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.
We stand with you, Mexico.
We fight with you.
We bleed with you.
We are the same.
Peace and solidarity.