The new subject Education for Citizenship and Human Rights is heralded as moral guidance to combat social divisions – a mainstay of democracy in the classroom. But politicians have called it “the catechism of the good socialist” and the Catholic Church has vowed to spend the summer holidays fighting to have it scrapped. Lisa Tilley finds out why.
WHEN the long summer finally draws to a close, Spain’s children will return to school to find one of the little boxes of their horarios (timetable) will contain Education for Citizenship and Human Rights. This is the controversial subject that is keeping Spain’s bishops awake at night and the reason the government is feeling the wrath of the Catholic Church. The bishops have announced they will use “all legitimate measures” over the summer break to oppose the teaching of these citizenship classes.
The lessons are due to be taught for one hour per week to primary and secondary school children and will focus mainly on personal and social relations in society. The ambitious aims are to foster peaceful communities with respect for ethnic, religious and gender diversity to avoid marginalisation and discrimination in society. The classes will also familiarise pupils with public administrations and their obligations to the citizen, as well as vice versa.
By secondary age, the syllabus will continue to teach tolerance in society, but will also take an international angle – teaching students what it means to be a global citizen and how to recognise forms of inequality, as well as to understand the processes of globalisation and increasing interdependence.
Students will also learn about the main conflicts of the modern world, in addition to the role of international organisations in conflict prevention and resolution.
On paper, the aims appear noble enough: to combat the formation of a violent and fractured society by teaching tolerance across social cleavages, as well as giving children a much needed global perspective.
The Catholic Church, however, sees only the teaching of morals without God. Citizenship classes are, they say, an attempt by the state to impose a moral education not chosen by parents or the Church. They have accused José Luis Zapatero Rodríguez’s government of assuming “a role of moral educator that is not suitable for a democratic state.”
Secular the guidance may be, but there is nothing in the syllabus overview which could be construed as incongruous with Catholic morality, says Carmen Pellicer, the author of one of the citizenship textbooks.
Furthermore, she claims, the subject runs “in accordance with the beliefs of the family and the diverse ideologies in a democratic education system.”
Carmen insists the course simply aims “to deepen the knowledge of values and human rights.” Moreover, she firmly believes the Church should find no offence in these ethics. Neither, claim its defendants, is the subject cutting into the teaching of religion; Catholic dogma is still afforded up to four times the teaching hours as citizenship.
Socialism or Catholicism?
However for the Church, the devil is in the detail, and the fact that citizenship classes deal with tolerance towards homosexuality may be the crux of the polemics. The course textbook mentions examples of the different types of family in existence in today’s Spain – where same-sex marriage became legal in 2005.
An editorial in El País newspaper suggested the Church is riled because in the “real world” divorce and homosexual marriage has given rise to new concepts of ‘the family,’ and teaching tolerance towards these new manifestations is what the bishops really object to.
What the bishops also fear, suggests Ramón Reboiras in El País, is simply that taking religion out of morality will put them out of a job eventually, heralding the demise of the Catholic Church. They are worried, he says, that the “parishioners will become citizens and the citizens will give up being parishioners.”
The Catholic youth protest group Novillada is also opposing the classes, which they claim are “concocted for a radical, feminist, secular and homosexual minority;” while another of the most audible critics of the new curriculum has been Javier Martínez, the Bishop of Granada.
He has even called for “civil disobedience” against the teaching of the subject which he said amounts to “an invasion of the fundamental rights of parents.”
The bishops have also found themselves at odds with FERE, the management of the association of Catholic schools. After negotiating modifications to the content of the new syllabus, FERE has recognised its legal obligation to teach citizenship and urged its schools not to boycott the material. For this they have received a severe knuckle rap from the bishops’ association.
Opposition in Parliament
On another front, the upper echelons of the Church continue to struggle with the government over the teaching of religion in schools.
As the Olive Press recently reported, teachers of Catholic dogma in Spain are still hired and fired by the bishops and can be dismissed if their private life is deemed incongruous with the religious ethics they teach (EU fury at Spain as Constitutional Court rules teachers can be sacked for living in sin – issue 19).
Teachers are still fired for such discrepancies as “living with their partner” and “going out for drinks with friends” – but a new Royal Decree attempts to regulate this treatment. Yet the Church opposes plans to grant them the same rights as other employees in Spain as this would deny the “specific character of their work derived from the canonical mission.”
The bishops will take comfort in the firm opposition of Spain’s Partido Popular (PP) who have promised to scrap both the Royal Decree and the citizenship classes if they win the next election.
PP leader Mariano Rajoy gave his concise definition of citizenship classes, which he believes to be “the catechism of the good socialist.”
What is clear is that in 21st century Spain, it is possible to be a Catholic and a socialist or neither of these and still retain morals and ethics. If the bishops’ campaign is unsuccessful, the Catholic Church’s monopoly on morality in Spanish schools will end with the first citizenship classes in September.
For the time being however, the battleground in the clash between Church and state is, once again, in the classroom.