Killed for Being a Teacher – Mexico’s Corporate Education Reform

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In Mexico, you can be killed for being a teacher.

Correction: you can be killed for being a teacher who opens her mouth and speaks her mind.

You can be killed, kidnapped, imprisoned – disappeared.

That’s what happened to approximately six people a week ago at a protest conducted by a teachers union in the southern state of Oaxaca.

The six (some of whom were teachers) were gunned down by police and as many as 100 more people were injured near the town of Nochixtlan, about 50 miles northwest of Oaxaca City.

Conflict between teachers and governments has become commonplace across the globe as austerity and neoliberalism have become the policies du jour. Tax cuts for the rich lead to shrinking public services. And investment in the next generation through public education becomes a thing of the past.

Even here in the United States, educators are taking to the streets to protest a system that refuses to help students – especially poor and minority students – while blaming all deficiencies on one of the only groups that actually show up to help: teachers.

Though in America educators have been ignored, unjustly fired and even arrested for such protests, the Mexican government has resorted to all out murder.

How did it come to this? Follow the trail backwards to its source.

The activists in Oaxaca were protesting because several union officials had been kidnapped by the government and unjustly imprisoned the previous weekend.

Those union officials were asking questions about the 2014 disappearance and alleged murder of 43 protesting student teachers by agents of the government.

These student teachers, in turn, were fighting incoming President Enrique Peña Nieto’s education reforms.

Specifically, Nieto threatened to fire tens of thousands of teachers by using their impoverished, neglected and under-resourced students’ test scores against them.

The government provides next to nothing to educate these kids. And just like officials in the U.S., Nieto wants to blame a situation he created on the people who volunteered to help fix it. It’s like an arsonist blaming a blaze on the fire department.

Why’s he doing it? Power. Pure power.

Poverty in Mexico is more widespread than it is even in its northern neighbor. This is because the most populace Spanish-speaking country in the world also has one of the most corrupt governments on the face of the Earth: A government in bed with the drug cartels. A government that has no interest in serving the people whom it pretends are its constituents.

Since before the Mexican Revolution in 1810, teachers have been the center of communities in impoverished neighborhoods empowering citizens to fight for their rights. These teachers learned how to fight for social justice at national teacher training schools, which Nieto proposes to shut down and allow anyone with a college degree in any subject to be a teacher.

Not only would this drastically reduce the quality of the nation’s educators, it would effectively silence the single largest political force against the President.

In short, this has nothing to do with fixing Mexico’s defunct public education system. It’s all about destroying a political foe.

The government does not have the best interests of the citizens at heart – especially the poor. The teachers do.

Though more violent than the conflict in the United States, the battle in Mexico is emblematic of the same fight teachers face here.

It remains to be seen how this southern conflict will affect us up north.

People have died – literally died – fighting against standardized testing, value added measures, school privatization and the deprofessionalization of teaching. Will this make Bill Gates, John King, Campbell Brown and other U.S. corporate education reformers more squeamish about pushing their own education agenda? After all, they are trying to sell stratagems that look almost exactly alike to Nieto’s. How long can they advocate for clearly fascist practices without acknowledging the blood on their own hands, too?

For our part, U.S. teachers, parents, students, and activists see the similarities. We see them here, in Puerto Rico, in Britain, in much of Europe, in Africa and throughout the world.

We see the violence in Mexico, and we stand with you. From sea to shinning sea, we’re calling for an end to the bloodshed.

The Network for Public Education has issued an urgent appeal to the Mexican government to stop the violence. Members of the Chicago Teachers Union have taken to the streets to protest in solidarity with their brothers and sisters south of the border.

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We stand with you, Mexico.

We fight with you.

We bleed with you.

We are the same.

Peace and solidarity.

Our Martyred Brothers: What 43 Missing Mexican Student Teachers Share with US Educators Fighting Factory School Reform

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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!

Murdering dissidents?

No?

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!

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This article has also been published on the Badass Teachers Association blog.