TCLA at Mexicanos Unidos en Defensa del Pueblo 

“We are fighting for an adequate education. We have a responsibility to our families and there are thousands of people that support us.”

TCLA was recently at a conference at CSU San Marcos hosted by Mexicanos Unidos en Defensa del Pueblo (MUDP) through La Escuela Popular Rogelio A. Favela.

Mexicanos Unidos en Defensa del Pueblo (MUDP) through La Escuela Popular Rogelio A. Favela hosted a conference on popular education at California State University at San Marcos. The objective was to launch a serious campaign to define and promote the ideals of popular education as envisioned by Paulo Freire and others who have dedicated themselves to the empowerment of the people.

The goals of the conference were to develop a definition of what popular education entails and to begin the process of establishing a networking committee composed of educators, students, parents, volunteers and anyone who is interested in using education as a call for justice. Participants discussed how to look at the educational process as another tool with which to organize working-class people to attain their political, social, and economic self-determination.

Where a traditional educational institution might reproduce the system of social inequity, an institution teaching a popular education serves to educate people on how to better deal with the system in which they live. In a school offering a popular education, every student’s participation is encouraged and the relationship between teacher and student is mutualistic and non-hierarchical.

Each popular school is different because it depends on the resources available. It can manifest itself as a study group, a tutorial program or a cultural program. After overcoming efforts aimed to shut down the popular school, Escuela Popular Rogelio A. Favela, also known as La Escuelita (The Little School), MUDP is re-opening it.

The school was created to offer community-controlled education to the Mexican and Latino community as part of MUDP’s literacy and consciousness campaign. Through that campaign, MUDP has been able to offer free English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, free summer school classes for children, free health and fitness classes, and a free tutoring program.

In his opening remarks and welcome at the conference, Hectór Muro, teacher and member of MUDP, addressed participants and said, “We are fighting for an adequate education. We have a responsibility to our families and there are thousands of people that support us.”

The two main workshops were “Popular Education in the School” and “Popular Education in the Community.” Participants contributed their ideas and affirmed their commitment to inform the public of the necessity of a popular education. In the spirit of Paulo Freire, professionals, students, organizations and working-class families were involved in discussions concerning the current problems with education and developing strategies to face these problems in a united and coordinated effort.

They emphasized the importance of reaching out to parents and providing options for children, such as bilingual education. Parents and community leaders made a commitment to inform the public of the waiver available for bilingual education when 20 or more families petition for a bilingual program to assist their children.

“A country without education is like a poet without his book or like a boat without the ocean—what is it good for?” Pablo Jímenez

Participants also discussed strategies and programs to help build the future of La Escuelita and other popular education programs throughout Southern California. John Martínez, from East Los Angeles’ Radio Popular, a program that engages third graders in learning about their family history and making societal changes within their communities, suggested that students from the San Diego area participate in a similar project.

Adriana Aguirre, a former teacher, also volunteered to develop a curriculum based on indigenous identity, which includes dance, art, and language. The conference proved to be successful beginning to a continuing discussion and collaboration on issues of educational equity in communities of color, an important step in working towards providing all students with the resources they need to succeed.

Interview with Lilianna Flores, mother and president of a parent group at Fallbrook Street School

TCLA: As a mother and leader of a parent group, what are your goals?

Liliana Flores: My goal is to improve the education system for Latino children in the city where my daughter is studying, which is Fallbrook. The program that my daughter is in does not meet her linguistic needs. Although I help her with her homework, it is too intense and the high standards are difficult for her to keep up with. I think that we need to review the program and see how it is affecting the students. We need a program that will support her native language while she is learning to speak English. So, if it is possible, we want to initiate a bilingual program at the school.

TCLA: How do you define high-quality teachers in your community?

LF: We need teachers that are credentialed in the area that they choose to teach, such as a CLAD or BCLAD (for bilingual teachers). We need to know whether our teachers are qualified to teach our children.

Interview with Pablo Jímenez, lead recruiter and counselor for parents at Service, Employment, and Redevelopment (SER) Incorporated

TCLA: What do you hope to accomplish at this conference?

Pablo Jímenez: Coming to this conference we learned a lot from the leaders in our community. We are here to support each other. A country without education is like a poet without his book or like a boat without the ocean—what is it good for? I am also a part of the Advisory Committee of United States and Mexico relations and will be meeting with the Mexican President later this month, and it is necessary that I inform him about the situations that Mexicans face in the United States. There is a deep relationship between the two countries because there are a lot of us here. I want to advise him to improve the education of Mexican citizens as well because it is important for the advancement of the country.

TCLA: What are the challenges that you have faced as a parent organizer?

PJ: One of the most difficult challenges has been to integrate our whole community into one. For some reason, although you provide some information and display incentives, not the whole community participates. I don’t know if it has to do with generational differences and experiences, but a lot of times they say that they are not too interested. In this country one of the most important things is unity. The question is how to overcome this challenge so we can pull together with motivation where we need it most.

Now that we see the budget cuts and how they will affect public schools, we need this unity even more because there is going to be fewer teachers and programs for students. A target is the Latino community. Title I, for example, is precisely for giving students that come from Mexico the support they need to learn English, paying for additional support for teachers, and working closely with the Migrant Education Program. All of this will be affected by budget cuts and our children will suffer.

TCLA: What message do you have for parents?

PJ: Get involved with local organizations, such as the Migrant Education Program. You can also begin speaking at your local churches. Communicate the concerns or problems that you might have to see if other individuals can offer solutions. Contact well-organized groups that can provide information even before seeking legal action. Participate in the community—it is very important to open your paths! People need to feel that they are part of the community!