Normal School; A Photo Essay

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Just three days ago I visited Escuela Normal Rural Miguel Hidalgo in Atequiza, Mexico. This is not too far west from yesterday’s shootout in Tanhuato. I felt it was important to publish this series quickly. A different perspective on Mexico at this time is needed, within my realities as a visitor seeing this place for the first time.

I don’t pretend to understand what I am seeing, the problems and priorities, the history and those who are involved. But I know this is the same kind of school as the 43 Disappeared attended. I also know what I’ve been told this is a very similar place to that other school. These kids I saw, the dancing and playing music and smiling and reading, this was as close to getting a glimpse of the 43 missing I would get. I had a lump in my throat for most of the visit.

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These “Rural Normal” schools were born out of Mexico’s revolution. The one we visited was celebrating it’s 81st anniversary the entire week. I found a warm and gracious school and town with a fascinating mix of imagery. There was the permanent revolutionary murals and quotes everywhere intermixed with various paper mache international landmarks. Wandering bands, various groups dancing, and various teachers, officials and dignitaries wandered about. The group I arrived with, mostly gringos, were interested in volunteering time to help the students with their ESL abilities. There was no ceremonies or speeches during our brief visit but a general air of determined, if not joyous, celebration.

I was told this school system, catering to the underprivileged by teaching young persons from marginalized communities to become teachers, has been under duress for decades. It is suspected that the government wants to rid itself of this fertile source of social justice activism and is doing so through a long game of attrition. Examples of these various strategies, I was told, included severe cut backs in funding, extremely stringent academic standards both to enter and to graduate and now a mandatory English test. This test is apparently so difficult, and arguably unnecessary, that most won’t pass. This requirement also prevents these students from all international visits and exchange programs—including with Spanish speaking countries.

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This is what I was told.

I could see the campus was in a state of disrepair and makeshift maintenance. Revolutionary themed murals were chipped and fading. Broken panes of glass were replaced with cardboard. Whispers of tension between the students and some in the administration. Courtyards variously cared for with gardens or statues. Some dusty and strewn with various rubble and wispy shadows of weeds and cracks. I felt this was a unique time and place that was at historic cross roads.

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