September 16: Secondary Student Rights Day
On September 16, the << Day of the rights of secondary students >> is commemorated, in homage to a group of secondary students from the city of La Plata, province of Buenos Aires.
What is remembered on September 16 in high schools? What happened that day in 1976? Why is Secondary Student Rights Day commemorated? We propose to address this issue from the episode known as "Pencil Night" and a brief tour of the history of the student movement in our country. We suggest some images, songs and other resources to work in schools.
Why do we remember this date?
September 16 is "High School Students' Rights Day", in honor of a group of high school students from the city of La Plata, province of Buenos Aires, who were kidnapped during the last military dictatorship in Argentina. This episode is remembered as "The Night of the Pencils".
In September 1976, a group of police officers from the 601st Battalion organized an operation to capture young people between 16 and 18 years old, from different political backgrounds, who had participated in the campaign for the student's ticket, among other actions. On the night of September 16, María Claudia Falcone, María Clara Ciocchini, Claudio de Acha, Francisco López Muntaner, Daniel Alberto Racero and Horacio Ángel Ungaro were kidnapped from their homes. In the same operation, Emilce Moler and Patricia Miranda were arrested on September 17 and Pablo Díaz on September 21. Gustavo Calotti, who shared captivity with this group of young people, had been kidnapped on September 8.
The students were subjected to torture and harassment in various clandestine detention centers, including: Pozo de Arana, Pozo de Banfield, the Quilmes Investigation Brigade and the Avellaneda Brigade. Six of them are still missing: Francisco, María Claudia, Claudio, Horacio, Daniel and María Clara, and only four were able to survive: Pablo Díaz, Gustavo Calotti, Emilce Moler and Patricia Miranda.
According to the Report of the National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons (CONADEP), more than 20% of those disappeared during this period (1976-1983) were students.
A brief history of the student movement in Argentina
The high school students of "The Night of the Pencils" were part of a previous history of youth political participation. In June 2018, it was the 100th anniversary of the University Reform, which began at the National University of Cordoba when a group of students organized to demand the democratization of education. The demands of the students were revolutionary for the time: they asked for university autonomy; co-government (that students participate in the government of the university); competitions for professorships; and the development of university extension policies to get closer to society. The reformist movement spread to other Argentine universities and also to the entire American continent.
In 1953, with the creation of the UES (Unión de Estudiantes Secundarios), students already had their place in the public arena. But its growth occurred at the end of that decade when the government headed by Arturo Frondizi promoted the sanction of the Domingorena Law that authorized private universities to grant professional degrees. The conflict was known as "secular" or "free" education, and the high school student movement allied itself with the university movement, organized by the FUA (Argentine University Federation), to oppose this measure.
At the end of the 1960s and beginning of the 1970s, there was a process of significant social and political mobilization of youth with an international scope: the consolidation of young people not only as an age group cut off from other groups, but also as a social and political actor with the capacity to define with relative autonomy an agenda of problems oriented towards the transformation of society. This is demonstrated by various youth movements that became visible with the French May, the Prague Spring or in Mexico through the student protests that led to the Tlatelolco massacre.
In this context, numerous political groups in Argentina also created their student fronts. The students from La Plata who were kidnapped during "The Night of the Pencils" were part of this movement that spread throughout the country.
During the 1976 dictatorship, and despite the repression, there were certain forms of resistance that became more visible after the defeat in the Malvinas War (1982). Since then, a process occurred that some researchers characterize as "democratic enthusiasm", because thousands of people - many of them young people - turned to different forms of participation in tune with the various demands for democratization of social life that had its peak in the "democratic spring".
Democracy and the struggle for human rights were the two pillars of this process. The film "The Night of the Pencils", directed by Héctor Olivera and released in 1986, condensed some of the central features of this period climate. The film "La historia oficial", directed by Luis Puenzo and released a year earlier, also allows us to appreciate this new instance of student protagonism (in tune with the reactivation of civil society), especially in those scenes where teachers and students are encouraged to review Argentine history at the very moment when they are on their way to transforming their experiences.
In the history of the student movement there is still much to be written. In these last decades, students have been reinventing the forms of organization, which were not limited to the creation of student centers, but also to other strategies of political participation aimed at making them visible as a social collective. This coincides with the recent sanctioning of the "youth vote", which allows -optionally- the election of representatives from the age of 16.
We propose that students investigate the life history of those who disappeared during the episode known as the "Night of the Pencils". Where did they go to school? What were their ages? What were their families like? What did they think? What did they claim? Where did they go to participate?
We propose that students look for contemporary songs of different musical genres that have young people as their protagonists and then write an essay reflecting on what place these songs assign to young people in social and political life. As we said, "The Night of the Pencils" is an emblematic event of the last military dictatorship that transcended Argentine borders, as shown by the song Diari perduti (Lost Diary) by the Italian group Talco dedicated to Claudia Falcone. Its lyrics say:
Claudia is in the wind - In the sea water - She's not going to come back to my soul
Where are the words? - Only the memory - My life is as naked as the truth - In Argentina people cannot forget.
As part of the recent commemorations of "The Night of the Pencils", a stencil was multiplied which we will now share. Why do you think the pencil is used as a symbol? What does that pencil still write? What other symbols would you use to recreate the memory of the students who disappeared in "The Night of the Pencils"?