Wingnut civics (Spanish edition)

A bizarre tale of civic miseducation from Valencia.

The regional government in Valencia has introduced civic education in English. An unlucky cohort of 12-year-olds have just sat their first test. Imagine yourself at that age facing this in French. El Pais today – link may degrade:

The test asked students to analyze a Persian tale about human life [copied below the fold] and relate it to a Gustav Klimt painting. They were instructed to: “Read this tale carefully. What is it trying to tell us? Do you think that human life can be limited to this? Why? Establish an imaginative relation with the G. Klimt painting. What does it mean? What does it mean to you?”

Many of the students, aged 12 and 13 with typically only two years of English classes under their belts, simply gave up, scribbling statements such as “I don’t understand anything,” “This is beyond my level,” and “I can’t do it”.

It’s not difficult to convince adolescents that adults are stupid, but this effort is a knockout. I think it’s much worse than stupid.

The pale Socialist government in Madrid has replaced compulsory religious education in state schools with compulsory civics. The policy is controversial and is bitterly opposed by the Catholic Church and the conservative Popular Party. The Valencian regional government is controlled by PP hardliners. Deciding to have civics taught in English was already a mischievous decision. You could make some sense of it for the institutional aspect – comparing Anglo-American and Spanish history and practice – but the affective components of rights, identities, patriotism and tolerance require as much linguistic nuance as you can get. If teachers are going to tackle attitudes to Muslim immigrants, they will need the mother tongue if possible. The test shows that the curriculum has either been handed over to well-meaning idiots or to malevolent ones. Either way, it’s a wicked fraud; an act of educational sabotage perpetrated to score political points at the expense of children.

The Madrid Education Ministry has responded on the right lines but too leniently. If it were up to me, I’d be looking for heads to roll for professional misconduct and others for abuse of power.

The test question

1. Read this tale carefully. What is it trying to tell us? Do you think that human life can be limited to this? Why? Establish an imaginative relation with G. Klimt painting. What does it mean? What does it mean to you?

A young king of ancient Persia ascended the throne full of great wishes. Willing to learn, he summoned the wise men of the Court and asked them to write a summary of the history of humanity. This took them thirty years. Once they had finished it, they loaded their five hundred volumes onto twelve camels and went to the palace. But the king, who was already in his fifties, said: “I won’t live for long, I will die before having read it. Write a shorter version”. The wise men started to work again. Ten years later, they brought the summary to the palace. This time they only needed three camels to carry the volumes. But the king, who was already in his sixties, did not feel like reading so many pages and asked them to write a shorter version. This new version took them ten years, and they needed just one camel to carry it. However, during this time, the king’s sight had been getting worse, so he needed something even shorter. After five years of work, the wise men reduced the work to one volume. However, by then the king was ill in bed. He told them sadly “Am I going to end my life without having learned the history of humanity?” The eldest wise man leaned towards the headboard and whispered “Majesty, the history of humanity could be summarised in three words: Humans are born, suffer and die”. Then the king nodded and died.

A Persian tale.

Here’s Klimt’s The Kiss – I don’t know if this is the right one but it illustrates his highly decorative and contentless style.


Now Egon Schiele would wake the kids up.

Author: James Wimberley

James Wimberley (b. 1946, an Englishman raised in the Channel Islands. three adult children) is a former career international bureaucrat with the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. His main achievements there were the Lisbon Convention on recognition of qualifications and the Kosovo law on school education. He retired in 2006 to a little white house in Andalucia, His first wife Patricia Morris died in 2009 after a long illness. He remarried in 2011. to the former Brazilian TV actress Lu Mendonça. The cat overlords are now three. I suppose I've been invited to join real scholars on the list because my skills, acquired in a decade of technical assistance work in eastern Europe, include being able to ask faux-naïf questions like the exotic Persians and Chinese of eighteenth-century philosophical fiction. So I'm quite comfortable in the role of country-cousin blogger with a European perspective. The other specialised skill I learnt was making toasts with a moral in the course of drunken Caucasian banquets. I'm open to expenses-paid offers to retell Noah the great Armenian and Columbus, the orange, and university reform in Georgia. James Wimberley's occasional publications on the web