continued "I'm not so worried about guns in our schools. I think the reason there are so many school shootings in the United States is the availability of guns. Here in Mexico, we can have guns in our homes, but it's far more regulated. A kid just can't go out and buy a gun if he wants one. Still, I don't want us to wait until we have a problem. We need to have programs like Operación Mochila so we don't ever have a shooting. If you saw Professor Aranda's school, you'd see what a good idea it is. You'd ask yourself, 'How does he manage to have such a clean and pretty school in such a tough neighborhood?'"
Rubén Vizcaíno is a colegio de bachilleres, a federal high school with an emphasis on humanities, in Tijuana's Paraiso district, a middle- to upper-middle-class area. The first thing you notice about the school is how quiet it is at break time and how well the teachers dress -- suit and tie for the men, dresses or chic pantsuits for the women. Javier Santillán, who brought me to Rubén Vizcaíno, is superintendent of federal schools in Tijuana, Tecate, Rosarito, and Ensenada. In other words, he's in charge of 2 large federal colegios de bachilleres and, since private education is also supervised by the federal system, 16 private high schools. While we walk around the modest campus, he points to the kids.
"You'll notice that there aren't a lot of cliques, kids just standing around in small groups. There's a lot of interaction. Cliques, I understand, are a problem in American high schools. Here, we like to keep them busy with group activities. They don't have time for cliques. It's difficult for a kid to feel isolated. Also, all our kids wear uniforms. That gives them a sense of identity with their school, a sense of belonging. When they feel that they belong, they're protective of their school. It's their community. They don't want anything bad to happen in it. We haven't had a single violent incident in any of our schools. We want it to stay that way.
"If you'll notice, there's a guy standing in front of the school. He's a guard. Every school -- federal, state, municipal -- in Tijuana has at least one. They're private. Parents pay about $20 a year to have them on campus. They're not keeping the kids from doing something bad. They're protecting the schools from bad elements, from criminals. In the rougher neighborhoods, kids see the school as a refuge. If something bad happens, they run to the schools.
"We have problems in the schools I oversee. We have a problem with teen pregnancy. Every month or so, a girl gets pregnant. We're talking, however, about 10 girls a year out of a population of 10,000 students. We also have some problems with drugs. Not long ago in Rosarito, a student was found with a small quantity of marijuana. So, in September, we're going to start drug-testing all of our students. The principals and support staff, too, will all be tested."
Santillán tells me that his teachers make around $12,000 a year and that they often have as many as 45 kids per class. As he walks me toward the school's library, he almost apologizes -- "Of course it's nothing like what you have at your high schools in San Diego." And the library is surprisingly small and bare. In Mexico, he explains, books are very expensive. The kids milling around us are all wearing their dark navy blue uniforms. Because it's a chilly day, the girls are allowed to wear long pants instead of their usual skirts.
Outside the library, a group runs around, taking up a collection for the Red Cross. The students, all in all, are a quiet crowd. Principal Jesús Osuna lectures a group about keeping the campus tidy. A poster in a stairwell explains the symptoms and prevention of tuberculosis. This must be, I think, the way American high schools were in the 1950s.
Santillán believes trouble in American schools results from a "culture of violence."
"Of course there's violence in Mexico," Santillán acknowledges. "But even our most violent citizens, like the drug cartels, kill for a reason. For enormous amounts of money. When I think about what happened at Columbine High School and what happened at the schools in San Diego, it seems to me that America has several problems. The proliferation of arms, of course. But also, it's lost its tradition of the strong father who's the family's moral leader. American parents have become less cautious, less careful about the influences on their children's lives. There's a culture of violence all around them. On television and in movies. It's all around. A few months ago in the Union-Tribune there was a remarkable picture. It was an aerial shot taken off the coast of La Jolla. A man was swimming in the water, and the water was very clear. What the photographer, who was in the air, could see, and what the man swimming could not, was that deep in the water beneath the man was a large school of sharks."