El Fomentador

Alive and well in Mexico…

Las Escuelas Normales en Mexico, Official Patitos?

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One-hundred years ago the state university in my home-town was called a State Normal School. It’s purpose was to train teachers that would supply schools in small towns across the region with well-trained teachers. It worked. Today the school is a part of the University system but it still provides teachers for thousands of public schools in hundreds of communities, large and small, across the country. Those teachers and their professors are justifiably proud of the contribution they have made to the education of tens of thousands of students. Students that have gone on to become teachers, administrators, researchers, community and business leaders.

Eighty years ago a series of Normal schools was established in Mexico. Their purpose was the same: to provide teachers for the schools that were slowly being established in rural areas. In my opinion, it hasn’t worked. For example, in the southern State of Guerrero, there is a shortage of more than one-thousand teachers in the rural schools. The truth is no one wants to teach in rural areas. There is very little infrastructure, limited resources and a general underlying sense that an adequate education is of no use to people living in the countryside. (The old: “Education is necessary, but the masses aren’t ready for it.”) The answer to the teacher shortage has been to provide instruction via video. That might work as a stop gap measure but it cannot and does not replace classroom teachers.

In the southern states, generally viewed by bureaucrats as hotbeds of calls for radical reform, progressive teachers and education are seen as dangerous to maintaining the status quo. Ironically, within the affected communities, teachers are viewed by the locals as important leaders for change. That, of course, makes them appear even more dangerous to the political hacks that control the system for their own, and their cronies, benefit. So the response by the national teachers union was to threaten teachers with replacement by teachers from outside the area. In fact it was stated that they would send in bus loads of teachers to take over education. Um, there are a few problems with that plan. For one thing they don’t have enough qualified teachers now, secondly, everyone is only interested in teaching in urban areas, and additionally, busing in a bunch of authorized union scabs would open the door to civil unrest of unimaginable proportions, while setting education and domestic relations back by decades. It is often said that the revolution never reached the southern states. Beyond the geographic and physical divisions (e.g. sheer distance and mountain ranges) there are basic cultural differences that make southern Mexico seem more like a part of central America than of Mexico. The population is largely indigenous, which means it is often marginalized.

At the Normal schools in the urban areas, administrators have simply given up trying to provide quality in education for future teachers. There is no incentive to improve because mediocrity has become accepted. For example, I was told by the director of languages at the Normal school in my city (she is an example of the resistance to change that is hurting education) that they don’t need to hire native speakers to teach English because they can get exchange students from the University of California for free. (Of course she said it in Spanish because she doesn’t, or wouldn’t, speak English.) That’s great, (there is very little opportunity to actually practice using English here) but a bunch of college kids on vacation in Mexico for a month is not the same thing as providing experienced teachers to train new teachers for a job that is so far outside the experience of American university students as to be laughable. At least it would be laughable if it weren’t so serious an example of the apathy and self-interested ignorance that pervades the educational system.

I managed to teach a few classes at the local Normal–to bright, energetic students that for the most part, had to learn English at the private patitos. The truth is many of the students could barely speak English themselves–and they will be teaching English next year. It is not their fault. But they are poorly prepared by teachers that once had ideals, but have now been crushed by the system. And the new teachers will be crushed by the system as they face the realities of a country that simply has no sense of a future where all citizens will have a role in progress.

The real irony in all of this is that it takes as much effort to thwart progress as it would to implement it. But after generations of authoritarian rule designed to suppress progress for the lower classes, disinterest has become the norm.

If you have a comment on this topic, please post it, I have more horror stories coming. I would like you to share your stories, whether you agree with me or not, because I am trying to learn about what is going on out there.

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Written by El Fomentador

March 26, 2008 at 10:27 pm

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