There is a growing recognition that the attacks faced by public education in the United States are not unique, and the "billionaires boys club" and their front groups here have their counterparts in other countries. Labor journalist David Bacon explores how these issues are playing out in Mexico in these two articles.
Interview with Manuel Perez Rocha by David Bacon
Manuel Perez Rocha was the founding president of the first major university established in Mexico City in decades, the Autonomous University of Mexico City. Mexico doesn’t have the equivalent of two-year community colleges, but the UACM is very close to the ideas on which our community college system is based. Today Perez Rocha is the education columnist for Mexico’s leftwing daily newspaper, La Jornada, and one of the country’s most-respected voices on education policy. In this interview, I asked him to describe how the university began, and how he tried to use it to change education policy and the working conditions of university faculty.
Q: Tell us a little about your history.
A: I’ve worked in universities almost 50 years, but I actually studied engineering. After 1957 I held various positions at UNAM (the Autonomous National University of Mexico) for more than twenty years. I participated in the creation of the College of Humanities and Sciences and chaired it for 20 years.
I then established the national department that oversees every university in Mexico, and evaluated between 800 and 900 of them over six years. In the last ten to twelve years, dozens of new technology focused universities have sprung up, which in fact don’t resemble a university in the least. They turn education into a utilitarian process, and make false claims, because they lead students to think they will easily be hired after graduation.
The PRI and PAN [Mexico’s two conservative political parties] loosened all private university regulations. It literally seemed as though any businessman could open up a university in an abandoned building. New and private universities began to rob our youth of money. It was very important to establish a public university with a strong curriculum. We needed to do more than just make education available. It has to be a good education.
Last year an American Federation of Teachers resolution declared that U.S. public schools are held hostage to a “testing fixation rooted in the No Child Left Behind Act,” and condemned its “extreme misuse as a result of ideologically and politically driven education policy.” AFT President Randi Weingarten proposed instead that “public education should be obsessed with high-quality teaching and learning, not high-stakes testing.”
Mexican teachers would find these sentiments familiar. The testing regime in Mexico is as entrenched as it is in the United States, and its political use is very similar—undermining the rights of teachers, and attacking unions that oppose it. But the teachers’ union in the southern state of Oaxaca, Section 22 of the National Union of Education Workers (SNTE), has not only refused to implement standardized tests; it has proposed its own reform of the education system, one designed by teachers themselves.