Saturday, June 22, 2024

New textbook backlash continues with protests, book burning

Protests against the new textbooks being provided for the upcoming school year by the Education Ministry (SEP) continued over the weekend in at least two Mexican states.

In the northern-central state of Aguascalientes, thousands of people marched on Sunday against “the ideological content” of the free textbooks, saying they are laced with “Marxist-communist” indoctrination. Estimating the crowd in the state capital of Aguascalientes at around 12,000 people, newspaper El Universal said many of the protesters were members of parents’ groups and Christian organizations.

Aguascalientes protestors
In Aguascalientes, some 12,000 people marched in protest against the new textbooks. (Carlos Ramirez/X)

Meanwhile, in an evangelical Indigenous community in the southern state of Chiapas, parents set fire to unopened boxes of the textbooks outside Benito Juárez Elementary School, claiming the books teach communism, homosexuality and lesbianism. They demanded the SEP send them the previous textbooks.

The book burning occurred Sunday in San Antonio del Monte, a community of 2,250 within the municipality of San Cristóbal de las Casas,  where 99% of residents are Indigenous, 85% speak the Tzotzil language, 17% do not speak Spanish and 16% are illiterate, according to the National Institute of Statistics (INEGI). Almost all of the residents of the town are evangelical Christians, according to newspaper Proceso.

In response, President López Obrador said on Monday that those who protest because they believe that the “virus of communism” is baked into the new, free textbooks are “misinformed and manipulated.”

“They have the right to demonstrate. We are free,” he said, while calling on people not to be manipulated by leaders, businesspeople and influence peddlers on the right. “That is politicking,” he said.

The new textbooks were intended to update the political curriculum, but have been accused of promoting Marxism and gender ideology, causing an angry reaction from those on Mexico’s right wing. (Gabriela Peréz Montiel/Cuartoscuro)

The president has admitted previously that the books could be “perfectible”, but said those promoting protests are classists and racists.

Governors in four states have said they are blocking the distribution of the textbooks to schools, with at least one, Chihuahua Gov. Maru Campos, filing an injunction.

The 2023-24 school year is to begin on Monday of next week.

At the elementary school in Chiapas, which reportedly has 700 students, parents in the community piled up boxes of the new textbooks, doused them with fuel and set them afire. A spokesperson for the community, which is within two miles of San Cristóbal de Las Casas, said, “By having the books physically already in the community, they decided to take this step.”

Tzotil book burning in Chiapas
The textbooks did not burn well, which led some protestors to accuse them of “being from the devil.” (Screen capture)

When the books inside the boxes didn’t catch fire immediately, one parent remarked that “the books are from the devil, they don’t burn so fast.”

Others used a loudspeaker to proclaim, “We want the previous books, not crap,” “We don’t want trash” and “We don’t want triple-X.” Parents who attended signed or stamped their names to a statement against the books.

Meanwhile, in Aguascalientes, where the governor announced a moratorium on distribution of the textbooks on Aug. 12, organizers said they have 46,000 signatures against the new materials. Many were collected Sunday at tables set up in the city’s main square.

Those who oppose the textbooks also claim the material is plagued with inaccuracies, condenses some subjects too much and does not follow a defined curriculum.

The government rejects these arguments.

“They have been prepared by teachers and experts,” said López Obrador, who has dismissed those who say the government wants to indoctrinate children in communist or gender ideology with the new books.

With reports from Proceso, El Economista, El Financiero and El Universal

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