Govt. policies & (multilingual) literacy: Case of Mexico
- FYI, this is another interesting case evolution of language and
educational policies to more multilingual approaches. Interesting
parallels to some other countries (monolingual -> subtractive
bilingual -> more fully bilingual but encountering teacher training
issues), but the starkly frank linguicidal goal enunciated in the
1920s is most like those of 2 other countries in North America during
the same period. DZO
Educators in Mexico had sought to wipe out indigenous language
By Ted B. Kissell, tkissell@... November 19, 2006
Difficult as it might be for them to adjust to U.S. schools, Mixtecos
and other indigenous Mexicans are used to facing educational barriers,
among other indignities, in their home country.
Like most such groups, the Mixtecos didn't get to choose their own name.
The term Mixteco comes from Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs -
itself still spoken by some 1.6 million Mexicans - and means "People
of the Cloud Place." Mixtecos call themselves "Ñuu Savi," or some
variation of that term, which means "People from the Place of Rain."
After centuries of near-total neglect of those "Indios" who maintained
their indigenous language and traditions, the Mexican educational
system established in the 1920s, after the Revolution, officially
recognized that these languages existed and declared that they needed
to be wiped out.
Called "castellanización," or "Spanishization," this policy called for
a system of Spanish-only schools in indigenous communities that would
ease the assimilation of these poorest and most marginalized of
Mexico's peasants into the Mestizo culture.
According to Sylvia Schmelkes, head of the Department of Bilingual and
Intercultural Education for Mexico's federal education system, this
educational model gave way, roughly in the middle of the 20th century,
to a different approach.
"Teachers started to work with the indigenous language as a tool to
help them achieve speaking Spanish," she said. By the 1970s, Schmelkes
said, a separate system of bilingual schools was created, whose
objective was "to achieve an integral bilingualism, a fluency in both
"But many teachers still follow the old philosophies," she said.
When compared to mainstream Mexican schools, the system of bilingual
primary schools in indigenous communities is still separate and unequal.
Fausto Sandoval, a teacher in Oaxaca who lives and works in his home
community, is a Triqui, a group of some 30,000 people whose towns are
surrounded by Mixteco communities, and who speak a language closely
related to Mixteco.
"There are schools in indigenous communities," Sandoval said. "In the
majority of them, there's an indigenous teacher. The problems begin
with, how do they teach, in what language do they teach, and in what
language are the books?"
The biggest problem, he said, is teacher training, or the lack of it.
"The majority of teachers come in without any training to be teachers,"
According to the most recent statistics from the Mexican government,
35 percent of teachers in the state's indigenous schools have no more
than a high school education.
Others have teacher training, but no specific training on how to teach
a bilingual curriculum. Very few have gone to a "Normal Bilingüe" to
be trained in running a truly bilingual classroom, the stated mission
of all indigenous primary schools in Mexico.
- Ted B. Kissell
Copyright 2006, Ventura County Star. All Rights Reserved.