Just weeks before students return to school from their summer break, a fierce battle has broken out over the new textbooks they will be issued for the upcoming academic year, with one leading opposition figure asserting that they contain “dangerous ideological content” and “big political lies” and calling on parents to throw them out or destroy them, a move that prompted ruling party governors to compare him to Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler.
Despite widespread criticism and a court order against the printing of the Education Ministry’s new primary and secondary school textbooks, the federal government currently remains committed to their distribution.
President López Obrador said Tuesday that the books will be in schools for the start of the new school year on Aug. 28, and asserted Thursday that they are “well-made,” although he conceded that they “might be perfectible.”
“… There is nothing to fear, nothing to worry about. The books are very well-made by specialists, educators, but above all teachers participated [in their creation],” the president told reporters at his Thursday morning press conference.
Marko Cortés, national president of the National Action Party (PAN), other opposition lawmakers, a prominent parents’ organization and some academics have a very different view.
“The new books that we’ve been able to review are riddled with errors,” says Alma Maldonado, an academic who created an online petition against the textbooks that had attracted over 130,000 signatures by 5 p.m. Thursday.
Among the other criticisms made by Maldonado, an academic at the Center for Research and Advanced studies at the National Polytechnic Institute, is that traditional subject textbooks have been replaced with books that focus on loosely-defined topics such as “our knowledge,” “multiple languages” and “classroom projects.”
“In this new [education] scheme, children don’t have books for Spanish, mathematics, natural sciences, geography, biology, health and universal and Mexican history. They won’t learn the logical reasoning of mathematics, they won’t deepen their knowledge of Spanish. The children will now supposedly learn doing projects that teachers choose from the new books,” she wrote on the change.org petition website.
Irma Villalpando, an educator with a doctorate in pedagogy from the National Autonomous University, told the newspaper El País that the new textbooks have a range of shortcomings including conceptual errors and a lack of mathematical content. The deficiencies collectively amount to an “enormous backward step” in the education of Mexican students, she said.
Córtes, national leader of the PAN since late 2018 and a federal lawmaker before then, delivered a scathing assessment of the new Education Ministry (SEP) textbooks in a video message posted to social media.
“Mexico is living through one of the greatest tragedies in its history, not just because of the violence that reigns in the whole country. I’m referring to the tragedy of basic education,” he said, referring to the schooling of students up to the age of 15.
“… The government is rejecting mathematics and science and seeking to turn schools into centers of indoctrination, into temples of adoration for López Obrador and his political vision,” Córtes said.
As his video shows a superimposed image of a textbook activity in which fifth grade students are required to make a model of the male reproductive system and “simulate the process of erection and ejaculation,” the PAN leader asserts that the government hasn’t taken the opinions of parents into account and is seeking to impose a “view on childhood sexuality.”
The textbooks were written “secretly” and contain “errors of all kinds, dangerous ideological content for our children and big political lies,” Cortés said before describing them as “primers of ideological propaganda.”
“… We demand that you comply with the court order and stop the distribution of the textbooks,” he said, directing a message to the president and the government he leads.
“And to all the parents of the country, in the face of the probable failure to comply of López Obrador, we urge you to throw out the textbooks that are given to your kids, or at least remove the pages that you consider inappropriate for the education of your children,” Córtes said.
In a radio interview on Wednesday, the PAN chief called on parents to “completely destroy” the textbooks or tear out the pages they don’t agree with.
State governors who represent the ruling Morena party and its allies responded to Cortés’ radio interview remarks in a statement in which they compared him to both Hitler and former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.
“Not much could be expected of the country’s conservative right, they unmasked themselves and were exposed as the retrogrades they are,” the governors said before noting that the PAN’s national leader proposed the destruction of the textbooks set to be distributed to Mexican students later this month.
“It’s worth remembering that the attitude [in favor of] the destruction of books was promoted by and acted on by the most evil figures in recent history. … Adolf Hitler ordered books to be burned 90 years ago; the dictator Pinochet in Chile did the same,” said the governors of 21 states and the mayor of Mexico City.
The destruction of books has been advocated at times when the goal was to “prevent the democratic, cultural and humanistic progress of society,” they said.
At his morning press conference on Thursday, López Obrador claimed that most critics of the textbooks “haven’t even read them,” and contended that the criticism is politically motivated. He asserted Tuesday that there is no court ruling that prevents the distribution of the textbooks, even though a Mexico City administrative court – in response to an injunction request filed by the National Union of Parents – ordered SEP in May to suspend the printing of them.
Education Minister Leticia Ramírez said Tuesday that SEP hadn’t been “officially notified” of that court order. She said in a video message that the ministry will comply with the order after notification of same, but it may be inconsequential as textbooks have already been printed.
Ramírez said that the new textbooks are arriving at “regional warehouses” and will soon be in schools. The “new family” of books are the work of thousands of “innovative teachers” as well as education experts and illustrators, she said.
The books “constitute a fundamental change [in education] because they favor work through projects to promote collaboration, active learning, creativity and critical thinking,” Ramírez said.
“… Students will learn from a humanist and scientific perspective,” she said, adding that they will also be taught about gender equality, diversity, social justice and inclusion.
While the war of words over the textbooks continues, the Supreme Court will have to decide whether it can settle the controversy as the Mexico City administrative court that ordered the Education Ministry to suspend the production of the books referred an appeal filed by SEP to the nation’s top court.
Controversy over school textbooks is not a new phenomenon in Mexico. The National Union of Parents in 2018 accused the previous federal government of attempting to indoctrinate children through sexual education content in textbooks for first-year middle school students.
The current government, which introduced a new education model after repealing its predecessor’s education reform, last year advised against against the use of words and concepts such as “educational quality, competition, efficiency [and] productivity” in textbooks because of their alleged association with neoliberalism – a frequent target of López Obrador’s criticism – and in 2021, told textbook authors to “eliminate authoritarian discourse” that appears in existing texts.