The Normalista schools were established after the Mexican Revolution, in 1926. Students from indigenous, campesino and working-class backgrounds were their educational aim. Since their genesis, they’ve been hotbeds of resistance against the perils of capital and the State.
Required readings1 in these schools include Pablo Neruda, Eduardo Galeano, Maxim Gorky, Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin.
A Century of Normal School
By Luis Hernández Navarro2
Whitewashing the past, removing its radical roots, and sanding down the sharpest edges of its emancipating episodes has been a recurrent obsession of our modernizing elites.
In his infinite hatred for progressive teachers, Octavio Véjar Vázquez, head of the Secretariat of Public Education (SEP) between 1941 – 1943 ordered the demolition of a wall in the main headquarters. It contained the inscription:
In honor of the rural teachers who have fallen in pursuit of the ideal of socialist education.
A highly decorated Brigadier General with a pistol at his belt, an admirer of Benito Mussolini, he combated socialist education, promoted the school of love, sought the reconciliation with the Catholic Church, while persecuting rural teachers. On the wall he destroyed were inscribed the names of educators sacrificed by cristeros3 and landowners: the names of those raped, murdered, impaled, and mutilated teachers.
He canceled the mixed boarding schools in 1943, because they promoted a state of degeneration between boys and girls; at the same time that, in Mexico City, a loincloth was put on the Diana Cazadora (Diana the Huntress). Furthermore4, he opposed bilingual education, considering it an obstacle to national unity.
The idea was to take away from the rural normalismo its consciousness-raising mission, its commitment to the community, its role as a promoter of agrarian justice, and its secular vocation. The aim was that the teachers who graduated from these schools would stop committing themselves to social transformation. However, they did not succeed.
The rural teacher training colleges emerged a century ago. On May 22, 1922, the first one opened its enrollment5, barely a year after the birth of the Secretariat of Public Education.
The teacher Isidro Castillo says:
"I founded it.
Nobody wanted to rent us the house, due to the pressures of Bishop Leopoldo Lara y Torres, who was a Cristero.
He was a very demanding, negative priest, in constant conflict with us.
After five years of being there, I finally found a place.
The turmoil6 surrounding the institution's birth remained with it throughout its development.
In May 1923, the school' s first student strike broke out to oppose the appointment of a principal who lacked prestige. In 1925, the school was temporarily separated from the Public Education Secretariat (SEP) and was rescued by the University of San Nicolás de Hidalgo.
In 1926, along with the cry of "Long live Christ the King!", the teacher Moisés Zamora, a graduate of the school, was hanged from a tree and stabbed.
Religious fanaticism and impoverishment forced the school, once again dependent on the State, to move to Erongarícuaro, on the shores of Lake Patzcuaro. Later, it moved to Huetamo. In 1949, it was moved to the former hacienda of Coapa, in the tenancy of Tiripetío, to form the Vasco de Quiroga Rural Normal School, as a boarding school for women.
When, as revenge for his participation in the 1968 student-popular movement, Gustavo Díaz Ordaz ordered in 1969 the closure of more than half of the existing rural teacher-training colleges, the school of La Huerta, in Michoacán, turned into a secondary school for girls and the boys who were studying there to become rural teachers was moved to Tiripetío.
Under the weight of political harassment and repression, the Federation of Socialist Peasant Students of Mexico languished for three long years, until, in 1971, a student strike of more than 22 days in Tiripetío relaunched the movement.
The ills of the student movement did not stop there. The list of grievances suffered is endless. As a repetition of the campaign against the rural teacher-training colleges headed by Véjar Vázquez in 1941, in 2021, the Secretary of Education of Michoacán analyzed, with federal authorities, the possibility of closing the colleges due to “the vandalism and criminal acts frequently committed by a group of students7”.
The State’s Public Education Secretariat has no memory. One hundred years after their emergence, the rural teacher training colleges, beginning with Tiripetío, suffer from ancestral problems that are not being addressed. Today, as yesterday, they are victims of stigmatization.
A century ago they were accused of being schools of the devil, today of being nests of delinquents. However, beyond the demonization, neither communities nor normalistas will allow them to disappear, as Véjar Vázquez wanted 80 years ago.
They are here to stay.
Pelzer, Tim. What really happened to the 43 students in Mexico? October 28, 2015.
The Cristero War, also known as the Cristero Rebellion, was a widespread struggle in central and western Mexico against the secular, anticlerical articles of the 1917 Constitution.
“The damage he caused to rural educational institutions was devastating. A relevant figure in the history of education in the country, Mario Aguilera Dorantes tells that the teacher Rafael Ramirez, initiated a meeting of supervisors with the minister, saying:
"Mr. Secretary, there is a document circulating among the teachers that you should be aware of: it is said that for the new Leon Toral, Véjar Vázquez Octavio killed all rural schools with a dagger in his hand.”
At 106 Benito Juárez Street, in Tacámbaro, Michoacán. Francisco J. Múgica governed the state.
“Ignacio Chávez's father rented it to me.
That day we were few students, but the school began to work. I, settled in with the sixth-grade group, took the benches and prepared the classroom. I got the building and procured furniture for it.
The first generation had 16 graduates.”
From Tiripetío came leaders such as Francisco Javier Acuña, key in the formation of the Political-Union Liberation Movement and the CNTE in Michoacán. A promoter of a proposal to build grassroots power, Javier understood that this was the seed of the new power. Javier died in the last minutes of 1999, in an unexplained car accident. According to his colleagues, his death was a blow that stopped or hindered many subsequent processes.