The argument for Spanish in Catalan schools
Catalan nationalists have made the question of teaching language into a central pillar of identity, defining those who dissent as unpatriotic – a deadly argument for any political debate. This is the second article in a two-part series.
Last week offered a highlight in the debate over the law proposed by Education Minister José Ignacio Wert. Josep Antoni Duran i Lleida, one of the leaders of the Catalan nationalist CiU bloc, revealed in a speech to the Spanish parliament that in Catalonia, “often the majority language in the schoolyards is not Catalan, it regrettably continues to be Spanish”.
How much Spanish would not be cause for regret? Or should no Spanish-speaking children use their native language? In the schoolyard, i.e. during recess. During lessons they already cannot use it, except in Spanish language class. Certainly, there are shades of grey, but this is the overall policy that is being implemented in Catalonia: education in Catalan only.
Apart from allowing the above insight into the mentality behind this policy, Duran i Lleida also gave several reasons for its existence. The arguments are old, and they are still not convincing.
“It works” is one of them. Meaning that all children are fluent in both languages at 16. This is besides the point made by several courts, starting with the Constitutional Court, that all children have the right to use their mother tongue, be it Catalan or Spanish. Proposals brought forward by some parents and political parties do not aim at splitting the classes or the schools on grounds of language use – which is what proponents of educational bilingualism are regularly accused of – but to reintroduce Spanish progressively until reaching a 50/50 parity with Catalan, and taking into account the “level of normalisation” of Catalan , i.e.: if and in how far its overall use has recovered after having been banned – notably from the schools – under Franco.
Another main argument is that Catalan offers “social cohesion”. Behind this stands the idea that Catalan is Catalonia’s “own” language, as the Catalan Statute of Autonomy has it, and, even more, that Catalans are “one single people”, as one of the regular slogans goes here.
This is nation-building. As much as, or even more so than what Minister Wert intends to do. And that reveals the real problem, two nationalisms are having another spate of their already traditional turf-war over whether children should be “catalanised” or “spanishized”.
Minister Wert’s most recent offensive is deepening the general conflict that exists between Barcelona and Madrid. And it is an unnecessary show of force, because the issue is not far away from the courts deciding about measures on how to implement their rulings, which so far have found no love from the Catalan administration.
Yet these final words by the courts are being dearly awaited by some plaintiff parents. They would objectivise the debate. In Catalonia, the published opinion sees Wert’s proposal as an attack on Catalonia and the Catalans, and those parents have already had to fight the perception that they, too, were doing just that. Wert is making it worse for them, not better.
Catalan nationalism has made the question of teaching language into a central pillar of “Catalanity”, and defines everybody who dissents as unpatriotic; a deadly argument for any political debate.
Indeed, a political debate about this issue is now impossible in Catalonia. Which is also why there is such a wide consensus in Catalonia: nobody dares to challenge it, except the usual suspects of the Partido Popular and Ciutadans, already brandmarked as botiflers. Traitors. One can only wait until the present storm dies down. As long as Catalonia is part of Spain, this is about constitutional rights. Should Catalonia become independent, it would be a question of human rights, linked to the issue of EU accession. The EU’s position on the matter is not entirely clear, but precedents from the 90s indicate that it would prefer a bilingual society to have laws that reflect this condition, especially concerning schools.
Meanwhile, one can observe some hilarious phenomena in Catalonia. Take its biggest dailies, La Vanguardia and El Periódico (yes, those are Spanish names). They have taken the Catalan nationalist side here. Yet both newspapers publish separate editions in Catalan and in Spanish. It’s their right. The right to choose their language. This should not be a right for some, and “regrettable” if others do it.
The last argument brought forward by the defenders of Catalan-only schooling is that, in the long run, Catalan would disappear without it. Any nationalism thrives on apparent emergency situations, because they allow for emergency measures. Such as disobeying the law, which is what already many have publicly called for, including such esteemed figures as former regional premier Jordi Pujol, who literally went back to the old “we shall not be moved”. Civil disobedience against constitutional rights, that’s a novelty.
The claim that a bilingual education would spell the end of one of those languages strikes one as odd. If it is true, it might be better to scrap the system, instead of silencing the people.
This is the second article in a two-part series. Click here to see the first.
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Published: Dec 19 2012
Category: Featured, Iberoblog
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
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Tags: catalan independence, courts, debate, La Vanguardia, language, spain, spain news, spanish news