On an exterior wall in my children’s elementary school, the seventh-graders get a chance to express themselves. They can paint a mural to mark their passing on to high school, to leave a memory of what they would like to say to those coming up behind them.
They can paint anything.
Well, not anything.
This is Argentina and the public school, like many in the country, has become politicized under the outgoing government of an ultra-nationalist party that spends much of its energy defending its beliefs that are exclusive, not inclusive.
They stand for inclusion, but they don’t want it.
They don’t want to include different beliefs, different ways of thinking, different ideologies, differences and diversity.
They want everybody to believe what they believe.
Or to fuck off.
They are disciples and militants. They will defend their ways with violence. It’s not physical. Not yet, and hopefully it never will be. It’s psychological and verbal violence. It’s about spreading their ways through graffiti and through their own media, and through the repetition of their ideals in public speeches, children’s television programs and in the classroom. The objectives are to control the masses in their revolution against imperialism and big business, to forge national unity and keep society in order.
There are other terms used to describe this kind of nationalism of the so-called left, but what matters is this:
The seventh grade put to a vote a bunch of ideas for the mural, and they chose a favorite animated character to mark their time at the school. It was from what they’ve grown up watching on Disney Channel and Cartoon Network, and the majority voted for it.
But the teacher rejected the picture as too American.
It wasn’t Argentine. It wasn’t nationalist, and it was not his choice.
“Hey, only Argentine characters,” he told them.
“Why?” my 12-year-old daughter asked.
Because this is Argentina and that’s the way it should be, the teacher told her and the class.
We get this a lot as foreign parents here. We get told to shut up and hold our views to ourselves because this is Argentina and if we don’t like it, then go home.
But with my daughter and her class, the teacher is violating their human rights by dictating what they should do based on his nationalist ideals.
This is because Argentina, like many countries, has signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. It protects kids against discrimination for their or their parent’s race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, and national, ethnic or social origin, among other things.
What does this mean?
It means that it’s illegal for a teacher to dictate a political view to students, just like it would be to tell them to believe in Jesus or Allah or Pan or CFK or Jim Jones or La Campora.
It’s illegal to be a dictator of what the kids should believe and do.
As parents, our remedy was to play a video for our daughter.
We played her Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall (II),” and we pointed out some of the lyrics to her:
“We don’t need no education / We don’t need no thought control.”
This emboldened our daughter and she and her schoolmates decided to rebel in the defense of their human rights.
The next day, they voted to paint a mural of a character from the Subway Surfers – a mobile game developed by Danish companies. It’s apt. And it’s their free choice.
I would have loved to intervene as a parent against the discrimination so rampant in their school, and take the issue to the principal and higher up. To expose the hatred of other cultures so prevalent in the classroom, the fear of others, the racism and the xenophobia that has become worse under a regime of ultra-nationalists who have vowed to fight for their beliefs by any means possible.
But it was my daughter and her friends who had to stand up against the discrimination and the thought control in their school.
And they did, and that has made me proud, very proud. That is because it is from children that change can come for a better world, a more inclusive world, a world of peace and not of propaganda and social conditioning to spread ideologies that make their leaders wealthy while the minions do the dirty work without question or protest.
My daughter didn’t let her teacher dictate her thoughts and what she and her schoolmates should to do after their democratic vote.
She said, “Fuck that!” and she stood up for her liberty.
My daughter did that.
She stood up.
And now on her school uniform – a waist-length lab coat – she wants to write the verses from “Another Brick in the Wall.”
It’s her first protest and it’s against a regime that shouldn’t have teachers spreading their propaganda, that shouldn’t be trying to control the thoughts of our children, but should let them live and learn and find out and become themselves, with an education void of thought control.
I am proud of her.
She stood up and said, “Hey! Teacher! Leave us kids alone.”