From the September-October 2019 issue of News & Letters
The July-Aug. N&L article, “Teachers debate how to oppose ‘reform’” in Mexico, reaches back to world history and forward to the ongoing teachers’ struggles in the U.S. In the same issue in the essay “What Is Socialism?” Terry Moon writes of the 1871 Paris Commune, where “women like Louise Michel completely transformed the education system, educating girls and boys together (rare in those days), taking classes outside so that children could have fresh air, bringing nature, music and poetry into the classrooms and throwing the clergy out of education so that children could learn the truth, not dogma.”
KARL MARX AND EDUCATION
In Capital, Karl Marx, a passionate supporter of the Paris Commune, had repeatedly blasted child labor and all its horrible consequences to the child’s mental and physical health. Yet as a dialectician he could see that “the germ of the education of the future is present in the factory system.”
The Factory Acts sent child laborers to school for a few hours per week, where “factory children…although they received half the education of the regular day students, yet learnt quite as much and often more…this education will…combine productive labor with instruction and gymnastics, not only as one of the methods of adding to the efficiency of production, but as the only method of producing fully developed human beings” [emphasis added].
One hundred and two years later, at Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Lakota reservation in South Dakota, American Indian Movement activists withstood a 70-day siege by the U.S. government (supported by conservative tribal leaders). There besieged, children and adults learned their true history: the Trail of Broken Treaties that forced Native Americans off their lands and sent children to government boarding schools far from home where they were often abused, demeaned and punished for speaking their native languages.
It is important to know that one’s own movement is part of a long history—all too often hidden from us. The specifics of earlier struggles and visions of what education can be provide guidance for today’s battles. In the U.S. as in Mexico, teachers have articulated visions of the kind so beautifully expressed by all the contributors in the study circle.
DON’T EAT THE JUNK OF CAPITALISM
The year before the 2013 march in Jalisco of nearly 25,000 teachers (a huge accomplishment!), Chicago teachers were able to transform their union and, together with their school communities, change the narrative from “more money and better work conditions” to focus on “the schools our students deserve.” (https://www.ctulocal1.org/reports/schools-chicagos-students-deserve-2/) Since then, statewide teachers’ strikes (West Virginia, for one) have been able to carry that focus forward—although on a recent TV show a clueless host asked strike participants, “So your strike is not only about pay?”
That is why all teachers need to remind themselves of Graciela’s description of “a community in Morelos with a project different from the State’s plan of reproducing an education system that produces labor power for transnational companies…the teachers don’t just let students eat the junk capitalism offers.” And think about Claudia’s vision: “imagine we are in a collective where there is available every type of knowledge, ability and tool that a human being requires to live among others. That is education.”
I look forward to learning from the teachers’ rebellions and more of this kind of discussion from Mexico, and to sharing thoughts and experiences from El Norte. Adelante con la lucha!