Eric Spindler Opinion
ruben nunez Núñez: Mafioso or educator? la crónica de oaxaca

A letter to union boss: 5 points to an accord

Basic points for an agreement to defend rights of students, strengthen rights of teachers

Dear Sir: Please forgive me if I am mistaken in addressing you as a serious interlocutor who is interested in a better education for the children of Oaxaca, and not, as some have suggested, as a Mafioso only interested in power and money.

Let’s suppose that you aren’t purposely promoting anarchy. This might open the possibility of reaching some basic agreements.

As leader of Section 22 of the CNTE teachers’ union, you aggressively defend positions which neither the government nor the majority of civil society can accept. That is not to say that you should be considered among the sowers of discord, condemned in Dante’s Inferno to a special place where demons continually slice them with swords just as their bodies are beginning to heal.

But it does seem that this is the fate of the children of Oaxaca from constant cuts to their educational progress.

Hoping to alleviate their suffering and defend the rights of the weakest and most vulnerable of our citizens, while at the same time strengthening the rights of teachers, I would like to propose the following basic points for a beneficial agreement:

1. In education, the highest priority rights belong to the children. As leader of the teachers’ union, your first obligation is to defend the rights of workers in the field of education, as long as they don’t conflict with the rights of students.

2. The qualifying exam for new teachers is similar to entrance examinations for other professions such as law and medicine. As such, it serves to professionalize the teaching career. Only after a candidate qualifies for and is assigned a teaching position does the role of the CNTE in defending his or her labor and professional rights begin.

It must be recognized, however, that because Oaxaca is the state with the highest indigenous population, the CNTE has a valid role in promoting the development and entrance to the teaching profession of indigenous candidates. Indigenous children need teachers who can speak their language and serve as role models for their intellectual, economic and social development. Special consideration should be given to Native American candidates for teaching positions in schools with high percentages of Native American students.

3. Teacher evaluation systems must differentiate between teachers on the most basic level. Current teachers whose professional exercise is harmful to kids should be separated from their employment. Teachers who make an honest effort and maintain positive relations with their students should be helped to improve their professional practice and continue to learn, together with their students and colleagues in a collective effort to elevate the level of learning of everyone in their school.

4. The federal government must support the professional development of teachers to a much greater degree. The current budget for this purpose is patently insufficient. Evaluating teachers without investing in their professional development qualifies as “sowing discord” and deserves a Dantesque punishment.

5. Current student dropout rates constitute the single most pressing educational problem in Mexico, which deserves the careful attention of teachers’ unions, government and local school technical councils across the nation. An educational system which provokes the dropping out of over half of its students before high school graduation is not sustainable.

I believe that any ethical educator can support these concepts. Of course, I’m not authorized to negotiate with the teachers’ union by any level of government. I merely suggest certain principles here that, were they not accepted by both parties, would leave a gaping hole in any agreement between the government and the union.

Understanding of the concerns and interests of each side can help to avoid confrontations in the search for the best possible outcomes. Perhaps we can thereby avoid being “sowers of discord,” and allow the most vulnerable sector of the population, the children, to stop suffering the cuts of a diabolic sword due to opposing interests of adults.

We have no knowledge of the merits we may have accumulated for the life eternal, but clearly we can understand that for our children, a bad agreement is better than a good fight, and an agreement based on these five principles would be a ray of sunlight penetrating the overcast skies of Oaxaca.

Yours very truly . . .

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. 

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