Sunday, November 30, 2008

100,000 protest against English classes in Valencia!

The largest street protest in Valencia since 2003's march against the War in Iraq occurred yesterday in response to the regional government's plan have the school system's new Civics classes taught only in English. A crowd that organizers estimated at 100,000 converged on regional government headquarters. Many carried signs with slogans in English, such as, "No, we can't," and "[Education Minister Alejandro] Font de Mora go home!"

However, Valencians are not up in arms about English, but rather about what many see as an effort by the regional Valencian government, which is controlled by the conservative Popular Party, to undermine the Civics curriculum. The national government, which is led by the Socialist Party, developed the Civics course for students who want to opt out of the Roman Catholic Religion course that is taught in schools across Spain.

Valencia is the only autonomous region that has mandated that the new course be taught in a foreign language, which is what led to the call for protests by the organization Plataforma por la Enseñanza Pública. (Platform for Public Education.) For the past three months parents, teachers and students have been taking to the streets throughout the region. Until yesterday's march the largest had been a gathering of 30,000 people on November 10th. In addition to this local reaction, many school officials and education experts across the country have criticised the Valencian government's action.

It is interesting that at the same time that this is happening there have been increasing demands for religious icons to be removed from schools and other public places. Two national police officers (guardias civiles) recently sued to have images of the Virgin of Pilar removed from their headquarters, while a city of Seville police officer has requested that two religious images be removed from the local police station.

Meanwhile, this month for the first time ever in Spain, a court ruled that crucifixes in a public space must be removed, when a judge in the town of Valladolid ordered a school to remove its religious symbols. The judge found that the presence of religious symbols in the school seemed to convey the idea that the state is closer to Roman Catholicism than to other religions. The school board had rejected the request from a parent in 2005 to remove the icons.

These things are happening 30 years after the end of the Franco dictatorship, which had previously made Roman Catholicism the state religion. The Spanish Constitution of 1978 guarantees a secular state.

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