A Space to Persist: Revolutionary Ideals and Student Radicalization in Mexico's Normales Rurales

Sunday, January 5, 2014: 11:40 AM
Madison Room (Marriott Wardman Park)
Tanalís Padilla, Dartmouth College
Normales rurales (training schools for rural teachers) were integral to the nation-building project that emerged in Mexico after the 1910 revolution. There, the sons and daughters of poor rural dwellers received room and board and a stipend. Normales rurales encapsulated two principles of the revolution: social justice and upward mobility. Moreover, Mexico's brief experiment with socialist education during the 1930s found fertile ground in these institutions where it persisted informally long after it was abandoned in other educational settings in the 1940s.

Using oral history, student memoirs, intelligence reports and pedagogical material, this presentation will paint a picture of life at the normales rurales paying special attention to the activism that became so emblematic of their student body. By the 1960s and 1970s normales rurales suffered from official neglect and outright attack. In part because of the radicalism of their student body, President Gustavo Diaz Ordaz closed 14 of the 29 schools in 1969. My paper will show how early state policies such as socialist and secular education, the exaltation of the countryside, and the rhetoric of modernity, shaped normalista identity and became central elements by which students understood their role in broader popular struggles. The particular militancy shown by students at these schools, however, can also be explained by the fact that they offered one of the few, and at times only, possibilities of escaping rural poverty. Normalista struggles thus combined a defense of the broader principles of the revolution such as agrarian reform with their own individual right to an education. These tendencies coalesced to shape a unique form of radicalism as post-Cardenista regimes moved toward the political right. Normalistas fought with resolve and their institutions persisted as bulwarks of earlier revolutionary ideals, ones which, in the course of the debates and the struggle, became radicalized.