To Succeed at Life

Luis Rubio

A legend relates that, on being part of the academic advisory committee of a student thesis, the great teacher Gabino Fraga found himself with a student whose work did not merit approval but whose capacity to be a successful professional was evident, were he just to propose it to himself. The committee members debated and, after several considerations, Fraga declared that “we will pass him so he can obtain an honest livelihood, but he must continue to study so as not to fail at life.” One’s education certainly does not begin or end in school, but when it falls flat, the rest remains ineffective. The jury in that anecdote wagered that the education this student had acquired would allow him to continue learning, a bet perhaps reasonable in those times. Today the result would be disastrous.

Without my pretending to be an expert in educational matters, it is clear to me that, in a utilitarian sense, there are two schools of thought at play here: one sees education as the means for progress, while the other contemplates it as a tool for control. Chomsky himself affirms that the purpose of education is to prepare people to learn on their own. All the rest, says Chomsky, “is called indoctrination.”

Those who view education as a means for progress have evolved over time: education was first conceived as an instrument for social mobility and, to the degree that the world economy was being integrated into what is known as globalization, education acquired strategic dimensions, because the capacity of the work force began to depend on education to add value, no longer in the traditional industrial manual processes, but in the creativity of the persons that is the essence of the information economy, the latter today dominating the world’s wealthiest nations. Not by chance are the Nordic nations and those of Southeast Asia in the lead in tests such as the OECD’s PISA, in that they have targeted transforming themselves through an education increasingly oriented toward mathematics, language and the sciences.

The politicians who envisage education as a means for controlling of their population have embraced the indoctrination of children, for which they employ politicized professors and textbooks dedicated to selling a contrived version of history. The objective is not development, but instead the submission of the population, for the benefit of a political project. Although the objective of control was visualized from the Calles era, in the thirties, under the principle that “we should take possession of the consciences, of the conscience of children, of the conscience of the youth…” the project solely began to take shape during Cardenas (1934-1940) and, especially, from the fifties with the implementation of free (and obligatory) textbooks. It may not be by chance that the social mobility during the decades that followed at the end of the Mexican Revolution was much swifter than that which took place in the second half of the past century.

During the last decades of the XX century there was a sea change in educational matters, but, very much à la mexicaine, the change was partial: an open regimen was brought about in terms of textbooks, but control of education was left in the hands of the Teachers’ Union. A great step forward was taken in allowing competition in the creation of materials to assist in education, but the politicians were unwilling to do without the political–electoral support of the Tea Union. Though there were at least two attempts to negotiate with the Union the reform of the practice and procedures for educating children, the reality is that nothing changed. If anything, it has been the dissident union (i.e. the so-called Coordinadora, even more retrograde) that has amassed strength in this matter.

The result of the educational strategy that followed, and that is now reinforced with the new textbooks, is that the country produces effective workforce labor for traditional industrial processes but that is, generally, incapable of adjusting to the most advanced processes, those that add more value. The consequence of this is that all the investment reaching Mexico, from the old assembly plants in the seventies to the current nearshoring, continues to arrive due to the cost of labor. Hence, six decades have gone by but Mexico has done nothing to raise the added value, which is the factor that determines workers’ incomes.

Sixty years during which politicians have learned nothing regarding the importance of education for the country’s development. They speak of development (well, all of them but the present government) but nothing has been done for the population to prosper beyond the bare minimum permitted by the current educational system and the favorite union of all the politicians. Worse yet, not only has it not advanced, but the country is experiencing a severe and accelerated regression rather than an evolution. It is to be hoped that the citizenry will recognize the obvious contradiction in time for when they deposit their vote in the ballot urns.

Thomas Sowell sums up the problematic in a lapidary phrase: “Ours may be the first civilization destroyed, not by the power of our enemies, but by the ignorance of our teachers and the dangerous nonsense they are teaching our children. In an era of artificial intelligence, they are creating artificial stupidity.”