El Fomentador

Alive and well in Mexico…

The “BUM”ingham School of English

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This outfit has all of the markings of the classic franchise patito. Stuck into an, otherwise empty, ugly concrete and plate glass, two-story office building off a busy, cluttered street on the edge of one of the growing manufacturing cities along the industrial corridor of the Mexican Bajio it is the epitome of the penchant of the patitos for merging incompetent English instruction with shamelessly predatory business practices.https://i1.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/8e/Rubber_duckies_So_many_ducks.jpg

So, of course, I went there to talk to them about working. I should add that this was nearly two years ago when I was still, as a German friend here says, an “innocent American.” At the time all I really wanted was access to an office and a classroom. I wanted to teach advanced courses in writing and speaking in English. “BUM”ingham already has it’s own “system”. The material (supplied by the franchise seller) is incredibly poor, even by the low standards of the “edu-business”. Of course, all new, bad material is required at each new “level” and is outrageously over-priced.

The “principal” offered me a job that morning, at $30 pesos an hour, (less than three dollars). I guess I couldn’t help but chuckle, and he said, right away, ok, $50 pesos per hour (less than five dollars). I started to say, well, that’s not really what I want to do…and he interrupted me to say, “It’s not much money, but you don’t have to do anything. I asked what he meant and he said the students just write in their workbooks (mostly those inane fill-in-the-blank exercises; I’ll be honest, I have trouble knowing what answer they want sometimes!) and the teacher is only there to answer questions (I’m assuming they would answer the questions in Spanish because, true-to-form, no one there spoke English, not the receptionist, not the owner, the principal (just barely), and certainly not the students.

Needless to say, I left and quietly crossed “BUM”ingham off of my list. Surprisingly, they called me back and said they were interested in using my program as part of a proposal they were making to a big, giant multi-national for English training for their Mexican managers. The company had issued a call for proposals, more than two-dozen schools submitted bids. Those types of decisions are not made at a local level, so all of the bids were sent to headquarters in Mexico City and, guess what: they went with the lowest bid.

When I talked to the “BUM”ingham owner over the next two weeks he kept whining, saying things like, “oh, the economy’s not too good, the company’s not making any money”. I said, you know, if the company wasn’t making money they would be building their product in China. This particular company sells a lot of it’s product in Mexico, but they sell more than four times as much in the US. It was then that I realized that the big multi-nationals are here for some of the same reasons the baby-boomers are heading to San Miguel: cheap labor, lax regulation and proximity to the US. (In case of some calamity, you can be home in few hours, even if you have to sneak across the Rio Bravo.)

In my opinion, the manufacturer’s decision to go for the lowest bid is their business, but it sheds light on something a little deeper. Although I know many Mexicans working in important jobs for foreign companies, if the company needs a high level executive or manager they go back home and bring them here (often with a huge salary bonus for having to relocate). Again, in my opinion, many of the companies don’t value their Mexican employees to the same level as their own nationals. It is understandable, to the big corporations Mexico is the third world. I shared this opinion with a peace corp volunteer that was studying Spanish at a little local patito. He said that GE sends some of their workers to the school and even pays their hourly salary while they are there, so, they must care about their workers. I can see why he might think that, but I felt I still had to counter by saying, yes, I’m sure GE cares about their employees that is why they spared no expense by contracting with one of the leading educational institutions in Mexico: The “OLE” School of English. For you Scandinavians out there, that’s “oLE”, accented on the second syllable, (you know, like the bullfighters say it, clever huh?), not the “Ole” School of English, although I suspect “Ole and Lena” could probably do a better job of teaching English than the long-suffering teachers at this patito. Another place well-known for deceptive practices and teacher abuse. Yes, I have some stories about that joint, too. I’ll end this for now by sharing a quote I read the other day from a public school teacher working in rural Mexico: “I have heard many teachers say that if I am only paid half of what I should earn, I will only do half a job.” Ouch! Maybe they meant to say a “half-assed job”.

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