Posts Tagged ‘education’

Today was supposed to be the first day of school in Mexico, but not for most in Oaxaca.  According to Sección 22 of the CNTE (teachers’ union), 90% of public schools did not open today.  The Instituto Estatal de Educación Pública de Oaxaca (the government’s Institute of Public Education) puts the number at 52% of public schools in the state that remained closed.

Classrooms may have remained empty, but from the Monumento a Juárez to the Plaza de la Danza, teachers and their allies filled several of the main streets of the state’s capital in a mass march that took over an hour and a half to pass –part of the ongoing protests against the federal government’s education/labor reform.

Today, there are no winners, only losers — the kids.  The weather provided a metaphor for the day — grey and depressing.

While not specific to Oaxaca, a new documentary by Al Jazeera, Child labour in Mexico, adds some context to the issue of education in Mexico, especially in the poorer regions of Mexico.  At 16:36, the focus of the conversation turns to relating child labor to the problems of education, corruption, and poverty.


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Mosquito borne diseases like Dengue, Chikungunya, and Zika continue to plague the planet.  Today’s good news is a Dengue vaccine proves 100% effective in human trials.  Let’s hope so!

In the meantime, understand the life cycle of mosquitoes and follow the instructions on a wall in Tlacolula de Matamoros…P1180034

Wash, cover, turn over, and eliminate!

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In the last five years one million Mexicans residing in the US have returned to Mexico, including children and youth who were born or raised in the US.  Una Vida, Dos Países presents the stories of these transborder youth, highlighting their experiences living between two countries, cultures, languages and education systems, and exploring their parents’ decisions to return to their home country after living undocumented in the US.

Thirty seconds into the new documentary, Una Vida, Dos Países by Tatyana Kleyn, tears began welling up.  Set in Ciénaga de Zimatlán and Tlacolula de Matamoros, both in the central valley of Oaxaca, the places and faces were so very familiar and it hurt to hear the anguish in their voices and see the sadness in their eyes.

I love Oaxaca and, at this stage of my life, have chosen to immerse myself in a foreign culture.  However, these kids didn’t have a choice.  One day, they are normal “American” kids — going to school, playing with friends, speaking English in bustling towns and cities in the USA.  And the next day, they are uprooted from all that is familiar to find themselves “transfronterizos,” living in small rural pueblos bound by a millennia of tradition, surrounded by strangers who are speaking languages, Spanish and/or Zapoteco, they are either not fluent in or don’t know at all.  In addition, they are forced to navigate a school system that has little or no understanding of the culture shock they are experiencing.

What more can I say?

Early in the film, Melchor’s father says, “This is my family, this is my house, not a beautiful house, but when you want to come here, the door is open for you, for everybody.”  Oh, that governments would exhibit that same generous hospitality.

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Expats and Mexicans alike, are watching in amazement at the nonsense (as in, making NO sense) taking place in the hallowed halls of Washington DC.  And, since many of the expats are retired, we are holding our collective breath over the possibility social security checks will not be forthcoming in November and a tanking stock market that flushes our nest eggs away.  Of course, Mexico is in the middle of its own mess, “educational reforms” and economic proposals that will hurt Mexico’s working class and rural populations the most.

Wall in Oaxaca city.

Wall in Oaxaca city.

In a New York Times article two days ago, Carlos Puig explains the reality of the material conditions that have forced the teachers of Oaxaca to take the drastic action of abandoning their classrooms to lead massive and extremely disruptive protests in Mexico City against the “No Child Left Behind” style reforms that the Peña Nieto led government has proposed and passed.  (Read a critique of the US education “reform” by Diane Ravitch, former “No Child Left Behind” proponent, here.)

Oaxaca is 500 kilometers from Mexico City, yet the real distance is much bigger. The state’s G.N.P. per capita is one-quarter the average for the country. Oaxaca ranks second-to-last among all states in infrastructure. More than half its population lives in towns of fewer than 2,500 people.

Being a teacher in Oaxaca means sometimes having to travel for an entire day to reach your school in a tiny community, teach for three days — to children of all grades — and travel back home for the weekend. It means having to deal with children who speak more than 20 different dialects.

Being a teacher in Oaxaca means operating in a different universe — and under different rules.

Banner hanging in front of a school in Oaxaca city

Banner hanging in front of a school in Oaxaca city

However, as in the USA, the incomprehensible words coming out of the mouths of the 1% and their elected representatives are mind-boggling in their obliviousness to the adverse consequences their behavior and policies cause.  And, we scratch our heads in amazement…  McClatchy journalist, Tim Johnson, has repeatedly blogged about the exceedingly “bad” behavior exhibited by Mexico City’s rich and powerful directed at those they consider “below” them — most recently, Las Ladies, episode 7.  And, just last week in Oaxaca, most were aghast to read that an indigenous woman, in the advanced stage of labor, was turned away from a hospital and forced to give birth on the hospital lawn.

Daniel Goleman had a revealing piece in the New York Times a few days ago that helps explain where this lack of empathy the ruling elite exhibit, that results in callous social policy, comes from.  He explains in Rich People Just Care Less that, by necessity, “the poor, compared with the wealthy, have keenly attuned interpersonal attention in all directions…”  And that, “A growing body of recent research shows that people with the most social power pay scant attention to those with little such power” and, “In politics, readily dismissing inconvenient people can easily extend to dismissing inconvenient truths about them.”

Okay, now we know why the rich care less, so what are we going to do about it?

Part of a mural on Niños Heroes in Oaxaca city.

Part of a mural on Niños Heroes in Oaxaca city.

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I adored my maternal grandmother.  She was short and plump with a crown of white hair framing a broad round face.  Her life wasn’t easy and years of hard work lined her face, but it was a face dominated by wise and remarkably kind eyes.  I see the same strength and wisdom and loving presence in the abuelas of Oaxaca.  Across years and miles, they bring a little of my grandma back and it makes me smile.

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And, speaking of Oaxaca’s awesome abuelas…

Mexican grandmother graduates from primary school at age 100

By Luc Cohen

MEXICO CITY | Wed Jun 26, 2013 11:30pm IST

(Reuters) – You’re never too old to learn: Mexican grandmother Manuela Hernandez has finally graduated from primary school – at the age of 100.

Born in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca in June 1913, the year before World War One began, she left primary school after just a year to help her poor family with household chores.

Hernandez only resumed her studies in October at age 99 at the recommendation of a grandchild, and she was handed her diploma at a celebration on Saturday.

“I liked school very much, but I could not continue studying,” she told Uno TV. “By the next year I could already wash and iron.”

Hernandez will continue her studies in secondary school.

More than half of Oaxaca state residents older than 15 have not completed primary education, the second-highest rate in the country behind neighboring Chiapas, a state education official said. (Reporting by Luc Cohen; Editing by Simon Gardner and Cynthia Osterman)

You might want to also take a look at this brief video of Manuela Hernandez explaining why she had to leave school as a child.

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Recently, I was on the US east coast visiting with family.  Most of the time was spent with three teachers; my sister-in-law who retired after 30+ years of teaching in the Massachusetts public school district, my daughter-in-law who, after teaching in a public school in Connecticut, is currently a teacher in New York, and my son who is a college assistant professor.  They, along with all — not most, all — of my teacher friends in the US, decry the damage No Child Left Behind has wrought.  And, even one of its major proponents, Diane Ravitch, has done a 180 and is now leading the charge against it.  If you are interested, take a look at the Terry Gross interview with her in April 2011.

One of the issues the teachers of Oaxaca are protesting is the Alliance for Quality Education (ACE), modeled after No Child Left Behind.  Thus, the following thoughtful post on the Oaxaca Study Action Group website by Nancy Davies, resonated.

personal note re the Section 22 teachers union strike

I applied for a my first teaching job in Boston. First I took the universal teacher evaluation test, by which the highest scoring were first hired for positions. Then I waited.

By October (school began in September) it was clear that although my score for Boston applicants was third from the topmost person, something fishy was happening. I called the school department. All apologies, they assigned me a school the very next day,from which another teacher had just resigned. It was in an all black (pre-integration) neighborhood of all black kids whose school had no new textbooks and few old ones. There were no functioning bathrooms for the kids, at times of the month when adolescent girls seriously wanted a bathroom and a place to get clean, they stayed home. The boys were often recruited by the male teachers to buy dope. The best joke: the kids put a family of newborn rats in the desk drawer of one teacher. Another joke: hang a fellow student out the window over the asphalt yard by holding his ankles.

I survived, the kids maybe survived. I learned a couple of things: 1) hungry badly treated kids don’t study. 2) teacher tests don’t mean shit.

So here I am surely one of few who supports what Section 22 is doing and saying. Yes, I know the union was corrupted by PRI governors and caciques; and abuses, such inheriting a teaching job, are numerous. I also know that for 27 years Section 22 has been pushing for better salaries but simultaneously for shoes, paid-uniforms, books, bathrooms, breakfasts. I visited the current encampment in the zoc and spoke briefly with a newly graduated normal school teacher, a first-job guy who does not speak any indigenous language, and is not moreno (brown-skinned). He was sitting under a tarp playing cel phone games. Bored, I would say, and happy that somebody spoke to him. He’s not specially political and doesn’t know too much about his union’s history either. In 2006 he was an adolescent in secondary school, and rarely came into the capital. His first classroom is primary grade kids.  I asked him if he likes teaching. Yes, he replied, I am learning so much from the kids! He smiled broadly.

Right away in my book he qualifies as a teacher. His Spanish is good; he graduated from a five year university level program where  pedagogy is  emphasized as well as content information. He’s better prepared in 2012 than I was in 1968 with a  Masters degree from Boston College and accreditation in three areas including Spanish which I couldn’t speak. I learned a lot from my students too, and most of it, since I came from a  middle class neighborhood, was initially incomprehensible. One boy was clearly psychopathic. Two were dyslexic but had never been tested, merely promoted. They were wonderful at memorizing everything they couldn’t read. One girl got pregnant during the year and I didn’t have a clue what to say to her, I still grieve over my stupidity and lack of empathy. One girl told me her grandmother was burned up the night before in a home fire. Another’s boyfriend had been shot dead on the street. So I can sum up what I learned from my students as the stuff nightmares were made of, and it probably radicalized me more than any movement of the time. The Section 22 kid who was hired legitimately when he applied,  tested only by his normal school (and why should we assume they pass youngsters who don’t know either their subject or how to teach it?) told me he learned from his kids and he smiled. I wept.

Section 22 has pushed Cue to accept the fact that one size does not fit all, neither for teacher evaluation nor for curriculum. They decline to walk away from the 26 unprosecuted murders of 2006 and the half dozen since. They champion the indigenous protests over mining and land grabs. They understand the word “neoliberalism”. They understand ghost towns, towns where the remaining people live off family remittances from the USA. They understand impunity and corruption, caciques who stole towns’ entire education budgets, governors who ignore an education level now the worst in Mexico. Blame the teachers? Not me. Been there, done that.

No one likes being held hostage to issues they don’t understand. As I walked past a blocked registry office an angry woman turned to me and shrieked, Lazy bunch of bastards! Her frustration undoubtedly was caused not just by being unable to enter a state office, but also I imagine by having kids at home driving her  (and her mother) nuts because there’ve been no classes for two weeks. Maybe she knows that with all public classes open, her kids still may not be able to go to the public university since there are not enough seats, and very likely they will settle for semi-menial jobs. Or maybe there will be no jobs. Maybe they will try to cross the desert in Arizona.  Or maybe her story is entirely different, I don’t know.

I ask myself why in 2006  500,000 adults spontaneously came out to march with these very teachers. Why the PRI was voted out and will not recover this state. Why now, in 2012 what the media publish are photos of blocked access and uncollected garbage. Cue is backing down, item by item on 22’s demands. Good for him. He’s neoliberal, but he’s not stupid. His education department head has resigned, and thus far no tear gas has been launched.

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What a difference 5 days make…

Early Wednesday evening, the unmistakable sounds of a desfile replaced the usual background noise of commute traffic.  Bands (yes, more than one), cheers, and cohetes (all bang, no bling fireworks) got louder and louder.  I had to come down off the rooftop to see what was happening.

The energy, enthusiasm, creativity, and laughter of thousands of young people filled the street, brightened, what had been a gray day, and provided a stark contrast to the serious military pomp of the Independence Day parade only 5 days before.

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The occasion was the 30th anniversary of the Colegio de Bachilleres del Estado de Oaxaca (COBAO), an academically rigorous and successful high school system in the state.  In thirty years, this public school has grown from a single campus with 400 students to 64 campuses educating 45,000 students.

Students, faculty, alumni, and dignitaries gathered in the Plaza de la Danza for presentations and speeches.  According to Noticias, it was noted that the event coincided with the approval of two amendments to the Mexican constitution making secondary education mandatory, beginning next year.  Naturally, the event concluded with the requisite fireworks display, which I happily enjoyed from the terrace!

(ps)  Alvin Starkman has written an article in English, Oaxaca Public School Education Targets Student Success: COBAO, about a young girl, from a small village and family of potters, who was recently accepted into COBAO.

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After the two days spent in Teotitlán del Valle last week, I’ve been thinking a lot about the following article, written for the Guardian International Development Journalism competition.

Theme: What stops children in rural areas going to school? sponsored by the David Rattray Memorial Trust

Elena Gonzales folds yarn between her fingers. Her tapestry is woven in an intricate pattern of ochre and indigo, with fibre that has been dyed using moss and bark, fruit and flowers. Here in the hills of Oaxaca, in southern Mexico, indigenous Zapotec communities have been weaving rugs for more than two thousand years. Elena spins the loom and the centuries fall away.

Like many Zapotec children growing up in the 1980s, Elena did not attend school. Faced with a primary curriculum that took no account of Zapotec language or culture, her parents decided that she should be educated by her community. She was taught to weave by her grandmother. Self-sufficiency is the historic norm in Oaxaca, but in recent decades as rural life has become increasingly entretejidos – interwoven – with the modern market economy, Zapotec children who have not gone to school are finding themselves on the wrong side of an urban-rural education divide that excludes them from employment and contributes to deepening poverty.  [Read full article]

Multicolor tapete

Tapete purchased in Teotitlán del Valle by a friend. It was woven by Demetrio Bautista Lazo but was started by his young son.

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I’ve been wanting to write this post for almost two months…

Back in February, when L was visiting, we, along with thirty or so other curious and interested (mostly) gringos, toured two of the libraries Libros Para Pueblos has established — one in Santiago Etla and another further up the valley in San Pablo Huitzo.  Local officials and library staff welcomed us and school children read from story books, gave book reports, and performed skits.  It was a non-touristy introduction to Oaxaca for L, and a moving, informative, and inspiring experience for both of us.

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Libros Para Pueblos is a program of the Oaxaca Lending Library and is staffed by a dedicated group of volunteers, spearheaded by Janet Stanley, a one woman dynamo!  Its mission is, “putting books into the hands of the children of Oaxaca” by establishing  libraries in the villages of the state of Oaxaca, thereby encouraging a love of reading and promoting education.

As I explained in my previous post, Books… children… What’s not to like?!, the need in this state is enormous.  Little by little, progress is being made and over the past ten years, Libros Para Pueblos has set-up, always with the support and participation of the local communities, over 40 libraries.  It is a much-needed program and well worth supporting.

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