Now Is the Moment: The State, Public Education, and Communities of Resistance in Oaxaca and Wisconsin

By Hones, Donald | Notes and Abstracts in American and International Education, Fall 2012 | Go to article overview

Now Is the Moment: The State, Public Education, and Communities of Resistance in Oaxaca and Wisconsin


Hones, Donald, Notes and Abstracts in American and International Education


"Disappeared"

Like many teachers, Carlos arrived at the end of the school day knowing he had done a good day's work. He was a proponent of alternative education for Oaxaca, a state of Mexico that is home to 16 different ethnic indigenous groups and many languages. His was a pedagogy that engaged students culturally and individually, moving beyond the limitations of the state-approved curriculum. Moreover, Carlos went beyond the work in his own classroom to champion the needs of students, teachers and schools through his work with the teachers' union.

For years he had provided leadership as the Oaxaca teacher's union confronted the state with demands for free uniforms and shoes for impoverished students, for school supplies, and for better salaries for teachers who need to work two jobs to survive in Mexico's economy. He advocated for indigenous rights, for the rights of all working people, and for a more just society.

On the evening of March 14, 2011, he telephoned a friend to say he was leaving a meeting and would be home shortly. He never arrived. His car was found two days later, with his cell phone and other personal items inside (Partners in Rights, 2011). Carlos Rene Roman Salazar, teacher, activist, and leader for educational opportunity and a more just society, had been "disappeared" for his efforts.

Many Parallels

In the Spring of 20111 had the opportunity to conduct research on immigration and education issues in Mexico and the United States. I spent time in the states of Michoacan and Veracruz, but it was when I journeyed to Oaxaca in March that I realized the many parallels between that state and my own, Wisconsin. Both state governments are actively seeking ways to undermine the power of the teachers' unions. In both states public education is being seriously compromised.

There are important differences, however. Schools in Wisconsin receive far more support for books, technology, and infrastructure, and teachers are neither tortured nor "disappeared." Yet, perhaps Oaxaca can provide a cautionary tale for teachers and those who believe in public education in the United States and elsewhere. Moreover, the "Arab Spring" of2011 reminds us that the struggle must carry on in every land for basic human rights, ranging from public assembly to public education.

Lipman (2007), reflecting on the privatization emphasis inherent in the No Child Left Behind legislation, writes:

Public education policy has historically been an important arena of struggle over issues of difference, the rights of oppressed groups, what constitutes culture and history, how identities are to be represented publicly, and how the common good is defined. Although contentious, debates about language, race, gender, sexual orientation, "disability," immigration, cultural diversity, school knowledge, sexuality, civic responsibility, connections between schools and communities, and so on, are critical to strengthening democratic civic life. Unlike the private sector, public schools can't avoid these debates. In a world circled ever more tightly by the forces of global capital and facing the catastrophe of unlimited imperial wars, the institution of universal, free public schools needs to be fought for as a democratic public space and fought over ideologically. (Lipman, 2007, 53-4)

I went to Mexico to examine the struggle of a teacher's and people's movement whose intention was to combat the powerful forces of globalization through peaceful, democratic protest; I returned home to Wisconsin to find a Governor demanding an end to collective bargaining and the people occupying the state capitol building. This was the Spring of 2011, the moment when calls for justice and democracy echoed between far-flung nations and peoples. As the sign held by one of my neighbors in front of the Ripon, Wisconsin, City Hall read: "We are All Egyptians."

Narrative Inquiry

This study draws from narrative research (Benei, 2010; Clandinin, Davies, Huber, Rose, & Whelan, 2001; Elbaz-Luwisch, 2010; Hones, 1998; Polkinghorne, 1995), wherein stories of individuals, groups, and communities are central to the interpretation. …

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