December 6, 2013
The new wave of secondary school occupations by students in the City of Buenos Aires who oppose a curricular reform that they claim will limit the subjects on offer has turned into a show, and a media one at that. Much of the media coverage has reduced the conflict, involving 15 schools (clearly a minority for a vast metropolis), into a shouting match to see if they can grab the attention of viewers on cable news television. There might be reason to believe that this particular conflict makes riveting viewing because it involves militant students, and has also sparked controversy among parents, who are vocally divided between those who back this extreme form of protest and those who do not. As the occupations dragged on, the conflict zoomed in on the Nacional Buenos Aires, the state-run secondary school managed by the University of Buenos Aires where the protest ended on Friday. There was nothing funny about the desecration of an adjacent Catholic church on Wednesday, allegedly by a group of Buenos Aires school students taking part in the occupation. If the attack on a church, with the painting of abusive graffiti included, was part of this show, it was its most degenerate and pathetic scene.
The argument is made no simpler because the Kirchnerite national government and the centre-right Buenos Aires City authorities usually consider any conflict (think of the constant problems with the city’s subway) as part of a bigger electoral power struggle. The groups leading the protest might have their reasons and the legitimacy of student assembly votes but, as some parents have pointed out, they risk tarnishing the reputation of the schools that they have occupied and of the state-run education system in general. Free education is a policy few dare to question in Argentina, and yet it seems to be hardly cherished considering the constant conflicts that break out.
An estimated 2,000 secondary school students took part in a street demonstration against the reforms in Buenos Aires on Thursday. Taking to the streets to voice demands, even when traffic will suffer, is clearly a more sane approach than occupying school buildings and committing atrocious acts of vandalism. If students are to blame they must be sanctioned. But ultimately it is up to the adults in our community to pull through these conflicts in an educated manner.