MEXICO CITY - She may be Mexico's most powerful woman, but she doesn't seem too keen on power for women.

Elba Esther Gordillo, the much-feared head of Mexico's gigantic teachers union, is blaming the abysmal state of education here on none other than working mothers.

In an "open letter to the public" covering two full pages of Mexico's leading Reforma newspaper, Gordillo seemed to glory in the days decades ago when traditional family roles were clearly established.

"A fact that was changed when women had to share responsibility for the family income, which didn't only contribute to the deterioration of the individual but also of society," Gordillo wrote.

"The abandonment of the mother in the rearing of children turned schools into day-care centers, gave teachers sole responsibility for education and emptied education of any substance," she added.

Gordillo went on to say that the void created by absent mothers working outside the home was filled with "the excessive consumption of junk TV" and similar distractions, which generally contributed to the demise of society's values.

Gordillo, who favors expensive jewelry, designer clothes and tons of prime real estate, is the "president for life" of the union, which also formed a political party prone to backroom king-making deals and which generally refuses to open its bank accounts to public scrutiny.

Thanks to the union's clout, teachers are allowed to bequeath their posts to descendants, and most teachers have flunked basic competency exams.

Outrage over Gordillo's comments was swift, intense and came from both the political left and right as well as women's groups.

"I read that and didn't know whether to laugh or cry," feminist columnist Rosaura Barahona wrote, noting that Gordillo apparently ignored the fact that many of the very teachers she represents are working moms.

"It is very easy to blame women for everything bad that happens in the world today and for the poor education of the children," she continued. "But what about the fathers? The school? The media? The church? The government?"

If Gordillo needed a scapegoat, Barahona concluded, she should look elsewhere.

Gordillo is under pressure on several fronts. There is a move afoot in the recently seated Congress to force unions to be more democratic and "transparent," qualities that might erode her power.

And the citizens group Mexicanos Primero has launched a concerted campaign to promote education and criticize Gordillo's handling of the teachers. One slogan is: More money for education, less for the union.