Ayotzinapa Students Part of a Rural Teaching College Tradition in Mexico

The six students who were murdered and the 43 students who were “disappeared” on September 26, 2014 were all studying at the teachers’ college in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero state, Mexico. The goal that united all the students was their desire to improve their own lives and their communities by becoming rural elementary school teachers.


Every year, 140 first-year students arrive at the all-male Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers College from some of the most economically battered places in the hemisphere, where elementary schools are often single-room, adobe structures without electricity, running water, or indoor plumbing. These are among the most committed youth of their communities for whom the system says there is no place: The ones apparently destined to enter the lowest ranks of the drug-warring armies or to scramble across the Arizona desert and pick bell peppers in California or wash dishes in Chicago. The teachers college, known as Ayotzinapa, offers them a different route: a profession. Ayotzinapa says to them, “You belong here.”

Tuition and board are free. The state government provides a meal budget that amounts to $3.70 per student per day, which usually means a diet of eggs, rice, and beans. The students do all the cleaning, tending, and a large part of the cooking. The first-year dorm rooms are windowless concrete boxes with no furniture. As many as eight students share a room, laying out cardboard and blankets for bedding. 


Rural teachers colleges were created after the Mexican Revolution to promote literacy in the countryside. By the mid-1900s, they numbered as many as 36. In 1969, the federal government closed numerous schools, and now only 14 remain. 


MIT scholar Tanalís Padilla argues in her recent book Unintended Lessons of Revolution: Student Teachers and Political Radicalism in Twentieth-Century Mexico that the survival of these colleges is seriously threatened.