Socrates García, “El Profe” (The Teacher) in Cantinflas’ movie of the same name, quotes his namesake the Greek philosopher: “I only know that I know nothing.”
And the teacher in the mythical little town of El Romeral, like his namesake, transcends the ages, his observations as relevant today as they were back in 1971 when the movie headlined in cinemas.
It seems that the 2013 updates of the General Law of Education which require the Education Secretariat (SEP) to finally take control of the national teacher payroll, thereby knowing at long last who the teachers are and how many hours and days they actually work, are a chimera. And like the mythological Chimera, a monster with a lion’s head, goat’s body and dragon’s tail, in Mexico the head thinks it is in charge but the tail has other plans.
Last week, Education Secretary Emilio Chuayffet spoke of himself in the third person before a group of empresarios, allowing that “Chuayffet can’t mark anyone three consecutive absences and then terminate employment. Why? Because the only way I can know of three consecutive unexcused absences is if the local education authorities send me that information.”
On the same day, Moises Robles Cruz, director of the Oaxaca State Institute of Public Education (IEEPO), explained that he can’t dock wages for striking teachers of Section 22 of the CNTE union who were out for two weeks burning polling places and blocking highways in Oaxaca and avenues in the Federal District, because of the minutes of an agreement signed back in 1992 by then governor Eladio Ramírez.
“It has been extremely difficult for us to run the institute because it is controlled by the union ever since these famous minutes were signed back in ‘92. Who reports? The supervisors. Where are they from? From Section 22.”
The union itself reports the absences of its membership. Historically, the only absences reported were those of teachers who didn’t go to the demonstrations because they stayed behind to teach their classes.
Evidently union leaders are the current caciques in Oaxaca, like Don Margarito Vasquez in El Romeral. And just like Don Margarito, the dynastic families of union leaders rake in the cash. The top 12 make salaries of 170,000 pesos a month. On the next level down, 85 persons make 133,000 pesos every month, and below that there is a group of 670 who make between 66,000 and 88,000 pesos monthly.
Regional union leaders have salaries between 33,000 and 66,000, while the 84,000 teachers at the base of the pyramid earn between 5,000 and 15,000 a month. And union leaders couldn’t care less about the kids’ education.
Of a total 200 days a year on the school calendar, teachers in Oaxaca actually teach an average of 140, which has never been considered a reason for garnishing their wages.
There’s the rub! It’s not enough to pass a law if it can’t be enforced. Since the union is the de facto authority in all things educational in Oaxaca, top union leaders may as well be telling teachers, as the mayor of El Romeral told Socrates García, “Just do like the other teachers who came here before you. Put your nose down and do your job!”
In other words, don’t ask, don’t tell and don’t stick your nose in the business of the powerful. Maybe, like the mule driver of El Romeral, the SEP should call these mules of Section 22 “horses.” Maybe that way they’ll stop digging in their heels.
The writer is an educator with many years of experience in the administration of schools in North and South America. He lives in Pachuca, Hidalgo.