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Blame your mom?

19 October 2012

Elba Esther Gordillo — known variously as “Señora Hoffa” (after the late Jimmy) or the “Bride of Chucky” (after the monster movie character she uncannily resembles) — blames working mothers for the dismal state of Mexican education. Via Los Angeles Times:

“A fact that was changed when women had to share responsibility for the family income, which didn’t only contribute to the deterioration of the individual but also of society,” Gordillo wrote.

“The abandonment of the mother in the rearing of children turned schools into daycare centers, gave teachers sole responsibility for education and emptied education of any substance,” she added.

Gordillo went on to say that the void created by absent mothers working outside the home was filled with “the excessive consumption of junk TV” and similar distractions, which generally contributed to the demise of society’s values.

Not that she’s completely wrong.  One particular working mother is responsible for much of what ails Mexican education. Elba Esther is, of course, also “president for life” of the largest Teacher’s Union, representing a goodly number of working mothers. And. although in real life, neither Jimmy Hoffa nor the demon doll Chucky was her spouse, she has children… and supposedly works.

Gordilla is almost the stereotype of the “corrupt union boss” … notorious not so much for her seeming addiction to cosmetic surgery and bling, as for her ruthlessness in dealing with union dissidents… and her political acumen:   swinging deals with both PAN and PRI administrations to maintain her own personal fiefdom, even at the expense of the interests of her rank and file.

SDP Noticias photo

Elba Esther was always more a politician than a teacher.  Although she has worked in the classroom, she was a PRI activist, who in 1970, was the leader of a movement within the teacher’s union to throw out long-time leader Carlos Jongutude (a normal school professor turned union boss) who had, at the behest of the Echiverria administration organized a coup within the union leadership.  Echiverria fancied himself a man of the left, but was willing to use the unions (as PRI and its antecedent parties had done since the 1920s) as an arm of the state… that is, the Party sought out union leaders who would back whatever the prevailing ideology of the time was, and impose them on the rank and file, resorting not just to stuffing the ballot boxes, but stuffing dissidents in unmarked graves.

A backer of Carlos Salinas, who sought to move the Party towards a “neo-liberal” ideology, Gordillo  at the time a PRI Deputy as well as head of a Salinas-leaning faction within the union leadership, headed the 1989 union putsch that led to  her “election” as SNTE President, and a more prominent role in PRI leadership circles.

She served as Secretary-General of CNOP — the PRI labor “sector” and later as a plurinomial PRI Senator before she was installed as Secretary General of the PRI’s Central Committee.  While on the one hand, she helped crack down on anti-Salinas reformers within the Party, on the other, she purged the union of anti-Elbaistas.  Dissident teachers disappeared or mysteriously fell off the roof of tall buildings, and underpaid teachers who just wanted to keep their jobs either kept quiet or got with the program.

Both reformists within PRI — those who hadn’t defected to PRD or PAN — and anti-Salinas party members who had no objection to neo-liberal ideology, but did to Salinas’ continual hold over the party, rebelled in 2002, when Roberto Madrzzo managed to oust Gordilla from her party post.  She, in turn, formed her own party, PANAL, which allies itself with PAN or PRI, depending on which of the two now neo-liberal parties are best suited to her political and personal interests.  Those interests are not education.

Tracy Wilkerson’s article in the LA Times is highly misleading in saying that  “most experts would blame Mexico’s poor educational system on precisely the union…” when the link is not to “most experts”, but to an article by Ken Ellington on a polemical film attacking public education, which refers to its producers, Mexicanos Primero as a “reform group”.  It is, in the same way that “FreedomWorks”, the corporation that sponsored the “TEA Party” movement in the United States is a reform group.  Mexicanos Primero is a right-wing, or —  ultra-rightist — pressure group that has been working to discredit public education in general for several years.

Most experts would blame the poor state of Mexican education on the Salinas administration, and subsequent administrations, underfunding of public schools and signing off on a push for privatized education:  Mexicanos Primero is analogous to groups in the United States that — in the name of educational reform (and destroying teachers’ unions) — claim “charter schools” which take public funds and give them to private organizations to run schools of one sort or another are a better use for tax revenue.

With a second threat to Gordillo coming from a reformed teachers’ union,  CNTE, she seems to have decided that teachers — and education itself — are impediments to her own goals.  In 2003, she allied herself with the clerical wing of PAN, specifically in the person of the then-powerful first lady, Marta Sahagún (wife of Vicente Fox, and a PAN leader in her own right) to push through educational “reforms” that led to the unusual sight of teachers taking to the streets to protest against curriculum changes.  Something we’re also seeing (although coming from CNTE, the dissident teacher’s union) in Michoacán, where — as in Chiapas in 2008 — Gordillo’s allies are willing to permit violence against educators in the name of “social peace.”  Interestingly enough, when the Calderón administration started “cracking down” on “corrupt unions”, it was the miners and the electrical workers (which remain strongly socialist) and not the neo-liberal teacher’s union that were decertified and their offices closed by armed troops.

Gordillo, as a supposed labor leader, you would expect to say something in support of her fellow labor leaders.  You’d be wrong.  Nor has she, or her underlings, done anything about reducing class sizes, getting better pay for teachers who actually work in the classroom and not in administrative posts, opening up more slots in the normal schools, building libraries, or even much said about the shrinking percentage of the federal budget devoted to education.  She did, however, score a victory for educators of a sort… managing  to have Josefina Vasquez Mota demoted as Secretary of  Education when she refused to go along with some of Gordillo’s demands , and replaced with the hapless Alonso Lujambio who would sign off on teacher competency testing (whether standarized tests prove anything about students is widely dismissed.  Standarized competency testing, however, especially when the results can give polemical support to a “failing” educational system, is popular among the right-wing anti-union types).

Don’t blame the teachers or working mothers for problems with Mexican education.  Blame the mother of PANAL Secretary General  Mónica Arriola Gordillo and PANAL federal deputy Maricruz Montilongo Gordillo for playing politics when she should have been working for a better education for Mexicans.

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