Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Taking Care of Business

Starting your own business is challenging.  There is so much work to do and depending on your business, you may be the sales, accounting, marketing and PR departments all at the same time.  This is more than true in my own experience.  I update the blogs, monitor the website (in English and Spanish), get quotes on raw materials, do the budgeting, Ad Words campaigns, networking, Facebooking, product development, talent management, etc. etc. Think of an industry catch phrase and I most likely do it, have done it or will eventually have to do it.  Today was no different.  Thanks to the advice of a business savvy friend I went to the local state university to scout possible points of sale and to talk to the street vendors outside of the campus to get a feel for what they sell and how their sales go from day to day.  After I talked to some very talented crafts people I went to look for my friend who is a student at the Economics School.  Coming up on the building I saw that one entrance, a gated doorway, was closed and apparently blockaded with furniture.  Walking around  I saw signs reading “out with the dictator” and “we demand justice”.  These were signs of student protest and the building was on lock down.  The economic major students had taken over two buildings and locked themselves inside.  Outside were some students talking and they seemed to be the life lines for those locked inside.  While I waited for my friend I saw food and bags being passed through the gates.

Student sitting under protest signs on Economic Faculty Building
The first time I encountered this kind student disobedience I was baffled.  As a student I had never dreamed of doing something so bold, so aggressive, so against the rules.  It never occurred me to me that students could demand something from their schools and to be honest, I never saw it being done until I moved to Mexico.  I know that in the 60´s and 70´s students in the USA protested wars and the draft but students protesting their own school's institutional politics took me some time to understand.  These particular economic major students seem to have grievances with the department head.  In the past I have seen students prostest because they didn’t get into the faculty of their choice, which techinically means that they weren’t students protesting, but “wanna be” students demanding that they be admitted. 

Blocked entrance to the Economic Faculty Building
Under the Mexican constitution, citizens are guaranteed the right to education and education is stipulated as being public and liaca (non-religious).  Which brings me to another topic that has taken some time to understand : the Mexican public school system, in particular teachers and the teacher union.  At this moment in Mexico’s history the teacher union is headed by the stretched faced maestra Elba Esther Gordillo.  Elba Esther Gordillo is the president of the teacher’s union ad vitam, owns luxueries properties (namely a penthouse in Paris), is a frequent costumer of plastic surgeons and pretty much does whatever she wants.  Last week President Felipe Calderon gave his country a Valentine’s Day present.  He announced that all private school tuition, from pre-school to high school,  would be directly deductible from taxes.  Back in the late 80´s early 90´s a very similar issue debated in the US Congress. Nothing really came of this proposal of giving tax breaks to people who paid private school tuition but then again the situation of public schools in the USA isn't really all that comparable to Mexican public schools. Public school education in Mexico is beyond deficient, it is border line criminal.  Students in public schools are left with out classes, they are abused by their teachers, they are given limited resources and often forgotten about it.  Why does this happen? Because the teachers and the teacher’s union have millions of Mexican families literally imprisoned and the government allows it.  These are families who have no choice but to put their kids in public schools.  Education should be public and non-religious and it is the responsibility of government and civil society to monitor and provide children with academic and emotional preparation. Between teachers striking and suspending classes for all and no reason, students are left to fend for themselves and that does not change when it comes to university.  Teachers will still hold their students captive but the difference is that in university students seem to fight back and at least, from my perspective, the playing field is evened out a bit more. 

So what does this have to do with my business? Well everything and nothing.  As a member of civil society I believe my children have a right to a free, public education but they are not getting it because the public school system is beyond broken.  As a business women I see that the teacher’s union is nothing more than a business where the power is concentrated in the hands of a business oligarch.  Teachers stike whenever they want and students and parents are left to pick up the pieces.  Right now there are protests going on in Wisconsin over the governor’s attempt to limit public sector workers from bargaining powers.  In business and life negotiation is key.  Closing yourself off to negotiate is equivalent to suicide. As any negotiator will tell you, all sides must be taken into account.  When it comes to the teacher's union in Mexico the students and their parents are NEVER taken into account.  Watching those economic majors commandeer their faculty made me reflect upon power in numbers.  That power can be used for good or, as in the National Teacher’s Union case,  for evil. So for now, I am taking care of business by searching out others who want to work and grow and not at the cost of an entire country, faculty or community.

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