The political battle for textbooks: the new front in the polarization of Mexico 

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The new schoolbooks that should be in public classrooms across Mexico by the end of the month have become the focus of a new and intense political dispute between critics of the government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. The tone of the controversy increases every day, while several governors have announced that they will not allow the content to be distributed in their states and the Executive keeps the pulse, affirming that the books will be in the country’s schools on August 28. There are more than 100 million copies that will be distributed nationwide. López Obrador has called for prudence, but his detractors accuse the Ministry of Public Education (SEP) of using the new content as political “indoctrination” for students. “They see communists everywhere, as well as UFOs,” said the president. 

The campaign against the new content has been so intense in the Mexican press (the Reforma newspaper published the following headline on its front page: “SEP kidnapping and guerrilla book exalts”), that the president had to mobilize the Education authorities to explain every day in a press conference the contents of the schoolbooks. Marx Arriaga, general director of Educational Materials of the SEP, assured on Tuesday that the texts were in private hands and “we had to stop the privatization of the textbook. The book was a business, and it benefited some publishers, that’s what the textbook was for.”  

Criticisms range from that the books oppose capitalism and businessmen; who attempt to inoculate communism into the young minds of students; that present a biased vision of the history of Mexico. The most conservative sectors have directed their criticism at the representation of the new families that appear in the content, such as homoparental couples with children or single parents. They have also launched against inclusive language, with the use of ‘x’ or ‘everyone’ to include people who do not feel sufficiently taken into account due to their gender condition in their messages. Some academics have joined the criticism, but more because of omissions or errors in the content. Irma Villalpando, PhD in Pedagogy from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), explained to EL PAÍS at the beginning of August that the texts have very poor content in relation to subjects such as Mathematics, errors in concepts, jumps in content, disorder of materials and the exclusion of universal literature. 

Several organizations have filed judicial appeals against the texts and at least seven state governments have stated that they will wait for these disputes to be resolved. In May, when the controversy broke out, a judge determined due to an amparo filed before the courts that the Government should suspend the production of educational material and submit it for review. Since then, governments such as Jalisco have stated that “textbooks will not be distributed.” On Tuesday, the Government of Nuevo León announced that it was suspending the distribution of content, joining Coahuila, Colima and Yucatán, where they have also announced that they will delay distribution pending court decisions. 

The criticism of the federal government is not only for the content, but for the haste in which the textbooks were produced and the pressure from the Executive to have them in schools before the end of López Obrador’s six-year term. The independent senator Emilio Álvarez Icaza Longoria wrote on August 8 on his Twitter account (today called X) that the SEP “violated the General Education Law decreed by López Obrador on September 30, 2019”, which “forces consultations to institutions, state governments and social actors to prepare and approve the study plans. If the contents of the free textbooks are questioned, it is because they violated procedures established in articles 23-36. Article 34 is a legal and mandatory filter that would have prevented the nonsense of content that is now public”, explained the legislator. “He is not a neoliberal monstrosity. It is his Law ”, Álvarez finished off. 

The SEP authorities have affirmed that there were consultations during the preparation of the schoolbooks. Leticia Ramírez Amaya, Secretary of Public Education, has informed that the production of the new contents has taken a long time of consultations with parents, teachers and state authorities and that no State of the federation has been left out. The official explained that the new books are part of the strategy of the Government to reform the curricula to strengthen public schools in Mexico, which focused on a “boring” strategy based on memorizing content that in most cases students did not understand. “We had to change that reality. The pandemic made it clear that the school was in crisis, because the study plans and the contents of the textbooks were impossible to put into practice in the daily lives of the children. What we want now is to bring that daily life closer to the training that children should be given at school”, explained the secretary. 

The political battle for the new textbooks has become the new front of the intense polarization that Mexico is experiencing during this six-year term. While the Justice resolves the judicial appeals against the contents and some States maintain their rejection of them, President López Obrador was rarely open to criticism and assured that “there is nothing to fear”, although he accused his detractors of criticizing without have read the new content. “There is no need to worry. The books are very well made by specialists, pedagogues, but above all teachers participated. It was quite a process,” he said last week. 

  Source: El Pais