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.
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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