Americas Program Original Translation
Present during a police operation that the government of Michoacán launched against the normal schools in Tiripetío, Aretaga and Cherán on October 15, Camilo, a student and son of a farmer, tells how a young person’s life changes upon entering this institution.
TESTIMONY RECORDED BY ADAZAHIRA CHÁVEZ IN MEXICO CITY
My name is Camilo Ceja Durán, I come from the community of Tzintzuntzan, near the lakeshore of Pátzcuaro. My mother is a homemaker and performs seasonal work in the field; like the majority of students in rural normal schools, I am the son of farmers.
I decided to study in the Normal School because the economic resources in my family are not sufficient to enter the university, I wanted to study a major like Accounting or Law. The other issue that influenced me was seeing the teachers in the community, they are impressive, we worship them because they have greater knowledge. In my community there are teachers that deserve the respect to truly be called teachers, they are role models for families and the community.
Before entering the Normal School, we lived in conditions that were not satisfactory for my family and me. I lived in a world of ignorance where we only focused on what the media showed us. There in the surrounding area of Lake Pátzcuaro a degree of violence is experienced because of organized crime and clandestine logging of the forest; we lived outside the rights that the law indicates we should know and demand.
Upon entering the institution you learn things that you did not know about the rights we have as human beings and as students. You feel the need to get an education and for the rest of society to also get one—because the majority of the community does not have that right. When we are young, due to economic conditions we have to get a job to satisfy the needs of our family. I only have my mother; my father abandoned us; so we have to help out as much as we can and we stray from education.
Upon entering the institution we value things more. We also know our and our parents’ suffering because they give us topics of study where we analyze and investigate what happens with the system, what the media manipulates and the information that blinds us students and society. Rural normal schools entirely provide the support of food, housing and a secular and free education. We are not required to spend anything because that is how it is laid out in the Constitution.
Normal schools and the reform
The rural normal schools that exist in the country are important because they are a creation of the people and a demand of society itself since the Mexican Revolution. José Vasconcelos and Álvaro Obregón give the opening to education, take up the Constitution of 1917 and create 40 normal schools to cover the need for more teachers because there was not anyone who could offer that education. At that time the majority of the population was rural and there were not teachers to go to the farthest places.
However, as the years passed normal schools disappeared; in 1968 more than half disappear. With this the number of teachers diminishes and there is a decline in education; there is no longer free education because we are lacking spaces and teachers, although the government argues otherwise.
The 16 normal schools that exist today have taken action against the neoliberal proposals that the government itself presents because we see the conditions and we have had the experience of going to rural communities where we see the problems of children who go barefoot, dirty, because they do not count on the resources and conditions that they should have.
There are pros and cons to the reform they want to implement. We agree that the conditions in the world and in the country are brought up to date, but if we want to implement technology, in some places there are no conditions, they do not have electricity or the necessary classrooms. Furthermore, if we implement technology it’s as if the media itself were giving that education and we as teachers should move out of the way. If a child has a question, the television is not going to answer. Technology is certainly a means of receiving information, but it’s based on the context.
Of course, I would love to learn Purhépecha. The curriculum offers artistic education and cultures but more than anything as history that already passed and we should not pick up again. What we want to do is revive it because what is the system doing? Then implement other cultures that we don’t know about and that don’t have an identity.
A day in Tiripetío
Inside the institution work is hard. We manage five central themes during the day: academic, cultural, political, productive and sports. In the morning we attend classes; in the afternoon we have workshops, like carpentry and silk screen printing, or clubs of dance, stringed instrument ensembles or sports—soccer, basketball, swimming and track and field. In the productive we have our plot and our modules for the reproduction of pigs, sheep, rabbits and quails, which is what we have at the Normal School of Tiripetío. In the afternoon we work with some veterinarians the institution has; on weekends we talk about it in the community and give that knowledge to our parents.
It’s a boarding school but you occupy your time in the strengthening of workshops. That’s in one day. I stay all week; I go home every month or every break so as not to cause any inconvenience at home in terms of expenses.
It is very pleasing to belong to the normal schools because you develop. You don’t have to be locked up all the time as is mentioned on some occasions, but rather you can go out to some communities to meet them and spread knowledge. In the practicum you go to the communities and become familiar with indigenous contexts where they speak their language and you are impressed because in my case I don’t speak another language. Upon hearing them, you motivate yourself and want to learn what it means; it’s what we would like to learn within the institution.
In terms of organizing we have a student based space for the serious problems that arise against the normal schools. You enter out of conviction and we have to investigate reforms, laws and plans that damage education and the third article of the Constitution in order to confront them. Just as we study teacher development, we also study the issue of education and the rights of society.
The coexistence with our fellow schoolmates is daily, we all know one another and we are a family of around 500 or 600 schoolmates. The Rural Normal School is our second home. Staying there we get to know each other more deeply, schoolmate after schoolmate, the places we are from; there are even schoolmates from other states. If anything happens to any one of us, he or she has support.
Every year that goes by in the Normal School is a very pleasing experience and very important for our integral development as teachers. You learn about everything, the whole world, national and state situation in the different contexts in which society lives.
The government against the normal schools
These rural normal schools all over the country, from north to south, impact society because from there it is strengthened and there it sends its sons and daughters so that they themselves can provide education to their own community. Upon entering, we establish a pact between the community, students and institution.
The role of the Normal student is fundamental because he or she has the job of removing the bandage from society’s eyes; if there were no teachers or Normal students, we would continue to be oppressed and with great ignorance. It is fundamental that Normal students go out to the most remote places in the state, crossing mountains and rivers.
You have to go through this experience in order to feel the need of the people, just as the ideals we exercise motivate us. If we do not feel that love and that need, we would not be rural Normal students and we wouldn’t have a reason for being.
The attacks we received are because we demand, we raise our voices and give support to different organizations so that they can so the same; we offer advice to the organizations, to the communities and to society about how to demand a hearing, about what the process is.
Currently that is what we develop in the communities that are autonomous or that want to be because their rights are violated; some are removed from their land, they take away their homes, they take away everything they have. Then the government sees that we organize society and says that we are a red light and that rural normal schools must disappear or be transformed, as happened in ’68.
I would like for the rural normal schools to continue with their work and that they keep functioning with the same ideals that Emiliano Zapata and Francisco Villa promoted; if not, we will keep going downhill. We use the slogan that as long as poverty exists, the normal schools will still be around. In Mexico there is a large percentage of poverty; so the normal schools have to function because it is a free education that gives us all of the opportunities and all of the benefits.
Before, a Normal teacher studied for three years after finishing middle school to be a teacher. Currently they are four years of teacher training after finishing high school, three years of study and one year of practicum.
The salary varies, but it is between 2,500 and 3,000 pesos per month. Comparing it to other salaries, like those of public officials, which are excessive, it doesn’t seem like much, but if you have that love and that need, it doesn’t matter. I wouldn’t mind receiving that salary as long as it supports society because society itself supports you with food, with a taco. That is what’s important.
Leaving the Normal School I see myself in a community where I can really develop my work as a rural teacher and the community takes me into account.
Translated by Libby Quintana