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Leave no bad policy behind

7 October 2013

With growing recognition in the United States of the damages caused by over-reliance on testing, the “No Child Left Behind” policies of the Bush Junior’s Adminstration (which were designed to leave children behind) and the privatization of public education, what to do with the toxic waste of wrong-headed ideologies and “think tank” research? As with other unwanted and dangerous U.S. products, the answer seems to be to ship it to Mexico.

Wixarikas teachers protest, Guadalajara, May 2013.  Photo by  Hector Guerrero/AFP

Wixarikas teachers protest, Guadalajara, May 2013. Photo by Hector Guerrero/AFP

Eva Hershow, “Profiting from Education Reform in Mexico” (Texas Tribune, 7-Oct-2013)

… the Mexican education system is clumsily following the path to privatized education and standardized testing blazed by its powerful northern neighbor. According to researchers from Mexico’s National Pedagogic University and Iberoamerican University, Lucía Rivera and Carlos Muñoz Izquierdo, Mexican schools are increasingly competing for federal money in an educational system dictated by private interests, a practice clearly established in the United States.

“Education reforms in Mexico have essentially been a business proposal,” said Hugo Aboites, a Harvard-educated professor at the Mexican Autonomous University. “It is a proposal aimed to promote economic development.”

In Mexico, education reform’s biggest cheerleader has been a group called Mexicans First. Described by its members as a diverse, independent citizen’s initiative, Mexicans First is comprised of some of the top brands and corporations in Mexico: Televisa, Palacio de Hierro, Modelo Group—manufacturers of Modelo, Corona, Pacifico, Negra Modelo beers—as well as dairy giant Lala, Aeromexico, Cinépolis, Bimbo and Santander.

Two months after Peña Nieto was elected, Mexicans First published a document entitled “The Time is Now: 2012-2014 Goals.” Among the many recommendations, the report called for curtailing the power of SNTE. Indeed, the union was once a close political ally of the PRI, the political party which ruled Mexico for 71 years, until 2000, but has recently returned to power with Peña Nieto’s election. The PRI, through the union, has long-controlled the sale and inheritance of some teaching jobs. Yet shortly after Peña Nieto took office in December, he orchestrated the removal of long-time SNTE leader Elba Esther Gordillo, who was accused of embezzlement of funds and jailed in February. The report also called for more teacher evaluations and test-based accountability as well as greater autonomy of the governmental National Institute for the Evaluation of Education (INEE), the body that oversees testing and evaluations. In April, a member of Mexicans First, sociologist and OECD advisor Sylvia Schmelkes, was installed as head of the INEE.

“The report published by Mexicans First, together with OECD proposals, essentially wrote these reforms,” said Aboites. “These businesses want our children and students to be good capital for our growing capitalist country. Bimbo and Televisa. This is the government’s agenda.”

I’m surprised no one (including myself) didn’t remember that when the U.S. started talking about “testing teachers” it was only as a prelude to testing students… creating “results driven education”… the results being, not an educated person, but someone who was trained to respond (in Pavlovian fashion) to provided stimuli… in other words, learn to take orders and give a fixed response. At the same time, the same people pushing the “No Child Left Behind” testing programs were generally the same ones pushing “reforms” like “Charter Schools” (private institutions with their own — generally corporately developed — curricula, paid for largely by private funds… and exempt from the union requirements and labor regulations of the public schools).

That teachers opposed testing here — and were portrayed in public as intransigent and anti-education — should have reminded us of similar attempts to block these “reforms” in the U.S. before they began destroying public education. Which they very nearly have succeeded in doing in the U.S.

I would recommend reading Eva Hershow’s article in full, and educational historian Diane Ravitch’s Reign Of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools if one truly believes in educational reform. Ravitch was a former cheerleader for U.S. “reforms” (which are, with a few tweaks, what is being rammed through here), had to reverse her thinking… and U.S. schools are starting to work to undo the damage. Of course, with education in the U.S. controlled mostly at the local and state level, any protests before, and any counter-reforms now are merely local in scope, and never — as they are here — pressing national issues. A shame, since, in both the United States and Mexico, those who care about education, are likely to agree with Ravitch that

… public school education is about knowledge, about learning, about developing character, and about creating citizens for our society. It’s about helping to inspire independent thinkers, not just honing job skills or preparing people for college. Public school education is essential to our democracy, and its aim, since the founding of this country, has been to educate citizens who will help carry democracy into the future.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. roberb7 permalink
    8 October 2013 8:28 am

    Hmm, I thought “no child left behind” originated in Mexico.
    Seriously, the practice of “teaching to the test” has been common in Mexico for a long time.

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