01-11-2007 - Traces, n. 10


Spain: Chronicle
of a Battle
in Progress

With the new “Education for Citizenship” law passed by the Zapatero government, the state has assumed a task over which it has no jurisdiction: forming consciences. Families and teachers are refusing to accept it. The debate is heating up in classrooms, public squares, and the newspapers of Madrid and environs. Everyone has been affected

by Ignacio Santa María

In spring 2006, José Luis Zapatero’s leftist government passed its major education bill, the Unified Education Act (LOE). The principal innovation was the introduction of a new compulsory school subject called Educación para la Ciudadanía (EpC, Education for Citizenship). It was pushed through by people who have never bothered to hide their aim: to shape schoolchildren’s moral values. Before this, Religion and Ethics were optional subjects in both private and state schools. The new system, in practice, cuts down on the hours of religious teaching and makes the new subject compulsory in all elementary and secondary schools.
The fears of many parents and teachers were soon confirmed by the publication of the royal decree which set out the guidelines for teaching the new subject. The state has arrogated a role to which it has no right, in setting itself up as the educator and trainer of consciences. And it does this through a curriculum that is not in the least neutral. It seeks to impose a reductive vision of man, starting from premises like cultural relativism, secularism, and “gender” ideology.
Just a few months before the approval of the law, on November 12, 2005, the streets of Madrid were filled with protesters against the government’s education policy, with this subject at the center of the controversy. Amid the general surprise, a platform created ad hoc by various groups of parents and teachers’ organizations succeeded in bringing together a million people in the center of the capital to demand that the bill be withdrawn.
In this context, some CL members began to take initiative, each going among the people they knew personally, very simply encouraging debate in the workplace and elsewhere. A number of teachers, for example, dissatisfied with some of the interpretations of the bill and the government’s statements, started studying the texts of the decrees directly, questioning friends and colleagues and exchanging articles and comments by e-mail.
The initial disquiet soon became a concrete concern. From being an additional burden on people’s lives, the new school subject became an opportunity for personal judgment and shared work. So, for example, the John Henry Newman School in Madrid organized meetings starting from a reading of The Risk of Education. The head teacher, Juan Ramón De la Serna, explained that Fr. Giussani’s book opened up a “horizon that enables us to cope adequately with all educational concerns, both the personal issues of education and political and social challenges like Education for Citizenship.”

Public protests
This work flowed into a public meeting organized in collaboration with parents, parishes, and other local educational forces, to answer the many requests for a clear judgment on this specific case.
At the beginning of the course, Ana Llano, Professor of Law at Complutense University, discussed it with a colleague who teaches Legal Procedure, Maite Padura, who expressed all her concerns on the new subject. Together they decided to deal with the issue and speak of it to their other friends. They organized two meetings in the Law School, to which they invited important political and legal figures.
At the same time, the Charles Péguy Cultural Association was preparing a seminar on the same issue with some of the most important people waging a cultural battle over this issue. The speakers included Ignacio Carbajosa, a professor at the Theology School of San Dámaso, who addressed the “anthropological and cultural principles of education for citizenship.” His is a  creative position and one that can only be salutary for us all: it starts from a concrete provocation, seeking to explore the concept of man as it is fashioned by society. The Spanish Bishops’ Conference actually decided to distribute the text to all its members.

Tending toward a common judgment
At the same time, the Spanish bishops, highly active in rejecting the new subject, defined their own position in a note and subsequently a declaration. The two documents took up a clear stand and offered scope for a direct dialogue animated by the search for ecclesial unity.
For their part, other CL communities in various parts of Spain organized meetings to discuss the introduction of the EpC.
Though the number of initiatives and discussions were multiplying, it was felt that more was needed. Many contributions still failed to express a common judgment. “We wanted to express a clearer common judgment,” recalls Ana Llano, “one that would constitute our public contribution to the current educational emergency. For this reason, we began working on it together.”
A group of professors, university teachers, and representatives of the political and social worlds produced the second manifesto of Tiempo de educar [Time to Educate], a platform presented at the start of the academic year with a provocative title: “The best way to defend freedom is to practice it.”
Mari Carmen Carrón and Soledad De las Hazas, two schoolteachers, have spent the last two years examining the concrete provisions of the new curriculum and the problem of the new textbooks.
Soledad commented: “This debate meant I had to come to terms with different positions, starting from my own experience and thrashing out a common approach with other people from different cultural backgrounds who were equally concerned about education. I read the new regulations, the declarations of the supporters of the new subject, the statements by associations opposed to it, and observed attitudes in the schools… It all forced me to compare my own experience with other people’s and to adopt a healthy realism that takes into account all the factors involved. That’s one of the advantages of a common judgment.”

A face that introduces a novelty
Long before Zapatero’s new law, the “educational emergency” in Spanish society was already clear: relativism, the failure of many parents to educate, the students’ loss of desire and general boredom were already evident to everyone. But clearly nothing can impede freedom in action and a sense of responsibility embraced personally, above all where there are still true and therefore irreducible educational experiences. For this reason, in the midst of a battle that has sometimes been harsh, people are seeking a face that will introduce a novelty, a face embodied in places, work, relationships, and people willing to lend their disinterested help. As a manifesto, Tiempo de educar is meant to tell everyone that in every situation it is possible to build and create works that “educate citizens” about their vital freedom.