Tensions in basic education

In my column on May 3, 2020, of this our magazine AlwaysI argued that the Mexican school system is fatigued, yes, due to the effects of the pandemic, but more due to the force of the habit of loading the school with lots of homework. I pointed out that the fatigue of the system is manifested in its low quality, inequity, rigid administration, absurd centralism (wanting to standardize everything), teachers who bought or inherited their place, pedagogical lag, problems in schools, violence among students, vandalism and little relationship between teachers and parents.

This Wednesday the 24th I participated in the presentation of the book by Emilio Tenti Fanfani, an Argentine sociologist and educator, to whom we owe memorable pieces that analyze the profession of Mexican teachers. The title of the new book, The school under suspicion (Buenos Aires: Siglo XXI Editores Argentina, 2021), first of all, it provokes curiosity and, when read, it produces anger given the realities it shows in its speech. Despite the fact that in the empirical part he relies on the educational policy and school system of Argentina, his analysis covers all of Latin America; it is compatible with the Mexican reality.

It is a valuable book that I will not review this time. However, I point out that one of the five tensions that basic education undergoes, according to your vision, inspires me to propose the parallelism between its analysis and familiarity with some of my texts. Not that there is full intellectual communion, he is a typical Bourdieuan, but there is a coincidence in the judgments we make.

Tenti distinguishes five tensions in the development and politics of basic education: 1. Between massification of schooling and concentration of powerful knowledge. 2. Between democratization of objectified knowledge (things of culture) and the concentration of knowledge incorporated in people. 3. Between growing demands on the school system and capacities to satisfy them. 4. Between the school program and extracurricular learning. And, 5. Between knowledge and culture as a right and as a commodity.

For reasons of space, I concentrate my points on setback 3, which shows more the burden on the school system and which, if not resolved in the short term, will lead Mexican education to a depression of impressive magnitudes.

A phrase by Tente Fanfani, “Everyone, especially politicians in electoral times say they value education more than any other public policy”, may not apply to the Mexican reality. It is clear that President López Obrador is only interested in his projects and the succession of 2024. Education is at the lowest level of his intentions, not only because of the scantiness of the Federation’s Expenditure Budget in the educational field (spending higher is in scholarships), but because it is no longer even part of his morning narrative. And because the Secretary of Public Education, Delfina Gómez Álvarez, in her appearances before committees in the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies (on November 16 and 23) does not seem to value her work at the head of the SEP. He did not raise anything relevant and returned to the tune of blaming the neoliberal past.

Not just the educational policy burdens and tires the school; also social expectations for higher education, although not always for more knowledge. An extensive quote from Tenti Fanfani’s book illustrates the point:

You tend to expect almost everything from school. It is often affirmed that education serves to solve the problem of economic growth, favors the distribution of wealth and the construction of a more egalitarian society, trains citizens and facilitates the functioning of democracy, reduces crime, improves the general state of life. health, serves to protect the environment, instills respect and appreciation of differences and fights discrimination … and can even reduce traffic accidents.

Sounds familiar? Just take a look at the eleventh paragraph of article 3 after the 2019 reform: “The study plans and programs will have a gender perspective and a comprehensive orientation, so that knowledge of the sciences and humanities will be included: the teaching of mathematics, literacy, literacy, history, geography, civics, philosophy, technology, innovation, the indigenous languages ​​of our country, foreign languages, physical education, sports, the arts, especially music, the promotion of healthy lifestyles, sexual and reproductive education and care for the environment, among others ”.

And what time are teachers expected to do if there are no more days on the school calendar? Come on, there won’t even be full-time schools anymore. In addition, many teachers lose the forest of content and lose sight of the essentials, accredits Tenti. For this reason, the school does not live up to social expectations and “When schooling does not fulfill its promises, it ceases to be the ‘great hope’ and becomes the ‘great culprit’, and the result is a reproduction of suspicion of the school system ”.

The resort of politicians to justify the failures of the school is to direct suspicions towards the teachers and the past. They are never held responsible for the stresses their measures produce in schools.

However, neither Emilio Tenti Fanfani nor I sin of melancholy. In future installments I will analyze optimistic prospects.


I make available to readers who wish, the book that my colleagues Karen Monkman, Zaira Navarrete and I compiled: Innovation and inclusion in education: Policies and implementation strategies (Mexico: Plaza y Valdés Editores / Sociedad Mexicana de Educación Comparada. You can download it free of charge from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/356490123_Innovacion_e_Inclusion_en_educacion_Politicas_y_estrategias_de_implementacion


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