European parliament votes against choice of language in schools

Despite being generally divided on the issue of multilingualism, the parliament apparently approved a PSOE-CiU-ICV-PNV-EA amendment that removed references to parents’ rights to choose the language in which their children are taught. Protecting the range of languages in some countries (like Spain) was described as ‘essential’.

So that’s the end of that debate, I imagine.

11 thoughts on “European parliament votes against choice of language in schools

  1. What next? People asking for their kids not to learn physics, or history or maths?

    This concept of language optionality is bogus, and if these Catalonophobe nutters win this argument, it will just be the thin edge of the wedge: witness parents withdrawing their kids from PE, or history or whatever.

    Whenever parents ask for their kids to be deprived of education, because of political prejudice, I think Social Services should investigate and take custody of the child if necessary.

    Who in their right mind would want their children to be deprived of gaining fluency in the language of the place they live in?

  2. Rab: “Who in their right mind would want their children to be deprived of gaining fluency in the language of the place they live in?”

    Yup, you just summed up one of the principle arguments for allowing parents to have the option of their children receiving an education in Spanish — they live in Spain!

    The wish for my child to be educated in one of the world’s most-widely spoken languages does not make me in a negligent parent, worthy of a visit from social services, rather a parent who is interested in his child’s access to opportunities. Your implication that anybody enough of a “nutter” to pass on a primarily Catalan education will also wish to opt out of education in physics, history and maths is simply absurd.

    While I understand that politicians have made a raison d’etre of the linguistic issue, I would hope that the common person will eventually realize that the current legal imposition of culture will have a long term negative impact on Catalonia and the Catalans.

  3. You don’t hear Norwegian parents saying that their kids should be taught in Spanish because it is a bigger language than Norwegian.
    In fact, Norwegian isn’t even as big as Catalan and they manage Ok.

  4. Josh,

    First and foremost, they live in Catalonia. Whether Catalonia is part of Spain or not is subject to the vagaries of politics and administrative workings. If there was a majority in favour of it, and a democratic referendum allowed, Catalonia may cease being part of Spain any day. However, Catalonia will always be Catalonia. If you read Plato, you will get my drift.

    According to the Spanish MdE, Catalan pupils acquire a level of fluency and competency in Spanish equal to pupils of others areas of Spain. Therefore, statistically speaking and according to the MdE, nobody can claim that any child after having attended primary and secondary education in Catalonia is not fluent in Spanish. In fact, pupils from other regions of Spain appear to have a lower level of competency in Spanish.
    I wonder why nobody makes a bid deal about that.

    There are however many children in Catalonia that, for one reason or another, are not fluent in Catalan. This is an impediment to them personally (being unable to speak the language of the place the live in) and to the whole country, as a not-insignificant percentage of the population is unable to contribute fully to economic growth. Naturally, someone that is not fluent in the language of the place they live in through laziness or prejudice will find their employment prospects somewhat limited to a few niche positions at either the very top or very bottom of the social spectrum.

    The bottom line is that the current system is the best option, in the current circumstances, to give EVERYBODY the chance to be bilingual in a country that is officially bilingual. Allowing parents to decide that their children should not learn Catalan while going through the education system in Catalonia is a politically-motivated decision, and as such it should not be condoned by the authorities.

    The alternative is to have a segregated education system, based on cultural background, like in Scotland or Northern Ireland. This will do nothing for society’s cohesion, equality of opportunity and integration, as anybody who knows anything about the two countries above can testify. It will lead to separate communities, resentment and mistrust. Maybe that’s what the Catalanophobe lobby is aiming for: divide and rule.

  5. Jim: Norway is what, the world’s 5th biggest producer of natural gas? There is a political reality check called the golden rule – he who has the gold makes the rules. Until Catalonia can match Norway’s industrial productivity, your comparison will be facile but hollow.

    Rab: Both common law and pragmatism respect the idea of usage and custom giving credibility to a reality. Due to what you call “vagaries of politics and administrative workings “, Catalonia has been part of Spain for longer than the U.S. has been an independent country. How much credibility would you give an Englishman’s claims that the U.S. is still a group of British colonies? For the time being, at least, Catalonia is part of Spain; accept it and move on. While I accept that there may be some intrinsic Catalan-ness, the same is true scaling both up and down the regional spectrum. In other words, a person can be irrefutably European, Spanish, Catalan, Tarragonian, from Reus, and so on. While I am in favor of a referendum, as a firm believer in self-determination, I would fervently hope that the citizens of Catalonia, acting in their own self-interest, would vote to remain a part of the Spanish state.

    Quite frankly, I’m not all that confident in the MdE in general, and their objectivity in the case of as politically charged an issue as language politics in particular. This, after all, is the group which has provided us with the LOE. In any event, and assuming that your statement regarding Catalan linguistic parity or superiority in Spanish language is correct (If I remember correctly, the report was loaded with a number of different interpretations, each corresponding to a different, subjective political point of view.) there is much more to the logic behind the predominant study of Spanish than grammar and vocabulary. Clearly, children living in Catalonia (Spain) are likely to be comfortable speaking in Spanish, but by relegating their Spanish classroom time to that of a second language, these children limit their education in Spanish culture. For example, in comparison with Spanish, Catalan has a limited literary canon. While this is obviously not a valid reason to deprive children of the opportunity to study Catalan, any more than they should be deprived the opportunity to explore Mandarin or Swahili, I do, however, question the value of placing the gross of educational emphasis on the poorer of the two linguistic traditions.

    I would suggest that the most unpleasant result of the current linguistic policy in Catalonia is that people who are fluent in Spanish are unable to “contribute fully to economic growth.” If Spain in general suffers from a “brain drain” (loss of trained professionals to other countries, due to lack of opportunities) imagine how much greater this loss will be in a region which imposes a minority language. Surely many companies find it easier to (re)locate to monolingual Spain in order to improve their chances of finding qualified personnel. I agree that one who does not speak Catalan due to laziness or prejudice should find his job possibilities limited, but I imagine that the application of this standard to otherwise qualified professionals from monolingual Spain will have a long-term impact on Catalonia’s development and productivity.

    The problem is that the current linguistic policy is obscene. The idea of a country having an “official language” galls me somehow. Why on Earth should the government care what language I speak? I agree with your assumption that parents who “decide that their children should not learn Catalan while going through the education system in Catalonia” are making a (foolish) political choice. However, there is a vast difference between denying the child an opportunity to learn Catalan, and wishing the child to study in Spanish. Once again, why should the government get involved in the language in which I wish to educate my child?

    My experience in Spain and in Catalonia leaves me with the feeling that much of the lack of cohesion, equality of opportunity and integration come, in fact, from the nationalist indoctrination to which much of Catalan society is submitted. While this indoctrination has been an extremely useful policy for the government, which has thus maintained a powerbase, it does nothing for the individual. Rather than droning on and on about independence and a referendum which, if successful, would only succeed in dividing and weakening both parties, I would suggest that citizens demand a reform of the current constitution, for one which embraces difference rather than division, and self-determination rather that imposition.

  6. I Just don’t think Catalonia has to reach Norway’s level of industrial productivity in order to make a decision for themselves. You said you believe in self-determination 😉
    It will be interesting to see what happens anyway!

  7. Jim: In no way did I mean to imply that industrial productivity is a prerequisite for self-determination, although there are others who would certainly disagree (viz. Stirling, et al). You are right, the outcome will be interesting, one way or another.

  8. Josh,

    Quite a few claims in your post that deserve to be challenged:

    Let’s go one by one:

    1) The fact that Catalonia is part of Spain is a political and administrative accident of history. And in any case, why on earth should Spanish be the mandatory language in education in Catalonia? Is Spain a multinational and multilingual state or not? Or are you in favour of a one-languge state in which Spanish is forced onto everybody as an “official” language?

    This argument also takes place every now and then in Quebec, which is part of Canada, but which can decide how its education system is run. In Quebec there is hardly anybody who is not fluent in English, and the same happens in Catalonia: hardly anybody is not fluent in Spanish, but there are plenty of people who are not fluent in Catalan.

    But in the same way as in Quebec there is a vocal minority of people who resent having to learn/speak French, in Catalonia there is vocal minority that refuses to learn/speak Catalan.

    The argument seems to be that it is ok for others to change from language a to language b, so that a few folk can do without having to learn language a.

    2) Then you go onto a typical absurd extrapolation of feelings of belonging and national identity frameworks. For a lot of people, but admittedly not all, there are two opposing national identities: Catalan and Spanish. To say that being from Tarragona or Reus is the same as Catalan or Spanish but in a lower scale is a typical diversionary tactic used by the Spanish and it is not credible. There is not a political tradition of any group of people claiming to be from Tarragona in opposition to being Catalan. However, there is plenty of evidence that points to large numbers of people who claim to be Catalan in opposition to being Spanish.

    In contrast, being European, for the vast majority of people, is not in mutually exclusive of being either Spanish or Catalan. If anything, Catalonia is perhaps one of the most pro-European nations in Europe, due to history, geography, etc.

    3) You write that you fervently hope that the citizens of Catalonia would vote to remain part of the Spanish state in their “self-interest”. This is a truly astonishing claim. How would it be in the interest of anyone living in Catalonia to remain part of Spain when the Spanish state (in its current form) has proven time and time again to treat Catalan people as second class citizens?
    It is not in Catalonia’s interest to continue to be on the wrong end of a fiscal plundering in the region of 10-15% of GDP. It is not in Catalonia’s interest to be subject to commercial boycotts, or to prevent Barcelona-headquartered companies to grow (Endesa-Gas Natural: “better German than Catalan” was the cry of war of the Spanish Right). How can it be in anybody’s self-interest to be second-class citizens (their language is second-class, their infrastructure requirements are second class, etc) in a state that treats them with disdain and mistrust? Even laws passed with the overwhelming support of the Catalan parliament are ignored by the Spanish state.

    4) This is very revealing: “I do, however, question the value of placing the gross of educational emphasis on the poorer of the two linguistic traditions.”

    You see, this is the problem with prejudice: sooner or later it comes out, no matter how crafted your prose is -and yours is very good.
    It is not the poorer Josh. It is the “native” tradition. How do you measure poor/rich?

    If we follow your logic, then any children in the world should be taught in English/Spanish/French regardless of where they live since their literary traditions are “superior”.
    Should Dutch children give up Dutch because people like you claim than English is superior? Most of them speak pretty good English already anyway so what’s the point of holding on onto Dutch/Norwegian/Slovenian/Hungarian/Danish, etc, etc.

    A bit of history at this point: Spanish “linguistic tradition” in Catalonia has been imposed through centuries of political oppression, dictatorships (various), Spanish linguistic policy (Decrets de Nova Planta), and massive immigration.
    If you want to based your argument on the above, that’s ok (languages and culture comes and goes via wars, etc), but at least let’s be honest about it. The presence of Spanish in Catalonia although an accident of history (parallel histories or what ifs would have resulted in a different outcome), it is not “an accident”, if you get my meaning.

    5) Your paragraph about the alleged brain drain and the imposition of “minority” languages.

    What defines a “minority” language? Is it the number of speakers or is the legal or social status within the community? Because if it is the former, then there are a lot of minority languages in Europe. And if it is the latter, then you are advocating that Catalan should remain a “minority” language on the basis of the lack of legal equality with Spanish. A sure way to keep the language second class is to prevent people from gaining fluency in it, and its use becoming standard.

    In all the economic literature I have read, and I read a lot of it in my job trust me, I have never encountered any solid evidence that economic productivity and growth can be linked or traced to an inclusive language policy of the type operated in Catalonia. There is some evidence however, anecdotic if you like, that segregated educational systems based on cultural backgrounds, like those in Scotland or Northern Ireland, do indeed result in a lack of social cohesiveness, division and mistrusts between the two communities.

    Because this is the problem Josh: what you and others are advocating is to separate Catalan children on the basis of the cultural background or political preferences of their parents. Anybody that knows anything about Ulster or Scotland, is fully aware of the implication of children being educated in separate classrooms.

    6) You claim that the current linguistic policy is “obscene”. Why is it obscene exactly? Because it aims to give everybody a chance of being bilingual? Because it aims to redress the balance between Catalan and Spanish by using Catalan as the inclusive language? Why is it obscene? Because some people resent having to learn Catalan, that’s why.

    If you disagree with the idea of a country having an official language, I suggest you start with the Spanish Constitution. It says the every Spanish citizen MUST speak Spanish. It is an obligation. It makes Spanish an official language by law for anybody and everybody. At present, Spanish is imposed by the highest law in the land. Why don’t you complain about that?

    Governments all over the world get involved in the language used in their education system. It is what they are elected to do. The Catalan government, as a devolved administration with almost full control over its education system, has a policy of using Catalan as the vehicular, inclusive language in the Catalan educational system, whilst ensuring all children also receive adequate provision of Spanish language. This results in most children leaving school being bilingual, and has resulted in a remarkable cohesiveness of Catalan society despite the massive waves of immigration in the last few decades. If anything, there are many, many more children that struggle with Catalan than struggle with Spanish, because of the area the live in, their parents background or political prejudice, etc.
    Tampering with the system under the absurd excuse of choice will only result in Catalan remaining a second-class language in its own land, and the continuing legal superiority of Spanish. Pretty much what has happened in Valencia already and the outcome that the Catalonophobe lobby are trying to achieve.
    Last week only, the Valencian government abolished the last and only school in Alicante which offered Valencian. Job done.

    More worryingly, any changes in the status quo will result in a segregated educational system, with dire consequences not only for the future survival of Catalan, but for society’s cohesion.

    Maybe the vocal minority who object to Catalan having any chance of an equal footing with Spanish do not care about this. But the millions of Andalusian parents who vote for political parties supporting the status quo DO NOT want their children to be split in the classroom according to language. Perhaps, Anglo-Saxon immigrants should reflect on that point instead of harbouring prejudiced views about the social function and status of Catalan language in Catalonia.

    If you object to the government trying to get involved in the language in which you wish to educate your child, try living in France, or England, or Italy, or ,dare I say it, in cosmopolitan Madrid…

    You make quite a remarkable claim: you write that “much of the lack of cohesion, equality of opportunity and integration” comes from the “nationalist indoctrination” to which Catalan society is submitted. Er, what?

    First, for a society in which about half, if not more, of its citizens have parents or grandparents from outside Catalonia, it is remarkable that there is no social tension or divisiveness on this matter –other than from the vocal minority of bloggers and activists. The representation of political parties who want to change the status quo is indeed small: about 5% for C’s and about 10-15% for the more ambiguous PP. In case you have not noticed, the current Catalan government is led by an immigrant with a somewhat suspect command of Catalan language, in a coalition between a pro-independence party (at least on paper), a unionist party, and a federalist-left-wing party. What nationalist indoctrination when the government is ruled by an unionist party? Or when the style guide of the CCTV is the same as RTVE?
    Did you say something about lack of cohesion or equality of opportunity…when Catalonia has an Andalusian immigrant as President? (Voted in by a pro-independence party!)
    And what about all the second-third generation immigrants who vote for ERC or even CiU?
    Apparently there are quite number of people who are in favour of independence, even if they are not usually Catalan-speakers… I don’t know of any other case in like it. Do you?

    The fact of the matter Josh is that Catalonia is the only country in the world with its own word for immigrants who integrate “nouvinguts” (“newcomers”). In Catalonia, anyone who wants to be Catalan can be Catalan, it only requires that minimum of efforts: integration and having Catalonia’s interests at heart. Many immigrants have done it and there are no limits or restrictions as to what they can achieve. Resentment however, is a huge impediment to personal success, in Catalonia or anywhere else in the world.

    Finally, your last sentence leaves me puzzled.
    I quote: “I would suggest that citizens demand a reform of the current constitution, for one which embraces difference rather than division, and self-determination rather that imposition.”

    Are you then suggesting that the Spanish state and its Constitution should be reformed so that Spanish is no longer imposed onto the population and that the Army is prevented from intervening in a process of self-determination? Should the Constitution be reformed in order to embrace cultural differences so that all four languages are equal under law? This for example would allow Catalan parliamentarians to use their own language in the Spanish parliament, or would ensure that I could use Catalan with the Spanish Consulate when abroad, or with any public agency, like my Quebecois friends do when they get attended in French in their Canadian embassy. Or it would perhaps allow Catalan-language TV and radio stations to broadcast outside the Catalan-speaking areas, so that monolingual Spaniards “embrace difference”, it would perhaps allow the teaching of Catalan as two hours a week in some schools in monolingual Spain; perhaps then all utility companies will be able to attend their customers in their language of choice, etc.

    But there is a small problem. History comes to the rescue again.
    For the last 150 years, a succession of Catalan political parties have tried to persuade Spain to “embrace difference”, by being “moderate”, by being “pactist”, by trying to “educate” and “explain”, “dialogue”, “compromise”, etc. And every time, they have failed in making Spain a modern democracy that “embraces cultural difference” (like the Swiss or Canadians, or Belgians) and “self-determination” (like the UK). And that is why a significant number Catalans, including second and third generation Catalans, have decided that it is never going to happen and that’s why there are so many people, regarless of their background, in favour of independence: because the alternative has failed and nobody, whether they speak Spanish or Catalan, likes being a second-class citizen.

  9. Rab: Collons, quina toxo! No estic d’acord amb tot el que dius (i francament encara necessito temps per a reflectir sobre algunes al·legacions) però t’agraeixo l’esforç de semblant resposta. Dubto molt que tingui temps per a respondre’t com déu mana fins a aquest cap de setmana, però espero estar a l’altura d’aquest debat. Fins a llavors

  10. Josh,

    don’t worry, you may have not realise it yet, but we are on the same side… 😉

    ” I would suggest that citizens demand a reform of the current constitution, for one which embraces difference rather than division, and self-determination rather that imposition.”

    Good luck with that! 🙂

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