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Occupy el campo: a mind is a terrible thing to waste

3 February 2012

While the Mexican rural teachers’ colleges have specific issues that may not translate elsewhere, Mexico is hardly the only country where cuts in funding for higher education is leading to protests, some more violent than others.

A thought or two

An Alabama state legislator, in justifying salary raises for himself and his peers, while cutting those for teachers, said:

It’s a Biblical principle. If you double a teacher’s pay scale, you’ll attract people who aren’t called to teach…

And these teachers that are called to teach, regardless of the pay scale, they would teach. It’s just in them to do. It’s the ability that God give ‘em. And there are also some teachers, it wouldn’t matter how much you would pay them, they would still perform to the same capacity.

If you don’t keep that in balance, you’re going to attract people who are not called, who don’t need to be teaching our children. So, everything has a balance.

It goes without saying that Shadrack McGill (and, that is indeed, the blithering idiot from Alabama’s name) is a politician[i] and he provides ample anecdotal evidence social conservatives are indeed intellectually challenged .  But, just for the sake of argument, assume he’s onto something here.

Not all teachers are motivated by financial reward.  I was taught to read, wrtie and cipher by very good teachers, who weren’t well paid.  But, then again, they were from an alternative lifestyle all-female commune.  The Sisters of Saint Joseph didn’t do too bad a job, but outside the most doctrinaire PAN circles, I doubt you’ll find anyone who wants, or expects, nuns to take over rural education in this country.

What you are more likely to find among conservatives is just, as the video suggests, an abandonment of rural education, especially public education. As the video notes, Lazaro Cardenas, who was a Marxist, after all, fomented the creation of rural teachers’ colleges.  He was building on the work of José Vasconcellos (who was, politically, from the extreme right) in identifying teachers — especially rural teachers — as the vanguard of the Revolution and of modernity.

I suspect that the rush towards neo-liberalism, and — what do we call it? Miltonfriedmanismo? — privatization of public services, has done more to radicalize those essential public services like rural education than anything else.  While it is certainly justifiable to think that underfunding rural teachers’ colleges was intended to create a generation of uneducated, easily exploitable peons, there are those dedicated few who are going to get an education somehow… even at crappy underfunded rural normal schools.  And, being dedicated to education, are going to be educators themselves.

In a society which traditionally  grants the educated person, even the lowly “maestra”… schoolma’arm… a dignity and respect not given to those who merely have achieved some higher economic level but aren’t seen as contributing to society, if the rightists and neo-liberals are bothered by the portraits of Ché and friends at rural universities, they have no one to blame but themselves.

[i] Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.  – Mark Twain, a Biography

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