By MARK LORENZANA
Just a few days after a report that former Venezuelan government official Sady Arturo Loaiza Escalona landed a management position in Mexico’s Secretariat of Public Education (SEP) — which, naturally, caused an uproar among educational experts in the country — the SEP is now recommending basic education teachers in Mexico read Karl Marx’s foundational theoretical book in materialist philosophy, ”Capital: A Critique of Political Economy,” and Vladimir Lenin’s political pamphlet, “What Is to Be Done? Burning Questions of Our Movement.”
In “A Book without Recipes for the Teacher,“ conceived “as part of a trilogy of textbooks that develop a pedagogical link between students, parents and teachers,” the SEP asks teachers to prepare to face the “dynamics of oppression” and to form “a new Mexican citizen” and “a new ‘Mexicanness’ related to the irreversible transformation of the country.”
Written by Marx Arriaga, director of the Department of Educational Materials at the SEP, and his second in command, deputy director Loaiza Escalona, the text also proposes that “teachers promote the freedom of students and their community,” and asks them “to stick to the definition of freedom of the Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin, and to question individual freedom.”
“School discipline or the direction and planning of didactic processes seem retrograde activities that threaten the freedom of the subjects, but we must understand that said individualized freedom is a concept that violates the construction of community and generates alienation dynamics that must be questioned,” read the book, according to a report by Mexican daily newspaper Reforma.
The book likewise asks teachers to do a self-examination to analyze their “critical conscience,” and at one point poses a question to educators: “Are you unaware that, under a neoliberal model, only populist, proselytizing promises are the ideas of democracy, social mobility, economic stability, equitable educational and cultural services?”
Reforma political columnist F. Bartolome wrote a short and punchy comment about the issue in his Thursday, Feb. 2, column: “With the SEP recommending that teachers read Lenin and Marx, they could well recommend Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) to also read the Constitution. Just a suggestion.”
López Obrador, in his daily press conference on the morning of Thursday, defended the SEP’s recommendation to teachers about reading the works of Lenin and Marx.
“So we are indoctrinating? You have to read everyone: Aristotle, Plato and, of course, you have to read Marx. Why not?” AMLO said. “This is politicking.”
Meanwhile, opposition deputies demanded the resignation of Loaiza Escalona and Arriaga, saying that their positions be filled by academics without ideological biases.
Melissa Vargas, a deputy of the centralist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), described as “painful” that Loaiza Escalona, “a foreigner with a very marked ideological profile toward a communist government,” has been in charge of redesigning the textbooks of the so-called New Mexican School since last year.
“On the social issue, specifically, we don’t want ideology in the classroom and even less when it comes to political ideology,” Vargas said.
Vargas demanded that the SEP immediately dismiss Loaiza Escalona, to be replaced by a person “with critical, objective, impartial capacity and, above all, with all academic credentials.”
“We demand that the Secretariat of Education remove that person from the preparation of our Mexican study plans. We do not need a person who does not know the Mexican context, who has not been trained in Mexican classrooms, to come to try to re-educate our children with a completely external view,” she said.
For his part, Carlos Valenzuela, deputy of the conservative National Action Party (PAN), said he believes that it is necessary to inquire about the legal situation of residence of Loaiza Escalona and whether he is authorized to carry out paid activities in Mexico.
He also demanded to review the type of contract that Loaiza Escalona has signed with the SEP, and if there were no other local applicants for the position.
The legislator likewise stressed the importance of officials in charge of designing educational materials not having ideological biases.
“It is important to make sure that whoever is in charge of designing educational materials, does not have an ideological tendency, that their training be secular, scientific and without ideological biases,” Valenzuela said.
The PAN released an official statement expressing concern about entrusting the country’s educational materials to Loaiza Escalona, who served as director of the National Library of Venezuela between 2014 and 2018, under Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, political heir of the late Hugo Chávez.