The violence of September 26 in Iguala, located in the state of Guerrero, where six young people were murdered, more than 20 wounded, and 43 Normal School students disappeared at the hands of the local police of Iguala and Cocula, along with paramilitary groups—with the complaisance of the municipal, state, and federal governments and of the Mexican Army, whose 27th Infantry Battalion was stationed in this region—is not an isolated event. It forms part of an ongoing plan of terror and war of extermination waged against the population, mainly the young, which the Mexican regime in recent years has sharpened at the orders of the government of the United States.
Why is there so much hatred of the Normal students of Ayotzinapa? Why were they hunted and killed like animals? Why were they disappeared? These are some of the questions many are asking regarding the brutality of the perpetrators in these tragic events, which all and sundry have identified as a state crime and violation of human rights. Beyond the general point made in my first paragraph, the answers have to do with the hatred and contempt that the Mexican political system has, with few historical exceptions, displayed towards the students and teachers of the rural Normal Schools.
The normales rurales, a legacy of the Mexican Revolution and derived from the ideas of people like Francisco J. Múgica, José Vasconcelos, Isidro Castillo, and Rafael Ramirez, have been harshly criticized since their inception by the nation’s reactionary sectors, who see them as a threat to private interests. Aggressive persecution by the Catholic clergy of the first rural Normal School, established in Tacámbaro, Michoacán in 1922, caused the repeated relocation of its headquarters until the school ended up in the town of Tiripetío in 1949. Reactionaries attacked the institution as “the school of the devil.” Such conservative fears were justified, since the school would soon become the seed of a great educational and social movement, known internationally as “the Mexican rural school.”
The impetus given to rural Normalism between 1922 and 1945, during which time 35 institutions of this kind were developed, aimed at training teachers to work in rural areas in order to bring education to all corners of the country. The schools were founded in an effort to advance social justice, the main value of the Revolution. However, they were met with a strong reaction on the part of the ecclesiastical right, which passed from name-calling to the murder of many rural school teachers on the charges of being “communists.” In this the right enjoyed the complicity of governments that did little or nothing to prevent such crimes, because they are not really interested in the education of the poor, the indigenous, or the peasants, except as a means of incorporating them into the capitalist system.
Nonetheless, the rural Normal Schools and the teachers who graduated from them continued their work on behalf of the indigenous and poor peasants of Mexico, teaching not only letters and numbers but, above all, the philosophy of the community—communality, embodied in the social, economic, and political development of the rural areas—fostered by workshops on livestock, rural industry, sports, art and culture, and political ideology. To defend against attacks from the far right and deepen the project of the Mexican rural schools and socialist education, José Santos Valdes founded the Federation of Socialist Campesino Students of Mexico (F.E.C.S.M.) in 1935. F.E.C.S.M., the first student organization in Latin America, aims to promote movements to support social protests in the interests of the people.
During the ’50s, Professor Othón Salazar, educated in the Normal Schools of Oaxtepec, Morelos and Ayotzinapa, Guerrero, led the teachers’ movement. In 1957 he founded the Movimiento Revolucionario del Magisterio (M.R.M., Revolutionary Teachers Movement) alongside thousands of rural schoolteachers. This was recognized as the first mass teachers’ movement that stood up against government authoritarianism and yellow unions. Soon came the heavy hand of government repression. Salazar was arrested and imprisoned in Lecumberri in 1958, but was released after three days, thanks to the movement. After, he continued fighting, like a true normalista.
In the 1960s and ’70s, Lucio Cabañas and Genaro Vázquez, both educated in the Normal School “Isidro Burgos” in Ayotzinapa and in the National Teachers School, led peasant and civic movements in the state of Guerrero against the despotism of local party bosses and for the defense of social rights. In the face of strong repression by the regime (imprisonment, assassinations, disappearances) these turned into armed movements, ending in their destruction by the forces of the Mexican state. The same period saw the rise of the great student movement of 1968, which was also severely repressed by the federal government in the Tlatelolco Massacre. Participation of the rural Normal Schools, through the F.E.C.S.M., was essential to this movement.
Another example of the outstanding participation of the rural normalistas in social and teachers’ struggles is their activism in the Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educacion (C.N.T.E., National Organization of Education Workers), founded in December, 1979, with the objective of contributing to the struggle for the democratization of public education, the teachers’ union, and the life of the nation. Throughout its 35-year existence, the C.N.T.E. has developed permanent mobilizations for these goals, recording significant successes despite facing nearly non-stop physical, administrative, and judicial repression of its militants by the political regime.
In 1969, a year after the Tlatelolco Massacre and in the context of the Dirty War, the federal government, concerned about the F.E.C.S.M.’s participation in the movement, initiated a plan to close all rural Normal Schools in the country, on the pretext that modern Mexico did not need them. However, thanks to student resistance, the government’s original plan was not followed. Nevertheless, half of these institutions have closed. In states like Michoacán, with two Normal Schools, the government closed one and left the other (in the case of Tiripetío, for males only). Some states (like Guanajuato) were left without any rural Normal Schools, so that many students were forced to seek other options.
The next blow came in 1984, under the sign of the initial imposition of the neoliberal economic model, with the modification of the plans and study programs of Normal education. With talk of elevating the degree requirement for teaching, the government sought to convert the Normal Schools into “pedagogical high schools,” leaving the professional level to the Pedagogical University and other academic institutions. The goal was the same as in earlier years: putting an end to the subsystem of rural Normal Schools, which makes so much trouble for the sectors privileged by the regime and for the regime itself. The student struggle led by the F.E.C.S.M. finally saved the schools, but the degree was lowered to the internship level; the education B.A. was taken from the Normal system in 1988. Thus pedagogical education was lengthened to seven years after high school, with the intention of making it less accessible to the poorest sectors of the population and changing the income profile of students.
With Carlos Salinas de Gortari’s ascension to the presidency of the republic through the electoral fraud of 1988 came a new stage of aggression against the social right to public education, including the Normal Schools, which continues to this day under the slogan of “educational reform.” Salina’s “modernization” and “federalization” of education—achieved with the National Accord for the Modernization of Basic and Normal Education (1992)—aimed at, among other things, the dismantling of all national systems or organizations such as the National Educational System, the National Union of Education Workers, the Federation of Socialist Rural Students of Mexico, etc. In this way the regime managed to break these organizations’ resistance to its neoliberal policies at the educational, social, and economic levels. This legislation was a hard blow but, thanks largely to the resistance of the F.E.C.S.M. and the C.N.T.E., it was not completely implemented, as both organizations continue to mobilize against the government at the state and national levels.
During the last few years, the regime has intensified its offensive against the rural Normal Schools, with attempts to:
- Change the curricula for Normal School educators to eliminate the social justice aspect of this revolutionary project.
- Continuously reduce the numbers matriculating and cancel automatic placements, as a way to make teaching careers more inaccessible to impoverished people and diminish their interest in enrolling in these programs.
- Close Normal Schools such as “El Mexe”in Hidalgo, and cancel internships, like those in the Atequiza school in Jalisco and the Mactumactzá in Chiapas.
- Flexibilize and liberalize the teaching career on the basis of the badly named “educational reform” and its General Law of the Professional Teaching Service, which established a mandatory testing system for hiring, promoting, and tenuring; starting in 2016, anyone, normalista or not, can enter the educational service who passes a standardized examination set by the National Institute for Educational Assessment according to the guidelines provided by the (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, O.C.D.E.).
- Implement overt and covert, massive, and selective repression against students from rural Normal Schools around the country, with those in Ayotzinapa (2011 and 2014) and Tiripetío (2009 and 2012) the hardest hit in recent years, leaving innumerable students wounded, detained, dead, and disappeared. And if that were not enough:
- Criminalize student teachers, through social lynching, non-stop campaigns of provocation and discrediting by the official media—all to justify the final elimination of the rural Normal Schools, one of the last vestiges of the Mexican Revolution.
Today, more than ever, we must understand that to defend the rural Normal Schools, like Ayotzinapa, is to defend the social right of the Mexican people to a secular, free, scientific, public education for the masses, with which—banishing standards and competitions imposed by transnational corporations that reduce us to data, numbers, and economic things—we will rebuild the foundations of a truly free, sovereign, just, and democratic country.
Jorge Cázares is a primary school teacher, a graduate of the Rural Normal School “Vasco de Quiroga” in Tiripetío, Michoacán, and a militant in the C.N.T.E. teachers’ union. This article drew on Maribel Arreola Rivas et al., Escuela Normal Rural “Vasco de Quiroga,” 90 años de historia (Morelia, 2012).