I woke up this morning to the noise of dogs barking outside, almost killing two piglets that somehow wandered loose. We ran down to try to get our dogs off them, yelling at Goliath and Tiger with a broom in one hand and a rock in the other. Mounting donkeys and making fresh cheese to seeing the tree house built by some of my students by the watering hole where we bring the cows, it’s another day in Presa de Maravillas. It’s good to be back.
I’ve been out of the community for a full week, and living with Maestra Alma in the city of Zacatecas because Gabriel Cámara was here from Sunday to Thursday. What a week. We travelled to Pinos, to San Ramón, Villa de Cos, being at schools and being with those committed to bringing a change in education here in México. And each day left me more and more inspired by the work here, by the people and students here. Whenever I think about student movements, I think of protests, of marches, and I get excited by the student agency and activism that they are showing against an authority or policy but here I’m discovering a new kind of activism, a new kind of social movement, a movement of the academics.
I’m discovering that the depth of academic knowledge through the human part of education is what directs and guides this movement. Through a real learning experience, students are pushing the work in 1) them as people, it gives them the confidence to carry on, to dream, 2) their own classes, encouraging other students 3) having the confidence to share the work with other schools and teachers, even in other states 4) in their homes, and inspiring their parents, and 5) in their lives, as students tell me how they dream of bettering their community through being educated. It’s so simple, yet so profound.
On Tuesday, I saw this social movement with incredible clarity. We had a teacher training session with about 143 supervisors, teacher-coaches, principals, and teachers who came from the region called Pinos. Instead of bringing foreign speakers or bringing the Secretary of Education or some other big shot to do the teacher training, guess what they brought? An army of 53 students from surrounding schools, ready to tutor. Each student was paired up with about two teachers, principals or school supervisors and from 9am – 1pm, we worked and worked and worked. Every trio took up a spot in the beautiful cultural center in Pinos, completely immersed in the tutoría. The students woke up at 5am just to travel for about two hours to get to Pinos and we only got home around 6pm. But on the bus back, they were so satisfied with their work – both students and teachers – that that energy carried us through.
The movement extends beyond just events. On Wednesday, March 7, in San Ramón, I met Max a recent graduate from the telesecundaria in San Ramón, where Maestra Sara Moran teaches. And an idea that filled my heart with such joy was Gabriel’s idea that we need to create teacher-coaches who are students trained in tutorial relationships. Can you imagine recent graduates from the secondary school, these experts in the tutorial, training teachers and bettering the practice of education one teacher, one school at the time. That’s the student movement I’m talking about. It’s grounded in the academics, the very reason why we created schools- and fights the system with a march that builds up the people – the students and teachers and anyone who comes close to it – from within. It’s an exponential equation and the force just keeps getting stronger as we share it.
I still don’t understand how this can on one hand, can be so incredibly radical in so many other parts of the world, but seem so normal in Zacatecas. Here we’re not even talking about just teachers. The state of Zacatecas believed enough in those 53 students to be the ones giving the teacher academic training, and gave them a real opportunity to be part of building better teachers, better schools across the state.
As Gabriel said in his speech during the conference on Monday, also in Pinos, “We cannot change the economic situations, we can’t change the histories of a child, but what we have in our hands are their lives, and that is a lot.” What an opportunity. We do have those students in our hands, not just the “good” ones, but all kinds of students, student whose fathers are alcoholics, students whose mothers have already abandoned them, students who find no hope except in the safety of the school, students like the ones here who see members of organized crime hiding in the bushes, drug dealers n the street, students who have disabilities, students who even if they say they given up on school, still want to learn – and each can be a tutor. I’m living this here.
A few weeks ago I was depressed and down trodden by the hopeless and at times, despair I would feel listening to some of the stories of the women here or of some of my students and all I could ask was how do we even start to create a change? I wasn’t even going to be here for a long time- there’s only so much I could do. But being with the team and being with Gabriel made me remember that I was part of a team; a team of excellent academic authorities, a team of dedicated teachers who want a change and are willing to change themselves, and most of all, a team of students across the state ready to change schools from the inside out.
That’s what we have in our hands.