A 2023 Choice Reviews Outstanding Academic Title
Mexican maestras (women teachers) became an ubiquitous presence in the countryside following the Mexican Revolution and have continued to make valuable contributions to their students and society over the past century. Dedicated rural teachers are assigned to some of the most remote communities in Mexico, and frequently spend years living away from their homes and families while teaching. Drawing on agentive women’s narratives, this ethnographic study explores how the acquisition of schooling and employment empowers maestras to defenderse (take care of themselves and their loved ones), make informed personal decisions, and promote societal change by serving as role models for their students, relatives, and neighbors.
Jayne Howell is professor of anthropology and Latin American studies at California State University Long Beach.
Chapter 1 Para Defenderme: Empowering Oaxacan Women Through Education and Teaching
Chapter 2 Maestras’ Childhoods: Learning Through Informal and Formal Education
Chapter 3 Becoming a Teacher: Different Paths in Different Eras
Chapter 4 Rhythms of Rural Teaching: Of Labor and Sacrifice
Chapter 5 When the Political Is Personal: Women’s Participation in Local 22
Chapter 6 Reaping the Rewards of Teaching: Marriage, Motherhood, and Other Life Decisions
Chapter 7 Fending for Oneself and One’s Community: Planting Seeds of Change
In the wake of the Mexican Revolution (1910–17) a wave of school teachers were sent into rural, often Indigenous communities throughout Mexico to serve as the vanguard of progress, justice, and enlightenment. This fine volume by Howell details the fascinating history of that educational movement as it played out in the state of Oaxaca, an impoverished, multiethnic, multilingual human landscape as challenging as any found in Mexico. The author's story encompasses the changing ideological and organizational framework for teacher training and placement from the onset of the federal socialist initiative in the 1920s to the current politically and economically tumultuous period of Mexico's transition to neoliberalism. Focusing on the life and career stories of 15 women, Howell highlights the great obstacles they faced to become teachers and provide education in diverse rural settings and explores the ideals that motivated them. In the process, she shares with readers these women's evaluations of the satisfactions and disappointments they experienced in their own words. This book explores a very important, much neglected topic relevant for any student of rural Mexican society. Highly recommended. General readers through faculty; professionals.
This long-overdue ethnography on female teachers in Oaxaca provides fascinating insight into one of the largest yet overlooked sectors of the region's labor force. Based on over thirty years of research in the region, Howell's work expertly captures the challenges, struggles, and opportunities presented to rural women who, for decades, have pursued one of the few professional paths available to them.
Jayne Howell offers a richly nuanced account of the extraordinary achievements of the Oaxacan women who for many decades have used their education and roles as teachers to transform their own lives and those of their families in often difficult conditions. Clearly and sensitively written, the book traces the paths of women teachers as they balance expectations of marriage and motherhood with their deep commitments to their students and communities, revealing such women’s centrality in Oaxaca within local, state, and national struggles of gender equality and democratization. Women Teachers of Rural Oaxaca is a clear testament to the value of long-term ethnographic fieldwork in situ.
Howell’s rich feminist analysis brings Oaxaca women teachers front and center. In her poignant portrayals of Oaxacan women, she illustrates the pivotal roles these teachers play in transforming rural-urban social dynamics, as well as their empowerment in their own homes, the communities in which they teach, and even the State. This book is essential reading for scholars interested in Oaxaca, Mesoamérica more broadly, and educators and education politics in Latin America.
Following women on twelve hour bus rides, breaking down twice on the way, to the dirt floors of their childhood homes in the sierra of Oaxaca, where if you don’t grow maize, you don’t eat, to the urban houses for salaried government employees with health and retirement benefits, washing machines, electric mills, and more, Howell describes her decades-long relationships with maestras as they navigate these changes, in compelling narratives of their lives as teachers and women living in strict gendered division of labor, but who have learned to defenderse. What takes this book out of a simple history is Howell’s rapport with, access to, and historical knowledge of teachers in Oaxaca.
11/30/23, Choice: This title was included in the “The Top 75 Community College Titles: November 2023 Edition.”