I was talking with the owner of a Mexican business in Barra de Navidad earlier this week.
He asked me why some northerners seem to complain about everything without having a culturally-workable solution on offer. I chuckled because I have been writing this essay in my head for over a month. It is a complaint, and I have no alternative solution. So, rant I will.
It concerns education in Mexico. Or, more specially, the education of my son in Mexico.
Most of you who stop by here for a chat know Omar. He grew up in Villa Obregon and Melaque in a family that was economically poor. Not the type of genteel poverty of Pearl Buck. The hard-scrabble kind. Think of Faulkner's Snopes clan.
Omar withdrew from school for two years before his high school years, but he decided that was a social cul-de-sac. He wanted to do something better with his life, so he returned to school.
At the time, he was a waiter at Rooster's in San Patricio. His managers and colleagues told me tales of his dedication at work and his determination to finish high school. I was impressed.
Skipping several steps in my tale, he told me he wanted to eventually become a dentist. I knew I could help with that, so I adopted him.
Moving three years forward, Omar graduated with very good grades at his high school. The next step was university. He had chosen the dental school at the relatively new campus in Tepatitlán de Morelos. You may recall our road adventure in driving adventures -- part 2) when we drove to Tepatitlán to pay for his admission test.
Back in the 60s when I took my SAT for college admission and in the 70s when I took my LSAT, we simply walked in and took the examination. I think I may have looked at a book with practice questions, but I do not believe any preparation courses were offered. At least, I did not take them.
Things are now different. Students regularly take courses to help them pass the admission tests. They are less about teaching the material than about teaching how to take a test. There is probably another Andy Rooney moment buried in that sentence, but I will let it pass for now.
Omar took one of those courses. Because of COVID, the test dates were moved.
I did not know what to expect in results. Omar did well in school, but one of my neighbors, who also did very well in the same school Omar attended, took the admissions test four times before he was admitted.
Omar recently discovered his test score was not adequate to be admitted to the dental school at Tepatitlán. His dentist mentor told him that an unusually high number of students took that examination this year. In a normal year, his test score was good enough to admit him.
When I asked Omar if he had difficulty with the questions, he said there was only one area-- algebra. His school did not cover the topic in detail.
That is consistent with what I heard from my fourth-time-a-winner neighbor. He attends the University of Guadalajara. During the first week, the professors lectured using terms he had never heard, but the other students obviously did. He said if it had not been for friends from Guadalajara and Colima (whose schools had taught the concepts), he would have had to give up his dream of higher education.
I was also not surprised at Omar's algebra comment. I have looked at his workbooks over the past three years. The material did not seem to be high-school level teaching. They looked like the textbooks from my seventh-grade science class.
No one disagrees that Mexico has an education problem. Almost all Mexican children get an education. But it is a rudimentary one.
Every year, the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a 37-member of rich nations, conducts a test of 15-year old students throughout the world to assess their skills in reading, mathematics, and science. The test is called the Program for International Study Assessment (PISA).
Mexico consistently scores at or near the bottom in all three categories. In the most recent test, only Colombia scored lower in each category. (I guess that is in the same vein as a friend of mine from Louisiana used to say: "Thank heavens for Mississippi.")
The details are even more disheartening. 35% of Mexican students tested did not achieve a minimum level of proficiency in all three topics. The OECD average is just less than a third of that -- 13%.
Not surprisingly, socio-economic factors seem to depress scores. Impoverished students scored an average of 81 points less than wealthier students. A bright note, though, to prove that poverty is not destiny, is that 11% of impoverished students scored in the top quarter of the combined scores.
Those numbers are a dry representation of a rather cloudy future for students who manage to get through the current system. Young brains are being squandered.
If I were a parent in the United States, I would have been sitting in his high school principal's office three years ago asking for an explanation of why my tax dollars were not being properly applied to my son's education. In The States, I would also know my options -- chief being to remove him from the public school system.
But that is not an option here -- primarily because he has completed his secondary education. It is now on to university.
That, of course, was one reason we drove to Manzanillo on Wednesday -- to pay the fee for his admission test to the university at Ciudad Guzmán. The fee is paid. We now await the test date. If all goes well, he will start classes in January. And, if the virus has ebbed, it will be classes in person.
For all of my fretting, Omar has remained unfazed. Perhaps, the answer is in the PISA.
One of the questions in the test is how satisfied students are with their lives. The average of positive responses in the OECD is 67%. Amongst the Mexican students, the positive response was 83%.
This is yet another lesson I need to keep re-learning from Mexico, Be content with today. It is what Jesus taught: "Don't worry about tomorrow -- tomorrow will worry about itself!"
So, as my businessman friend suggested, I am just gong to shut up and follow Omar's lead. Because, as I often say, everything turns out well.