support of his children’s teachers in Chilpancingo, capital of the state of Guerrero.

Guerrero is home to tourist centers like Acapulco and Zihatanejo/Ixtapa, but the rest of the state is among the poorest places in the Western Hemisphere. It is here where resistance to the attempt to convert teachers into test preparers is strongest.

In December, Enrique Peña Nieto was inaugurated president after controversial elections led to the return of the traditional ruling party, the PRI (Partido de la Revolución Institucional) after 12 years out of office. Within days, Peña Nieto had rammed an educational “reform” package with the assent of all registered political parties.

The new law forces even more standardized testing for teachers and students and facilitates the firing of teachers whose students don’t “perform” as expected.

The march of April 5 in which the above-described incident took place was the first of many attempts to occupy the Autopista del Sol, the freeway that runs from Mexico City to Acapulco during the final days of school vacations, when traffic tie-ups were sure to be more severe.

About 3,000 teachers and supporters kept it blocked for a few hours until police moved in and used violent tactics to subdue demonstrators. This spot on the freeway, incidentally, is where state police killed two protesting education students in a similar blockade in December 2011.

Most news media reported the April 5 protest as a gathering of “lazy and violent” teachers; the more violent police actions have been publicized mainly through social networks. Teachers responded with  more marches the following Wednesday, with an estimated 100,000 marching in Chilpancingo (whose total population is not much more than that), and teachers in the neighboring states of Oaxaca, Morelos, and Michoacán also demonstrated.

Among the marchers in Chilpancingo and other cities in Guerrero, in addition to teachers, parents, students, and members of other unions, were members of various Policía Comunitaria organizations, grassroots defense groups that have more in common with the Black Panthers than with the real police.

Shopping cart barricades

On Saturday, April 13, teachers in Guerrero, tired of the hostility of the business class, shut down two department stores in Chilpancingo, Wal Mart and Liverpool, for eight hours, using shopping carts as barricades to prevent people from entering.

On April 25-27, the CNTE (Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación), the dissident caucus within the dominant teachers’ union, will hold a national conference on alternative education in Mexico City.

Business organizations have reacted with extreme hostility toward the teachers, with executives and business owners offering themselves as scabs so classes can take place. Other business groups (apparently more local) and, of course, groups of parents have expressed support for the teachers.

[Shirley Youxjeste is a retired Wisconsin teacher now living in southern Mexico.]

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