Movements on the Streets and in Schools

State Repression, Neoliberal Reforms, and Oaxaca Teacher Counter-pedagogies

by Stephen Sadlier (Author)
©2019 Textbook XVIII, 266 Pages


Research links social movement and education, but almost no related studies address classroom practices. Oaxacan teachers in this ethnography are political and pedagogical pioneers who move between the streets and schools. This book materializes from the practices of politics in classrooms and the manifestations and rural primaria communities in a major migration-sending region of Southeastern Mexico. Movements on the Streets and in Schools theorizes teaching and activism in creative tension, with what Anna Tsing called "friction of global connection." Using friction, three contentious concepts emerge: quality, patrimony, and governability. Through the engaged universals of quality, patrimony, and governability, this book describes and analyzes how activism and teaching intertwine on the city streets and in the rural schools. Here, teaching, between uprisings, police raids, and austerity reforms, reveals how operating critically transcends a centered critical project. For instance, quality, to state and corporate philanthropists, leads to standardization, but parents and pupils rally around quality education to demand learning-centered schools. Likewise, patrimony may drive heritage for the tourist market, but patrimony also permits teachers to claim labor rights on historical grounds. Lastly, governability, an NGO imperative for Global Southern countries like Mexico, becomes pedagogical when the misrule of state authorities leads to police raids against teachers and cuts to public education. Movements on the Streets and in Schools is timely, as the activism-schooling nexus has just begun to generate interest with high-profile events on and around campuses worldwide. Both pre- and in-service teachers, education activists, administrators, and professors alike will find this book essential in bringing activism into their classroom practices in a clear and cohesive manner.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Advance Praise for Movements on the Streets and in Schools
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Figures
  • Foreword
  • 1 Movements of Diverse Inquiries
  • Movement I: Quality
  • 2 Quality Rendered Pedagogical
  • 3 Quality Education through Self-managed Pedagogies
  • Movement II: Patrimony
  • 4 Marching for Patrimony
  • 5 Benito Juárez as Pedagogical Package
  • Movement III: Governability
  • 6 Blocking the Road
  • 7 Laughing in Protest
  • 8 Counter-pedagogies, Quality, Patrimony, and Governability: Closing Thoughts
  • Index

← vi | vii →



Figure 1.1:Mexico City zócalo.
Figure 1.2:A sign for teacher bus tickets from the Mexico City plantón.
Figure 1.3:A sign for teacher bus tickets on the side of the Sección 22 main building, Oaxaca City.
Figure 1.4:Graffiti, Independencia Avenue, Oaxaca.
Figure 4.1:Mexico City zócalo and Felipe Calderón mockery.
Figure 4.2:Oaxaca City zócalo. Trailer truck in flames after clash between teachers and police.
Figure 4.3:The Madre Patria.
Figure 4.4:Church atria of a Teposcolulan colonial church. ← vii | viii →

← viii | ix →



Not so long ago, a centralized education system in Mexico started to mold national consciousness through an educational strategy in a nation with diverse pueblos.1 However, in recent decades, policy and official textbooks in Mexico have shifted away from trying to unite everyone and toward a project of standardization and accountability. Teachers in rural Oaxaca are fighting to maintain professional dignity and safeguard teaching from a collapse into training exercises, where human beings become human resources. This book presents a series of semi-related stories about how political and economic forces—from the business sector, the federal government, international free trade agreements, international banks, the United Nations, and the police—have a hand in the workings of rural public education. This book also tells stories about how parents, schoolchildren, teachers, and many others struggle for a better life through education, by accepting some elements of what the executive stakeholders mandate, rejecting others, and working in the gaps between the official and unofficial.

Today, families, students, and teachers in Mexico and across the globe are weighing in on their public education. In recent years in Chile, students themselves have organized against how school vouchers have eviscerated the quality of public schools. High school students, called the pingüinos for the appearance of their school uniforms, have succeeded at getting an audience with President Bachelet after riot police used excessive force against them, a visual that stole the ← ix | x → thunder away from the new president, a one-time political prisoner in the infamous Villa Grimaldi detention center. In Mexico, forty-three preservice teachers at the Ayotzinapa Normal School were recently disappeared.2 Decision makers in the Mexican government and the National Educators’ Union (SNTE)3 have attempted to defund rural normal schools, institutions that have been producing socially committed activists for a century.4 Public schooling has factored into other public struggles, suggesting that the value of publicly funded schooling, and the conduct5 of the actors who participate in it, is contentious.

Considering the local specificities and universal trends that weave into public schooling, this book explores how teachers carry out their practice through the channels of ongoing public debates, conversations, and what Tsing (2005) has called “friction of global connection” (p. x). In the chapters that follow, teachers from Oaxaca, Mexico, factor their public and pedagogical work through friction, through quality, patrimony, and governability. Thus, I provide examples of teacher struggles over the present and future of public education when privatization, standardized measurements counting as the sole indicator of quality, and the metrics of the marketplace now guide policy makers, administrators, teachers’ unions, teachers, pupils, and parents.

This book is about pedagogies, both in spaces where teacher activists face police and paramilitary violence and across contexts where market-based reforms prevail. The story might just as well discuss educational actors facing free market trends in schooling anywhere across the globe; though, the location in Mexico is not coincidental. One country’s educational apparatuses, historical struggles over knowledge, and citizen formation through education tend to follow a local path. Yet today, education has been saddled onto economic productivity in Mexico as much as in the United States; teachers the world over face analogous pressures for accountability and outcomes-based learning and experience surveillance and reforms that attempt to remake teaching and learning into marketable, manageable, and comparable units of productivity.

Our story here plays out in southeastern and central Mexico, in part because that is where I became a teacher and researcher. I first taught and studied teaching practices at the University of Guadalajara, Mexico, where professional artists and intellectuals volunteered their expertise to the university. Juan José Arreola, who had just won the Premio de Literatura Latinoamericana y del Caribe Juan Rulfo, a major literary prize in Latin America, would lecture to packed rooms a few doors away from my classroom. I would visit the university library downtown and observe Fernando del Paso, serving as head librarian, and attend film festivals at Cineforo Universidad de Guadalajara, where the directors and actors would ← x | xi → turn from their front row seats and greet an applauding public. Decades later, when I started my doctorate at the University of Massachusetts (UMass), I felt a similar sense of collective service. Though UMass had become less accessible to the middle and working classes and less supported by the state legislature, inside the university I saw solidarity and activism that reminded me of two decades earlier when I taught in Mexico and observed teaching as a public commitment. At UMass, I first met Julie Graham, a political economist who theorized about how theft and gift giving were economic activities. At Julie’s rethinking economy class, professors sat in because of Julie’s immense reputation, while social science and humanities graduate students shared as much about community-supported agriculture and antiracism as straight-up political economic theory. When I met Julie, I had been supervising preservice teacher candidates who were seeking state licensure. At first, I doubted if I belonged in the class until Julie began to talk about planting vegetables in urban gardens. Everyone belonged in the conversations, perhaps less because of the inclusivity of the topic than from Julie’s manner of drawing everyone in to rethinking economic practices.

Julie was not well then, though her eyes had a smolder of mischief, and learning with her lacked any prescribed routine. She would assign her own books and make no apology about it, and yet even as our class discussed ideas she had propagated, she let us talk them out, remain silent, or express elliptical or scattered concepts without trying to varnish over the conversation with her truth. When I took my turn to speak, Julie just listened and avoided entering the discussion until I had finished. She approached me later to say that she was glad I was in the class. I was in awe of Julie as a teacher more than as an expert in political economy.

Three years after studying with her, I was completing the fieldwork in Oaxaca City that would produce this book. Julie had died earlier that year, yet I only came to feel her absence when I ran into her equal in Oaxaca. I had been reading the work of Gustavo Esteva and sought him out by following the trail of topics and events that interested him. A day after knocking on doors for his contact info, this public intellectual sent me his first of many email responses. If Julie was renowned, Gustavo was legendary. To me, Gustavo also resembled the civic-minded artist intellectuals I had observed twenty years earlier in Guadalajara, though he showed greater commitment to political economic justice. Like Julie, he spoke with effervescence, gesturing through his whole body in the way Julie would glow through her eyes. Further, Gustavo treated students much like Julie had done. Concepts and interventions belonged in conversation rather than in dusty books or coherent philosophies; thus, these two scholars, Julie in the north and Gustavo in the south, scaffolded intellectual, activist, and affective pedagogies that led me to the ← xi | xii → public intellectual of Oaxacan schoolteachers featured in this book. Out of gratitude for this, I dedicate this book on teachers and teaching to Julie Graham and Gustavo Esteva.

I would also like to acknowledge the manifold means of support that enrich this book. First, Chapter Five includes material previously published in Global Studies of Childhood, volume 8, issue 1, and Chapter Seven is a reworking of an article in Journal of Latinos and Education, volume 15, issue 4. I am grateful for the example of parents, students, and teachers who strive toward public education for everyone. I cite the example of Barbara Madeloni, who buoyed the efforts of her students to reject a preservice assessment that outsourced teacher education to a for-profit regime. I also recall Maricela López Ayora and Dalia Guzmán Vásquez, who have shown me how to believe in public education and to approach research over tea and coffee before data recorders and notepads. I extend admiration-filled thanks to teachers José Luis, Nancy, Rocio, Angie, Toñis, Sergio, Mariluz, Lulu, Oscar, Pablo, Bernardo, Freddi, and Sara. Mexico City- and Oaxaca City-based scholars and activists showed prodigious generosity with their time and knowledge. Hugo Aboites, Eduardo Bautista, and Bulmaro Vásquez Romero took time out of their schedules to discuss Mexican social movements and education. Salomón Nahmad Sittón engaged with me over email while Gloria Zafra and Francisco Verástegui offered pages of narrative responses to my questions.

At UMass, my dissertation committee, Maria José Botelho, Sangeeta Kamat, Barbara Cruikshank, and Laura Valdiviezo, first recommended I write this book. I attentively observed how each one taught. Maria José Botelho proved key in my linking pedagogies of the streets with critical and emergent literacies in schools. My first connection with her was when she introduced herself at a conference and talked with me for an hour on affect in critical pedagogy, the sets of views on teaching and learning as unavoidably political. Sangeeta Kamat became the first professor to show me how teaching and learning depended on rigorous social theory and on a student’s willingness to dig into theory without seeking immediate application. I met Barbara Cruikshank at a keynote presentation she made at a conference on theorist Michel Foucault, and it was she who recommended both the friction format for this book and proposed that writing it might help me conduct myself as a teacher differently. Laura Valdiviezo turned my gaze to ethnographic storytelling, providing books from her personal library to encourage an appreciation for this mode of observing and representing. The present book would have remained unwritten if not for the backing of these four masters. Additionally, professors Sonia Álvarez and Meg Gebhard allowed me to draw my ongoing research into UMass course papers. ← xii | xiii →

I am indebted to other practitioners and scholars outside those in Oaxaca, Mexico City, and Amherst. From the School for International Training (SIT), Alvino Fantini and Beatriz Fantini embodied the joys of teaching dinner table tertulia. At SIT, Paula Green and John Ungerleider modeled how to relate post-conflict with education. Similarly, Silvia Grinberg at the Universidad Nacional de San Martín and María Elena García and José Antonio Lucero at the University of Washington (UW) shared personal contacts and insightful readings on Latin American social movements, introducing me to the Dangerous Subjects works-in-progress group where Filiberto Barajas-López and Cynthia Steel provided insightful comments on my book prospectus. Additionally, geographers Sarah Mills and Peter Kraftl helped me explore spaces of education while Paul Carr and Brad Porfilio facilitated my knowledge of education and militarism. Kara Dellacioppa, Judy Hellman, Rebecca Tarlau, and Ruth Trinidad Galván engaged with me electronically on issues of culture and power in Latin America, and an anonymous reviewer with Journal of Latinos and Education offered resources for linking humor to classroom teaching.

Among my researcher peers, I have benefited from check-ins, chats, messages, editorial glances, and funding support. I thank Olga Acosta, César Antonio Aguilar, Cristina Arancibia, Martha Balaguera, Gloria Barragán, Rukmini Becera, Thelma Belmonte Alcántara, Adriana Bustamente, Julieta Chaparro, Roxana Chiappa Baros, Farida Flemming, Flor García, Erin Goldstein, Avertano Guzmán, Jennifer Johnson, Marky Jean-Pierre, Larry Geri, Jeff Kelly-Lowenstein, Rebecca Lisi, Kathy McDonough, Marcia de Mello, Clara Meza, Nacho Morales, Alice Nelson, Lee O’Donnell, Fabiola Orozco-Mendoza, Marcela Romero, Rafael Rogers, Luis Antonio Silva, Luis Octavio Silva, Carmen Villagómez, and Elsa Wiehe. Michelle Sadlier provided indispensable editorial assistance.

Logistically, I thank the UMass School of Education and Undergraduate Advising and Learning Communities for funding during my studies as well as the university’s Center for Latin American, Caribbean and Latino Studies for their 2010 predissertation grant. 2013–2014 William J. Fulbright Teaching and Research Core Scholar funding enabled this project to extend from individual articles to a single text. The Interlibrary Loan departments of UMass, UW, and South Puget Sound Community College graciously dug up books and articles that feature throughout. The CEDES 22 office of Oaxaca’s Sección 22 generously shared documents, and the leaders of Mexico City’s Sección 9 permitted me to enter trade union conferences. A special thanks to Guadaloupe Alcántara for her hospitality in Mexico City as well as the teachers, parents, and students in San Sebastián Abasolo, Oaxaca City, and Huajuapan de León. The words here are ← xiii | xiv → mine; I assume responsibility for lapses and inaccuracies as well as moments of joy within.


1. Pueblos signifies people in a more personalized you-and-I sense than people as la gente. Pueblos also means towns or communities of people with similar ethnicity or language.

2. One teacher expressed to me how the state wages a “low-intensity” war against teachers. Teachers in Oaxaca discuss disappearances and other repression to eliminate a political rival, evident in the unresolved case of the forty-three missing preservice teachers from Ayotzinapa, Guerrero, just west of Oaxaca.

3. The Mexican state created the SNTE trade union apparatus in 1943 to incorporate the teachers into a governable syndicate (Torres, 1991, p. 165).

4. See Castellanos and Jiménez (2007) for a background on rural normal school radicalism across Mexico and Concha Malo (2015) for the Ayotzinapa preservice teachers in 2014.

5. Though I may consider conduct as a synonym of behavior, I use it with a double meaning. Conduct, as a noun, becomes the way we choose to think, feel, and act in the institutional and interpersonal landscapes in which we go about our business. As a verb, to conduct is the manifold ways that institutions (public radio funding drives, corporate advertising, and recycling canisters) appeal to our sense of truth, goodness, and responsibility. We conduct ourselves and we are conducted by others (see Dean, 2010; Lemke, 2011; Li, 2007; Popkewitz, 2009; Rose, 1999).


Castellanos, L., & Jiménez, M. C. A. (2007). México armado 1943–1981. Mexico City: Ediciones Era.

Concha Malo, M. (2015). Ayotzinapa: Preocupaciones abiertas. Cotidiano, 189, 45–49.

Dean, M. (2010). Governmentality: Power and rule in modern society. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE.

Lemke, T. (2011). Foucault, governmentality, and critique. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers.

Li, T. (2007). The will to improve: Governmentality, development, and the practice of politics. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Popkewitz, T. (2009). Why the desire for university-school collaboration and the promise of pedagogical content knowledge may not matter as much as we think. In M. A. Peters, A.C. Besley, M. Olssen, S. Maurer, & S. Weber (Eds.), Governmentality studies in education (pp. 217–234). Rotterdam: Sense Publishers. ← xiv | xv →

Rose, N. (1999). Powers of freedom: Reframing political thought. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Torres, C. A. (1991). El corporativismo estatal, las políticas educativas y los movimientos estudiantiles y magisteriales en México. Revista Mexicana de Sociología, 53(2), 159–183.

Tsing, A. L. (2005). Friction: An ethnography of global connection. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. ← xv | xvi →


XVIII, 266
ISBN (Softcover)
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2019 (May)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Vienna, Oxford, Wien, 2019. XVIII, 266 pp., 8 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Stephen Sadlier (Author)

With a doctorate in education from the University of Massachusetts, Stephen T. Sadlier has published Chile- and Mexico-based research in the Journal of Latinos and Education and the International Journal of Qualitative Education and edits a special issue of the British Journal of Sociology of Education on social movements.


Title: Movements on the Streets and in Schools
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