In Mexico, Teachers' Unions Complain Against School Reforms

Friday, 30 Aug 2013 03:38 AM

By Joel Himelfarb

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The Mexican government is trying to overhaul the nation’s public schools in a way that might sound familiar to Americans: changing the way that teachers are hired, fired, and evaluated. But if U.S. teachers unions are resistant to reform, some of their Mexican counterparts are openly hostile.
 
“Hundreds of ski-mask-wearing, rock-throwing, stick-wielding teachers have smashed windows and set fire to the offices of the major political party in the southern state of Guerrero,” the Washington Post reported Thursday.
 
Thousands of their colleagues this week swarmed into Mexico City, blocking national television and subway lines and swarming the roads around Los Pinos, the official residence of the president.
 
At a protest camp in Mexico City’s Zocalo square, Gumaro Cruz Lopez, an elementary school director from the southern state of Oaxaca, expressed fear that the changes will turn kids into globalized robots at the expense of indigenous culture and free thought..
 
“They want to create one prototype of individual for the sole service of the global socioeconomic system,” Lopez said, pointing to the role of Coca-Cola in building model schools in Mexico.
 
For union leaders, the beverage giant’s role symbolizes their fear that some distant authority will soon be telling them how and what to teach, according to the Post.
 
In February, President Enrique Peña Nieto signed into law the framework for his plan, which would shift the power to hire, fire and evaluate teachers to the federal government and away from Mexico’s main teachers union, which has been accused of rampant corruption and presiding over a system of awarding jobs in ways that have little to do with merit.
 
A new system of periodic teacher evaluations is intended to identify incompetent teachers, reward good ones and set professional standards, with the hope that doing so will make Mexican students more globally competitive.
 
But some teachers who descended on Mexico City this week expressed concerns that the standards would be implemented unfairly and used in a discriminatory fashion. Others complained that the changes were aimed at making children “useful to the private sector” rather than liberating their minds.
 
For Mexico City residents, the major problems were more basic: the gridlock and disruption caused by the teacher protests themselves. After a national television network broadcast interviews with locals voicing their complaints, incensed teachers organized yet another protest — this one against the network for airing the complaints.

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