On the times I went to school

On the times I went to school

On the times I went to school

Reclaiming some of the positive moral values of those years through a convinced ‘down with prejudices’ would not harm us at all

Photo of Gleb Vasylynka : https://www.pexels.com/es-es/foto/madera-escritorio-pared-colegio-4255727/

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Joaquim Piujoan


These memories and brief reflections are nothing more than flashes of a childhood spent nearly 75 years ago, lived in a small village nestled in the Valley of Aro during the 1950s. And I remember to schematically describe the pedagogical and social contrasts, that I perceive from my modest watchtower between those rudimentary primary studies, which we dropped out at the age of 14 to enter the workforce, and the contemporary world. I do not remember any classmate from my generation pursuing higher education. None from our cohort of the 1950s managed to reach university. It was not until the 1960s, when the economy finally broke free from the autarky imposed by the Franco regime and the so-called planes de desarrollo1 were initiated, that anyone managed to attain a university degree.

This is the context in which I remember going to school “a aprendre de lletra”, as we used to refer to the start of our primary education.

The teacher was provided with a rent-free house to compensate for the paltry salary he earned. There was a complete segregation based on gender. The only occasion when the sexes mingled was during religious instruction. it was the times of national Catholicism. Despite not being a religious school, the Escuela Unitaria Nacional de Niños2 had a significant religious presence, and all students, boys and girls alike, attended mass at the parish church on Sunday mornings. In the afternoon, promptly at 3, the same rector imparted doctrinal lessons to boys and girls alike, a rudimentary catechism delivered in our native language. We received our first communion at the age of 7, and at 12, we had our solemn communion, akin to a reválida or a Jewish bar mitzvah, marking our entrance into adolescence and the prelude to stop studying and start working. The valley was predominantly agrarian, and tourism was very incipient.

Sharing these memories with my current neighbours, acquaintances from Guinardó in Barcelona, evokes the French film premiered here under the title Los chicos del coro (The Chorus Boys). Those who have seen it might suspect that I exaggerate attempting to create a work of fiction rather than a faithful depiction of reality. However, this is not the case. Our school also had a choir, and we held an end-of-year celebration where the choir, having rehearsed all year, cheered family and friends with their stellar performance.  Those of us who were not musically inclined were excluded by the schoolmaster, the factotum of all school activities, who determined who lacked a good ear or voice. We were then assigned a poem to recite at the festival. With a bit of luck, we were assigned Maragall’s “La sardana és la dansa més bella de les que es fan i es desfan”, or Verdaguer, “aires del cel i clarors dels cims”, thus distancing ourselves from Espronceda’s “viento en popa a toda vela”, a compulsory reading included in grammar books. We barely encountered quality Spanish literature in the school curriculum of those years. Catalan was non-existent.

It may be redundant to recall that every morning we sang ‘Cara al Sol’, and found on the blackboard the slogan of the day, phrases from authors such as José Antonio Primo de Rivera, Onésimo Redondo or some other ideologue of fascism, influential in shaping the curriculum as well as society at large. It may be worth noting that while all classroom activities, involving both the teacher and students, were conducted in Spanish, during the break time, which we referred to as ‘recreo’, ‘lo pus bell català del món’ (the most beautiful Catalan in the world) prevailed. The first children of Spanish immigration integrated into this Catalan, which was excluded, denied and vexed in the classroom…

I fear that the contemporary reader, potentially more aware of the prevailing pedagogical school crisis, might think that what I intend to do is to portray that era as a small paradise, and to resolve today’s educational challenges by reverting to the purest and hardest Francoism. The reader might perceive me as a reactionary who wants to give us a pig in a poke. However, this is far from my intention. My brief depiction of the 1950s serves as a backdrop to underscore some positive aspects of school life during that period which, despite its sectarian nature and valid criticisms, was marked by a respect for the teacher that seems to have been lost in the present day.

The teacher, in his role, domesticated us, teaching the four operations, the dreaded fractions, the rules of simple and compound proportion, and we progressed, up to square roots… We wrote and read, often aloud, and learned by rote, perhaps parrot-like, what was imposed upon us in a foreign language. That particular teacher conducted four hours of extracurricular classes daily, about subjects we referred to as conference, French, commerce, calculation, and grammar. For this, he received a rather modest remuneration of 75 pesetas per month. It may not have been his vocation; perhaps it was born out of sheer necessity to supplement his meagre salary and to support his wife and three children in as dignified a manner as possible.

We were a group of about 40 students, ranging in age from 5 to 13 years old. Did we all assimilate the same knowledge without any conflict? The answer is no.

I have retained a piece of advice that a teacher from those school days imparted to me. According to his experience, it was something to bear in mind when contemplating a pedagogical method. He stated: “There is a small minority that, no matter how you teach, will learn a great deal. There is another minority, also small, that despite your best efforts, will learn very little. And then, in the middle, there is a majority that, depending on your teaching methods, will learn more or less.”

I do not want to give lessons of anything with these brief memories. I do not long for the past, but in the face of the current educational and social debacle, we cannot overlook that there were some values, inherent in that “anar a aprendre de lletra”, that have been lost, or are no longer fashionable. I am firmly convinced that their recovery would not be detrimental to us. The world has undergone significant changes in these three-quarters of a century that I now reflect upon, and material progress has been as tangible as it is undeniable. However, reclaiming some of the positive moral values of those years through a convinced ‘down with prejudices’ would not harm us at all.

I do not possess a magic wand to provide solutions as to how, when, and who should produce this pedagogical, school and social upheaval. We tend to either idealise or demonise the past. I believe it is not the time for either. If I am now able to write and be understood, more or less, in my own language, which was completely denied to me in school, it is because beyond the pernicious ideology of the fascist slogans like that of the unity of destiny in the universal, there was something else. And it is that which remains eternal in the human spirit. Not everything is lost. There are some things, may be just a few, that are never completely lost. I do not wish to lecture anyone. Each individual must find their own place. Mine is this brief act of remembrance. It is neither a revolutionary solution nor a divine miracle. Perhaps it is nothing at all. JP


1Franco’s Stabilization and Liberalization Plan

2 The ‘Escuela Unitaria Nacional de Niños’ could be translated into English as the ‘National Unified School for Boys’. However, it is important to note that the educational system during Franco’s regime was characterized by gender segregation, with separate schools for boys and girls. Moreover, this educational system has been described as authoritarian, national-Catholic, sexist, classist, ultra-nationalist Spanish, dogmatic, doctrinal, and reactionary.

Source: educational EVIDENCE

Rights: Creative Commons

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