WILL CALDERON AND LA MAESTRA REFORM MEXICAN EDUCATION?
By Allan Wall
June 29, 2008
the ambitious reforms proposed by Mexican president Felipe Calderon
is a reform of Mexican education. Everybody agrees that the Mexican
educational system must be reformed. In Mexico, education is a constitutionally-mandated
civil right, spelled out in Article 3 of the Mexican Constitution. (In
contrast, the U.S. Constitution doesn’t even mention the subject).
Nevertheless, despite good intentions, public education in Mexico is a disaster. Not private education, which is why just about every Mexican parent with enough money sends his children to a private school. Mexico has some very good private schools. Some have a higher educational level than U.S. public schools.
That’s not to say it’s impossible to have a good education in a Mexican public school. But it depends on that oft-ignored factor – family background, which makes a huge difference in the success or failure of a student.
I personally work in education in Mexico , where I have taught for 15 years. It’s a noble profession. But, I have to admit, it’s also a profession which is particularly prone to quackery, charlatanism, and crackpot utopian fads that just make things worse for students while enriching those who promote them. This is especially true at the intersection between education, bureaucracy, politics and organized labor.
Regarding teachers’ unions, I highly recommend The Worm in the Apple by Peter Brimelow. This book describes the deleterious influence of the major U.S. teachers’ unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, on American education. As Brimelow points out, the problem is that public education is a monopoly, and teacher unions are a monopoly on top of a monopoly. (Learn more about the book here ).
In Mexico, Calderon’s supposed ally in Mexican education reform is Elba Esther Gordillo, aka La Maestra (the Teacher), leader of the S.N.T.E. (National Education Workers’ Union). With a membership of over 1.4 million members, it’s the biggest union in Latin America, and probably the most powerful in the whole hemisphere.
Frankly, when I see Calderon in cahoots with La Maestra and the S.N.T.E., it leaves me pessimistic about the prospects of public education reform in Mexico. That’s because the S.N.T.E. is part of the problem.
The S.N.T.E. is not just a union of teachers, it really runs the Mexican educational system. And what a system it is, for those on the permanent payroll. What an employee of the Mexican public schools aspires to is a plaza, which is a tenured position. Once he or she has that plaza, it is almost impossible to fire a teacher. The plaza can be inherited by his or her son or daughter, or even sold. And Mexican public schools have plenty of employees who receive paychecks but don’t even go to work.
To be sure, there are some good teachers in the Mexican public schools, but it’s obviously such a corrupt and inefficient system, that it’s not, on the whole, doing a great job educating young Mexicans. Some students graduate elementary school without being able to read .
As for La Maestra, she’s been Secretary General of the S.N.T.E. since 1989 and “lifetime president” since 1994, She’s been accused of assassinating a few dissident teachers, but then, her predecessor was accused of assassinating about 150.
Elba Esther’s net worth has been estimated at $70 million dollars, and she owns property in several countries, including a $5-million dollar house in San Diego, California. Education has been very profitable for La Maestra.
Gordillo has served in both houses of the Mexician Congress. For most
of her career she was in the PRI (Institutional Revolutationary Party).
In the 2006 presidential election, however, La Maestra endorsed PAN (National Action Party) candidate Felipe Calderon (for which she was expelled from the PRI). So now she’s a Calderon ally. Indeed, given how close the election was, it’s highly probable that Calderon wouldn’t have won without her.
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give La Maestra an enormous amount of leverage with the Calderon
administration. Calderon owes her a political favor, so it’s highly
unlikely she will lose any influence in the administration.
It’s also highly unlikely that any “reform” will take away power from the S.N.T.E. Turning Mexican educational reform over to Esther Gordillo is like hiring a wolf to repair the chicken coop.