This article discusses attempts in Mexico to ‘regenerate education from below’ through the creation of alternative educational spaces. These spaces emerged in resistance to neoliberalism and mainstream state education as complicit with neoliberalism. A broad range of alternative social actors in Mexico have subjected mainstream education to a radical critique for its neglect of ethnic and linguistic diversity and its failure to integrate traditional knowledge and practices. The signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement, (NAFTA) in 1994 prompted the critics to reject mainstream education as a vehicle promoting uniformity, patriotism and neo-liberalism, while pointing to the realities of educational exclusion and failure experienced by minorities. This article takes the Universidad de la Tierra (Unitierra) as an example of new educational spaces which have emerged in Mexico's poorest states, Oaxaca and Chiapas, and briefly compares some other examples of alternative education spaces. The discussion explains how these alternative education spaces challenge the state system, offering a new educational and development paradigm of ‘regenerating education from below’. This alternative paradigm aligns personal and community development, re-routing and re-rooting ‘development’ to provide alternative means to achieve economic viability, social justice and environmental sustainability. These local, community-based alternatives may be more sustainable because they opt to create and reproduce a local economy, and reduce migration from marginalized communities to more distant metropolitan centres. This discussion examines the potential of such autonomous educational spaces as alternative and autonomous from the state, and the limitations with respect to guarantees of state responsibility for education and its obligations from a rights-based perspective. The article concludes by reflecting on the broader possibilities and promise of counter-hegemonic popular education oriented towards a politics of autogestion and horizontalidad. This is a politics that is sceptical of universal standards, reasserting the material, ethical and pedagogical importance of the postcolonial. It is prefigurative politics that makes strong claims for cognitive justice and seeks to globalise localism for ‘a world of many worlds’.