Death is the ultimate exclamation point.
We walk through life blissfully unaware until someone dies.
Such is the case for 43 someones in Mexico. These rural first-year teaching students were kidnapped on Sept. 26 by police and allegedly handed over to a drug cartel who tortured and killed them.
Why such violence against a group of young men from one of the poorest states in the country who had dedicated their lives to care for the needs of Mexican children?
They opposed the country’s education reform policy.
That’s right. They were just like us.
Just like the 53,000 members of the Badass Teachers Association or the 99,000 people who follow Diane Ravich on Twitter or all the parents who stand in the back of a school board meeting holding a sign against toxic testing.
They had come from rural Ayotzinapa to the city of Iguala to peacefully protest but were fired on by police. Six died on the scene and 43 more were taken into custody and are presumed dead. Students who survived the attack but escaped capture said army personnel were in the area and aware of what was happening, yet did nothing to stop the massacre.
Mexican school reform is apparently a bloody business. But reading the background of this tragedy is like looking in a mirror.
In February 2013, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto signed an education reform bill with the support of the three main political parties. The bill reads like it was plagiarized from the United States federal Race To The Top program. In fact, it’s much worse.
It includes hiring and promotion based solely on “merit,” new allegedly more rigorous educational standards, and reappraisal of teachers deserving tenure. Local control of public education is almost completely negated in favor of a new federal National Institute for Education Evaluation.
Like it’s American counterpart, it ignores the realities of poverty in favor of vilifying teachers.
Millions of Mexican school children suffer from a dismal lack of funding and infrastructure. Many schools lack floors, bathrooms, Internet, or even telephone access, and in rural areas roads to schools often are non-existent.
At least a third of schools face severe infrastructure problems, according to an April 2014 census report on pre- through middle schools. A total of 41% lack sewage systems and 31% have no drinkable water. Fixing the problem would cost at least $4 billion.
Just like in the United States, the Mexican reform agenda was created and pushed through by big business. In this case, the right-wing business group “Mexicans First” is hoping to undo much of the liberal reforms associated with the Mexican Revolution. The goal is to subordinate education to the profit needs of big business.
The strategy includes singling out and slandering educators in the mass media for the supposed failures of public education. As in the US, the position of the teachers unions has been not to reject the reactionary plan, but to demand that they be included as partners.
Public outcry against the massacre has been massive. Students have called for a general strike on Nov. 20. On Saturday, Nov. 8, demonstrators set fire to the door of Mexico City’s ceremonial presidential palace. Protestors chanted “it was the state” and called for the resignation of President Nieto and the Attorney General.
The most popular rallying cry seems to be “Ya Me Cansé.” It means: “Enough. I’m tired” or “I’m already tired.”
Would it take similar bloodshed for the American public finally to be fed up with our own factory schools movement?
Our own government pushes these same counter-reforms.
Just like in Mexico, US privatizers drool all over the prospect of de-professionalizing teaching, and raking in education funding as profits. The only difference is we haven’t started murdering protestors yet.
I’ll admit it’s a big difference, and I’m thankful for it. Otherwise, my body would have been tossed on the rubbish heap long ago.
But after investigating this tragedy, I can no longer look at our own self-proclaimed reformers the same way. They look like Mexican gangsters.
There is very little to distinguish them from the corrupt Mexican government and its drug cartels. If you put Bill Gates, Barrack Obama, Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee and Campbell Brown in a room with their Mexican counterparts, there is much they’d agree on.
Common Core State Standards? YES!
Merit Pay? YES!
Abolishing teacher tenure? YES!
I hope so.
But before we let them off the hook, it’s best to look at the blood on their hands.
Oh, yes, they are dripping with blood.
Our American government is complicit in this tragedy because of our never wavering faith in the drug war that feeds it – American demand, Mexican supply, American guns, Mexican bloodbath.
As we ponder how far our own politicians and corporate leaders are willing to go to ensure their agenda, let us pause to remember our brothers who died in Mexico.
They were someone’s sons. They had been born, loved, cherished and wanted to make a difference.
They didn’t want to be martyrs. They wanted to be teachers.
Sometimes that means the same thing.
Ya Me Cansé!
Ya Me Cansé!
Ya Me Cansé!
YA ME CANSE!
This article has also been published on the Badass Teachers Association blog.