Fighting back from the Global South: Education reform, teacher’s rights, and social media resistance in Mexico

Today’s blogger is David Ramírez Plascencia, a professor and researcher at the University of Guadalajara–SUV, whose recently published article “Education Reform, Teacher Resistance, and Social Media Activism in Mexico, 2013–2016” appears in the special issue of The Educational Forum on educator activism in politically polarized times. In that article, he relates how Mexican teachers use information technologies to engage in the fight against new regulations that affect their labor rights.

In recent decades, education systems in developed and poor countries have been impacted by neoliberalism tendencies that emphasis cost-benefit factors to the detriment of social access and equity. Public education in Mexico has not been an exception. In 2012, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto ordered the establishment of an educational reform. Teachers unions claimed the reform’s lack of legitimacy because they were never consulted; and since 2013, there have been several offline and online protests.

In general terms, most of the dissatisfaction concerning this reform centers on the fact that it tends to blame teachers for Mexico’s low-quality levels of education and standing among countries internationally. In addition, the amendment fails to offer appropriate instruments to improve education quality and applies a standard evaluation system that puts teachers under the microscope without consideration of important economic, administrative, infrastructural, and cultural differences among local education systems.

In this work, I focus not only on describing social media activism in education, both pro- and anti-reform, but I also consider how these virtual spaces have strengthened as an alternative media for teachers to fight back against governmental policies.

Meme example. An indigenous lady with a kerchief and the phrase in Spanish “We all are Oaxaca.” This slogan supports teachers’ actions in that state. This visual element is used frequently online to protest Mexico’s education reform.

My article stands mainly on two concepts. The first is “digital discourse,” which encompasses all sequences of interconnected ideas that span across digital media—audio, video, or even “meme” (see illustration). All these media consolidate to create dissidence with which to combat government actions. In other words, they are “weapons of the weak,” which is the second concept, referring to a particular form of resistance in which the oppressed use alternative and hidden strategies, aside from military hostility, to confront authority (J. C. Scott, 1987). What is remarkable in this context is how Mexican teachers use a dissident strategy of diverse multimedia elements as weapons against the educational reform.

In the end, the purpose of my contribution to this issue of The Educational Forum is to emphasize how cases like the teachers unions’ use of social media to support protests in Mexico provide substantial examples that might be replicated. This kind of media encourages movements and communities to have a voice to advocate for their demands, in spite of the government-controlled traditional media like the press or television. However, what is important to recall is that in order to improve education in Mexico, it is important to promote social assets like equality and justice, not only inside the government, and to modernize teachers’ unions as well, to open elections to a clear and democratic process, and to set strong transparent policies regarding usage of members’ dues. We must remember that providing quality education is a challenging task that can be addressed only with the collaborative efforts of all.

I hope you enjoy reading about this issue!

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share an essay from the special issue of The Educational Forum with the education community. Access the article at Taylor and Francis Online, free through July 31, 2018.

Research from The Educational Forum: Our Educational Crossroads

University of Rochester’s David Hursh, PhD. Professor, Teaching and Curriculum, Warner Graduate School of Education and Human Development. Photographed February 26, 2016 // photo by J. Adam Fenster / University of Rochester

University of Rochester’s David Hursh, PhD. Professor, Teaching and Curriculum, Warner Graduate School of Education and Human Development. Photographed February 26, 2016 // photo by J. Adam Fenster / University of Rochester

Today’s blogger is Dr. David Hursh, Professor of Teaching and Curriculum at the Warner Graduate School of Education and Human Development, University of Rochester. He writes here to describe research recently published in an article (coauthored by Dr. Camille Anne Martina) in The Educational Forum.

In the United States, we are at a critical moment in society and schooling that demands our attention. Depending on who wins the upcoming elections, public schools may go in either of two directions. If the neoliberals win, schools may become increasingly privatized, as the support for and number of charter schools increase, and students and teachers will likely be subjected to intensified evaluation through standardized tests. Or, on the other hand, schooling could be redesigned to take advantage of what researchers have learned about supporting students’ thinking and the best ways to help students to tackle the crucial issues we face as a nation and global community. For example, schools could take the lead in preparing students to analyze the evidence regarding climate change, and to develop appropriate responses.

Schools could also become models for democratic citizenship and serve as resources for their communities.

In our article, “The End of Public Schools? Or a New Beginning?,” we show how philanthro-capitalists, non-governmental organizations, corporations, hedge fund managers, and state and federal commissioners of education promote a neoliberal way of thinking about the world that prioritizes individual entrepreneurship within a privatized market system. Readers of this blog will likely be familiar with a number of ways in which we see this at play in U.S. education today. Examples include the increase in the number of charter schools and voucher programs, and the constant portrayal of public schools and public school teachers as failing. The result of such influences is that teaching is transformed into following a script, and teaching becomes deprofessionalized as teachers lose protections including due process.

In response to these threats, we urge teachers to develop a new way of thinking about the world: one based on promoting equality, ending poverty, solving problems, creating community, and supporting one another.

We also suggest that teachers, parents, students, and university educators work together to show how critics of public schools misuse test scores and other data to inaccurately portray schools as failing. Teachers must be willing to enter the political process, work to prevent the end of public schools, and collaborate with their communities to transform schools into places where knowledge is created and shared with the aim of creating an equitable, democratic society.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share Dr. Hursh and Dr. Martina’s article free with the education community through March 31, 2016. Read the full article here.

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International Women’s Day

Emily Zoss is the managing editor of The Educational Forum, published by Kappa Delta Pi.

Letter from PDK to KDP on the rejection of the merger petition, March 5, 1912.

Letter from PDK to KDP on the rejection of the merger petition, March 5, 1912.

International Women’s Day is on March 8. The fact that it overlaps with the anniversary of Kappa Delta Pi’s founding is a lovely coincidence, as women’s equality was a significant concern in the early days of the organization’s history.

During the period immediately before and after the establishment of Kappa Delta Pi (KDP) on the campus of the University of Illinois in 1911, members investigated affiliating with the fraternity that came to be known as Phi Delta Kappa (PDK). The two groups had similar aims and ideals, but with a major exception: KDP allowed women to join, and PDK did not.

A key turning point came in March 1912, when KDP’s final petition for a merger with PDK was roundly rejected. Displayed in the entry of our headquarters in Indianapolis is a letter that Julian Butterworth of PDK sent to Claude E. Burgener of KDP on the occasion. A memorable passage reads as follows:

There was a very strong sentiment that we should like to have Illinois [KDP] join us. However, I may say, Mr. Burgener, that I am certain that there will never be an opportunity to secure the admission of women. We believe that a real honor fraternity in Education must, from the very nature of our profession, be confined to men. Women do not enter the work to make a profession of it, and they ought not. Their work lies elsewhere.

I most sincerely hope that the time is not far distant when our societies can see alike on this point.

Although both groups today welcome a broad membership, we’re proud of our inclusive heritage.

There’s still work to be done on a host of other issues throughout the world related to gender equity, but on March 8, consider taking a moment to honor the commitment of KDP’s founders to women’s equality in the profession of education.

Technology—The Great Equalizer?

Faye Snodgress is executive director at Kappa Delta Pi.

I found the article about an autistic teenager who developed a friendship with Siri, the voice on his mother’s iPhone, both interesting and heartwarming. For children who struggle with social interactions, the discovery of a “person” who is always there when they need someone to talk to, and who is always patient and kind, may be life-changing. As the child’s mother noted in her reflections, continued conversations with Siri have led to real improvements in her son Gus’s ability to communicate with humans and to acquire some new social skills.

In a time when everywhere we look we see families or friends sitting around together with each hovering over his or her cell phone, the article reminds us of how technology, which can be isolating, can also connect and engage people with one another.

Children like Gus, who have access to both a technological device, like an iPhone, and a parent who recognizes the potential benefits of her child’s interaction with an intelligent assistant, have a significant advantage.

Unfortunately, while technology is often viewed as the great equalizer in educational settings, that perception isn’t entirely accurate. Will an increase in the number of laptops or tablets and Internet access really allow all students to benefit equally from what technology can offer? Figures from the 2014 Pew Research Internet Project Survey tell us that 90% of American adults own cell phones, while only 58% own smartphones. Smartphone adoption is highest among the affluent and well-educated. The substantial difference in the number of cell phones and smartphones is significant, because the smartphone is where so many of the exciting digital learning opportunities exist.

Just having access to technology isn’t going to magically level the playing field. In other words, if every child had access to a computer and smartphone, not every child would realize the same benefits and develop the same skills. In her book Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life, Annette Lareau contrasts the ways technology is used by children at home, based on the different parenting styles associated with socioeconomic status. Middle- and upper-class parents view their children as projects, and they continually invest time and resources to help develop their children into the best finished projects they can. They enroll them in organized activities, are involved in their schools, and engage them in discussions and questioning. Lower-income families don’t have these opportunities to offer their children. They have to work multiple jobs and use their limited resources for food and clothing for their children. There is little or no time and disposable income available for organized activities and traveling.

Given the challenges associated with poverty, lower-income parents often don’t have access to or the time available to model the use of technology as a learning tool in the same way as more affluent parents can.  There is a clear difference in how middle- and upper-income families and lower-income families think about technology and how they incorporate it into their lives and the lives of their children. Lower-income families look to technology as a means to stay connected with others, while middle- and upper-income children are encouraged to use it also for informal learning—gaining exposure to new ideas.

As school districts and the government consider funding for technology, our policymakers must understand that providing access to technology is just one part of helping all children to develop the skills necessary for the workplace. Addressing structural inequalities is another critical component in ensuring that all children benefit from access to technology. As educators, we want all children to benefit from the limitless information available through the Internet and the many ways technology can enrich their lives, including possible life-changing relationships with virtual assistants.