Saturday, June 5, 2010

Radical Teachers

Earlier this week, Michoacán teachers from the CNTE, a dissident current in the SNTE, marched on Mexico City this week, and in an effort to secure an impromptu meeting with Education Secretary Alonso Lujambio, beat the hell of the nearly 300-year-old door serving as the entrance to the SEP headquarters. This led to accusations from Lujambio that the DF police purposely did nothing to stop the marching teachers.

Damaging a door, even a very old one, isn't history's greatest crime, but I wonder how students taught by these teachers are supposed to look at these men now that they've been on national TV destroying a historic landmark. How could you take such a teacher seriously if he told you to sit down and behave? I hate to begrudge anyone their right to be heard, but the classroom would seem to be one place where we should avoid placing people with a radical temperament (though not necessarily radical politics).

Lawlessness is not, of course, a new element of the Mexican teacher class, as Ricardo Raphael writes about in Los Socios de Elba Esther:
[T]he use of physical violence has been a useful tool to discourage insubordination and dissidence. During the 1950s in which he began to participate as a member of the networks of complicity in the SNTE, [former SNTE boss Carlos] Jonguitud was in charge of harassing to the extreme of eliminating followers of Othón Salazar in the State of Mexico. It was there, when he was the leader in that region of the country, when Luis Acheverría Álvarez heard him talked about the first time. He, who would later be the president from 1970 and 1976, then held the post at the head of the Secretariat of Public Education and had been instructed to dismantle the teacher's conflict detonated by Salazar.
In Jonguitud's case, his skillful application of violence was perhaps not fundamental, but it certainly seems to have aided his rise to the top of the union. His successor, Elba Esther, also has some bloody incidents loosely connected to her (including the murder of a dissident teacher for which a collaborator of hers, the man who succeeded her as section chief in the 1970s, was jailed). When teachers, from those at the very top of the profession down to the ranks of the regular teachers, see violence as a legitimate way to raise objections and resolve disputes, well, you can understand why students pick up lessons in school other than algebra and the past subjunctive tense.

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