Unintended Lessons of Revolution

Student Teachers and Political Radicalism in Twentieth-Century Mexico

Unintended Lessons of Revolution

Book Pages: 360 Illustrations: 22 illustrations Published: November 2021

History > Latin American History, Latin American Studies > Mexico, Politics

In the 1920s, Mexico established normales rurales—boarding schools that trained teachers in a new, nation-building project. Drawn from campesino ranks and meant to cultivate state allegiance, their graduates would facilitate land distribution, organize civic festivals, and promote hygiene campaigns. In Unintended Lessons of Revolution, Tanalís Padilla traces the history of the normales rurales, showing how they became sites of radical politics. As Padilla demonstrates, the popular longings that drove the Mexican Revolution permeated these schools. By the 1930s, ideas about land reform, education for the poor, community leadership, and socialism shaped their institutional logic. Over the coming decades, the tensions between state consolidation and revolutionary justice produced a telling contradiction: the very schools meant to constitute a loyal citizenry became hubs of radicalization against a government that increasingly abandoned its commitment to social justice. Crafting a story of struggle and state repression, Padilla illuminates education's radical possibilities and the nature of political consciousness for youths whose changing identity—from campesinos, to students, to teachers—speaks to Mexico’s twentieth-century transformations.


Unintended Lessons of Revolution demonstrates that Mexico's rural normal schools may be the most durable legacy of the 1910 revolution. Rural schoolteachers in postrevolutionary Mexico served communities not only as instructors but also as community organizers, social workers, and secular confessors and pastors. Tanalís Padilla weaves together oral histories with local and national documentary evidence into an empirically rich of how the rural normales endured as incubators of political radicalism despite their original purpose an instruments to coopt resistance into the postrevolutionary regime.” — Jocelyn Olcott, Professor of History, Duke University

“This is a tremendously impressive study of the rural normal school which became a vibrant locale of social mobility, cultural change, and political mobilization of student-teachers at various stages in Mexican political history. This book transcends the constricted scope of a narrow institutional study to throw new light on a series of larger questions concerning Mexico's legacy of revolution, its failed rural policies, and the explosion of unrest among rural teachers and activists. It is a pleasure to read.” — Brooke Larson, author of Trials of Nation Making: Liberalism, Race, and Ethnicity in the Andes, 1810–1910


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Tanalís Padilla is Associate Professor of History at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and author of Rural Resistance in the Land of Zapata: The Jaramillista Movement and the Myth of the Pax-Priísta, 1940–1962, also published by Duke University Press.

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Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-1479-9 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-1386-0