My facebook news feed has been fizzing with outrage about a recent judgement by the Spanish Supreme Court (TSJC). The Court has ruled in favour of a group of parents living in Catalonia who want their children to be educated in Spanish, and has given schools until the 2nd of November to implement the change.
Currently, all tax-payer-funded schools in Catalonia operate a policy of language immersion, teaching all subjects in Catalan, and treating Spanish as a separate ‘foreign’ language subject. (This article has a good summary of the history and evolution of the policy).
At first sight, it’s easy to see the logic of the decision. Spanish and Catalan are both official languages in Catalonia, so why shouldn’t children be educated in both, especially those who are not native Catalan speakers?
Unfortunately, it isn’t quite that simple.
A country’s education system is (for better or worse) its most important tool of social engineering, and the consequences of education policy reverberate far beyond the education of any individual student.
The policy of language immersion both protects Catalan as a (historically suppressed) minority language, as well as promoting social integration. It is also worth noting that the system is regarded as successful and enjoys broad support by all of the major political parties in Catalonia.
Taken to its logical conclusion, the TSJC’s ruling could result in a two-tier education system and a society divided along linguistic, ethnic, and ultimately economic lines. In the worst case scenario, it could lead to the death of Catalan as anything other than the decadent language of the bureaucracy.
In the end, this may be a case of ‘more smoke than fire’. Today has seen some back-peddling by the president of the Court, Miguel Ángel Gimeno; he has stated that how the ruling is interpreted and applied is in the hands of the Catalan authorities, emphasizing that the essentially political nature of the question makes any more detailed intervention by the courts inappropriate.
It is still too early to say what the practical consequences of the ruling will be, but it will certainly be interesting to see how the issue plays out over the coming weeks and months…