In Spain, A Perversion Of Textbooks To Fit Political Objectives

Education is being used as a dividing instrument as various political coalitions seek to distort curriculums to fit their agendas.

Last 5th September, on the eve of the beginning of the school year in Spain, the executive director of the Federation of Guilds of Editors of Spain, Antonio María Ávila, reported publicly the amount of pressures schoolbooks editors get from the Education Counsellors of the different Autonomous Communities to exclude some information from textbooks and/or to incorporate certain modifications in the texts. The number of events they relate, in my opinion, goes beyond a blatant lack of common sense and displays worrying levels of closed-mindedness and manipulation especially by people with the power to decide.

One may think the big problem revolves around the subject of history but it also affects the subject of language and the controversy about languages and dialects or even geography. If your region does not have any rivers, then any reference to rivers as the central point around which civilizations have settled down will be removed (as in the case of Canary Islands) or if you have separatist claims then any mention to the Catholic Kings will be erased (as it was Catalonia’s request). These are just some of the most striking demands reported by the Spanish Textbooks Editors.

If we go a little bit further and think these are the textbooks a generation of Spaniards are studying and therefore their main source of information about the history of their country, the issue transcends the mere anecdote and becomes something scandalous. Raising and educating free and well-informed citizens are definitely not the priorities of these counselors who, due to the lack of other important tasks, play to decide the content the students of their geographical region are going to learn according to exclusively to their political agenda, last whim or personal taste. The editors must print the content of the textbooks according to the curriculum approved by the different autonomous communities irrespective of its falsehood, inaccuracy or tailored ideology.

Since the competences on education are transferred from the central government to the autonomous communities and there is no State Agreement on such a central issue as Education, there are big ideological differences among the textbooks studied in Spain. In the last three years, there have been 450 different legal texts related to textbooks, a meaningful figure that exposes one of the big problems of education in Spain. Depending on what province students are attending the school and consequently the political sign of the government ruling it, some concepts will be explained, some will be emphasized and some others will not even be mentioned. In practical terms, this translates that just a few kilometers could be a determinant factor in the content of your academic life.

The complaint made by the textbook editors was immediately echoed by the far-right political party VOX who stated they were going to take this problem to the Parliament to throw light about the topic. In this objection about textbooks, VOX met their match since it contained two of the party’s main big battle horses: on the one hand, their grievance about the nature of the Autonomous communities and the transferred competences they enjoy and, on the other hand, the control of the syllabus by the left-wing mainly (but also to less extent by the conservative party).

Let’s not forget, Point 6 of VOX’s electoral programme, 100 medidas para una España Viva (100 measures for a living Spain) proposed the derogation of the autonomic system to foster a unitary country with all the devolution of the competences transferred to a central power. Joaquín Robles, VOX’s congressman, stated the autonomous communities have used Education as a tool to divide Spaniards. Besides, the far-right political force has continuously reported the over control exercised by the left-wing (the “chiringuito progre”) in many areas, like art and culture, to impose their ideological agenda.

A serious analysis of the manipulation of textbooks is, in my opinion, a laudable initiative since, as I said before, it’s scandalous that Spanish school students learn different versions of the subjects due to the political decisions of the government of their region. However, it looks a bit problematic that VOX is the party that raises the flag against content bias. We should remember that during the last Andalusian elections at the end of 2018, VOX clearly stated the version of the history of Andalusia and Spain they preferred.

In a land, in which the Muslim occupation lasted for 8 centuries (711-1492) and the Muslim heritage is visible in every corner, Santiago Abascal argued several times he preferred the Andalusia of the Catholic Kings rather than the Andalusia of Blas Infante or Almanzor. A statement like this clearly meant that any reference to the period of Al-Andalus or to the Andalusian autonomy or nationalism were despised. Even more, the preference for the Catholic kings means the imposed triumph of the Catholic principles, the eradication of any other different faith as well as the symbol of the unity of Spain. Later on, Ortega Smith- general secretary of the far-right party since 2014- claimed in a public meeting that thanks to the Battle of las Navas de Tolosa, the Battle of Lepanto and emperor Charles V today women in Spain did not have to wear Burqa in an irresponsible exercise of historical imagination. In a coherent line with its program, VOX’s political campaign to run for the central government last spring started in Covadonga, the legendary place where the Reconquest of Spain began.

So, it is necessary to reach an agreement about the uniformity of the content of schoolbooks. It’s needed and urgent but, who is going to decide the curriculum: the central government still to be chosen? And what about those governments in which there are up to three different political forces governing in coalition ̶ as it is the case of the Andalusian government with the Popular Party, VOX, and Citizens? Who is going to bell the cat of Spanish Education?

Dr Carmen Aguilera-Carnerero is a Senior Fellow at CARR and Lecturer in English and German Philologies, University of Granada. See her profile here.

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