Ricard López, 10 April 2023
The former teacher and education inspector for 32 years denounces the “strategy of nationalist construction” in education in Catalonia
Jesús Rul (Castellón, 1949) has experienced first-hand the influence of nationalism on the education system in Catalonia. His career as a teacher in Barcelona and as an education inspector from 1983 to 2015 has allowed him to see the extent to which the political ideology of successive leaders of the Generalitat has interfered in the public schools of this autonomous region in recent decades: from content to language.
Rul was one of the speakers who, on 28 February, intervened as experts at the hearing of the European Parliament’s petitions committee to denounce the abuses of language immersion, at the request of the Assembly for a Bilingual School of Catalonia (AEB). He attributed this system to the “strategy of nationalist construction” of successive autonomous governments, and exposed the myths and fallacies on which, in his opinion, it is based: from considering Catalan as the only “own language” of Catalonia to maintaining that it is a “successful model”, when in reality, he claims, it is the other way around, as the exclusion of Spanish as a vehicular language in the classroom harms the learning of children who speak it at home. According to Rul, these issues go against the basic rights of students and teachers, and also against the Spanish Constitution itself [see video of his speech in the European Parliament below].
– The Generalitat has always insisted that language immersion is a “successful model”. Why do you think this is not the case?
This official story has no empirical basis. Real linguistic immersion is when a person freely wishes to learn a second language and does so intensively and voluntarily. But in this case, it is an administrative decision, and an obligatory one at that. And with a discriminatory aggravating factor.
– Why is it discriminatory?
Because, at school, Catalan-speaking children do learn in their mother tongue, but Spanish-speaking children are denied this possibility. There is different treatment, despite the fact that both languages are official languages in Catalonia. In fact, the majority language of contemporary Catalan citizens is Spanish.
– What effects does this have?
All this generates personal and academic damage to students. It is accredited in various studies, as the Generalitat’s internal evaluations are not objective. You have to rely on international studies, such as the data from the 2015 PISA report or the 2016 PIRLS report, which is devastating. Convivencia Cívica Catalana carried out an analysis of the results of this test. Some data: Spanish-speaking Catalan students fail three times more than in Madrid; 30% do not pass the lowest level of reading comprehension (almost double the Spanish average); the failure rate for not learning in the mother tongue has a differential of 12.5%; the exclusion of Castilian in education generates insecurity in reading in Spanish-speaking students of 27% (the highest rate of the autonomous regions) … In them we see that Spanish-speaking students have a detrimental compared to those whose mother tongue is Catalan.
This is a democratic anomaly. Pupils, during ten years of compulsory schooling, do not manage to acquire a standard and cultured knowledge of the Spanish language comparable to their peers in other regions.
– Why do you think this is happening in Catalonia?
In any civilised bilingual society, it is possible to learn both official languages naturally. What is happening here is an obsession of nationalism because they associate national construction with a single language. We cannot speak of immersion, but of the imposition of Catalan as the only language in schools. And this is for a political purpose, constitutionally illegitimate.
– Doesn’t this happen in other countries?
In countries where there are two languages, for example, Finland, Sweden, Ireland, also in regions like Wales (UK) or Alto Adige (Italy), parents can choose the language of instruction; or if you go to Brussels, for example, between Dutch and French… The civilised thing is to listen to what parents want. Because the important thing is learning, not the will of politicians. But in Catalonia, political will takes precedence over educational interest.
– Does language immersion in Catalonia clash with international standards? UNICEF stressed the importance of being able to learn in one’s mother tongue…
It is something fundamental. UNICEF’s 1989 declaration of children’s rights recognises the right to freedom of expression and thought and to receive development-oriented education in one’s own language, which is one’s mother tongue. And this is precisely what many Catalan nationalists demanded during Franco’s regime. I remember texts from nationalists at the beginning of the Transition that asked to be able to learn in their mother tongue. It is curious. Now they have turned the tables on them.
From an academic point of view, therefore, the issue is very clear. And from a scientific point of view, it cannot be defended either. And you also have to consider the profile of the children. If you have a child with special educational needs, it is even more serious. If you teach a child with an autistic profile or with learning disabilities a language that is not the one, he or she speaks at home, you are harming him or her. And this is happening.
– Do you consider that immersion is built on fallacies?
They have taken advantage of an idea, which is that of learning a second language with the language immersion model, but this is fallacious, because immersion should be voluntary, and in Catalonia it is compulsory for Spanish speakers. We have more than 1,600 families who have had to resort to the courts so that in schools they can learn in their mother tongue, first or habitual language (Spanish being the official and vehicular language throughout Spain) Why? Because the Catalan administration does not recognise their right and rejects their legitimate demands. And the courts, of course, agree with them. But the road to justice is very slow, and they have to overcome a lot of difficulties. It is terrible.
In a democratic society, in the countries I know, this doesn’t happen anywhere. Forcing children to learn as their first language a language that is not their family language, without giving them a choice and without distinguishing between different student profiles, is typical of totalitarian societies. And it must be said by name. And there is an aggravating factor: until now, children in schools could learn Spanish language and literature for two hours a week. But now not even that.
The Celaá law established that subjects can be grouped into areas. Well, what many schools are doing is grouping Spanish and Catalan into one subject area and teaching it in Catalan as the vehicular language. In this way, the specific subject of Spanish Language and Literature is eliminated. And this is happening more and more every day. We are in a serious situation of total exclusion of Spanish.
– What is your assessment of what the Generalitat has been doing with immersion in recent decades?
This began in the mid-1980s on an experimental basis in Santa Coloma de Gramenet. The parents’ association allowed itself to be convinced by the Generalitat and they were sold the idea of integration: to integrate, you have to assimilate with us. False; they were not foreigners, but Spanish citizens in Spain, and Spanish is the official language for everyone, nationalists included. Legislation, including the Statute, recognises bilingualism.
There has been, therefore, a deception: parents were partly convinced, and then it worked like wildfire: the Santa Coloma experience began to be sold as a success – which is false, because there is no rigorous evaluation that it was, quite the contrary – and it spread to the rest of the schools. All this is not for educational purposes, but for political ones. It is the aim of nationalism to have a homogeneous society. They want a school controlled by them: a single country, a single language, a school that shapes the Catalan personality. This, besides being unrealistic, is contrary to democratic civility. The right thing would be for all children to be able to learn both official languages with quality. And now neither one nor the other is being achieved.
It is also known, from sociolinguistics, that when a child acquires his or her first language well, with the code of comprehension, expression, lexicon, and basic grammatical elements, he or she is in a better position to acquire a second language.
– For some time now, the Generalitat and related entities such as Plataforma per la Llengua, which it subsidises with public money, have set themselves the goal of making children speak only Catalan, even at recess, in the canteen or in extracurricular activities. What do you think of this?
They are introducing a sort of political commissars; they are organising games in Catalan in the playground to colonise the only free space the children have to do what they want… What they are looking for, above all, is that children who speak Spanish stop speaking it. In the office, I had experiences of families who came to complain that their child scolded them at home because they spoke Spanish. What we are looking for here, in essence, is linguistic change. And for children, society, companies, signage, restaurants, to use only Catalan.
– Is this idea of which you speak the consequence of Jordi Pujol’s mandate as president of the Generalitat? His Programme 2000 in the 1990s already spoke of nationalism ‘colonising’ all possible spheres of society. Do you think he got away with it?
Programme 2000 sought to shape the “Catalan personality”. And one wonders: what is that, in a free society? His “Catalan personality” is a society monolingual in Catalan, which sees everything that is Spain or Spanish as foreign. It is xenophobic nationalism in its purest form. If you read that programme, in the end that’s what has been applied.
– Does this also apply to educational content? In the last few days, it has been in the news that the High Inspection of the Ministry of Education does not see any indoctrination in the new curriculum of the Generalitat for the History books of the second year of Bachillerato, despite the fact that constitutionalist entities denounced it.
First of all, we must distinguish between educational inspection and High Inspection. Educational inspection was ceded to the autonomous regions in the time of Pujol. This left the central State without any control body and the High Inspectorate was invented. This is an anomaly. The right thing to do in a unitary and decentralised state like Spain is for the education inspectorate to be a state body, as an organ of supervision and homologation of the education system, and to eliminate the so-called High Inspectorate. This is the case in Germany, which is a federal state.
I know the education inspectorate in Catalonia because I have experienced it from the beginning: it is a body that does not get involved in identity and linguistic issues. The inspector who breaks the taboo knows that his or her professional life is over. There is not a single inspector, out of the more than 250 in Catalonia, who says a word about what we are talking about, and if they are asked for a report, it will follow the official line, based on Catalan regulations, ignoring the legal-constitutional order.
– When you talk about the bias of the Catalan Baccalaureate curriculum, what are you referring to specifically?
The history curriculum in the Catalan Baccalaureate is in line with the nationalist conceptual framework. The AEB denounced it to the Ombudsman, who asked for a report to the High Inspectorate, which depends on the Government. And it expresses a judgement of intentions by affirming that it has no indoctrinating intention: how can it be sure, without seeing how it is taught? The text is organised into competences and knowledge. Of the nine competences, the third, sixth and ninth deal with multiple identities, identity memories, feelings, and ideologies. The knowledge: differentiated approach to Spain and Catalonia, political Catalanism, recovery of national identity, leads to a partial approach to the Second Republic and Francoism, repression of identity. It takes the plurinationality of the state for granted. It denies Spain’s character as a constitutional nation, reducing it to a plurinational Spanish state, with the emphasis on minority groups…
Thus, between a student who studies in Zaragoza and another who studies in Barcelona, the contents of Geography and History have nothing to do with each other. Even the same publishers produce different books for Aragon, for example, and for Catalonia.
The bias is, therefore, the vision of historical facts from an ideological approach: non-objective, uncritical, self-interested, emphasising some facts and hiding others, or distorting them. It is the historicist conception of history, applied in this case to contemporary history. Basically, what we have here is an ethnocentric Catalan vision of an external enemy, which is Spain.
– So, if the inspectorate does not get involved in curriculum issues such as these, it is not to be expected that it will do so either in ensuring compliance with the TSJC rulings in favour of a minimum 25% of classes in Spanish…
The Generalitat has legislative capacity and, as a result of these rulings, it passed two laws – decree law 6/2022 and law 8/2022 – that prohibit percentages. The TSJC sees that these laws may be unconstitutional, and has referred the matter to the Constitutional Court, which has not yet ruled, although I believe that there is more than enough constitutional doctrine, over 40 years, for us to be able to talk about the two official languages having the same conditions for being used as a vehicular language. What the Generalitat is doing with its policy is denying Spanish its status as an official language in Catalonia, which is serious, because it goes against the Constitution and the Statute.
– And given all this, what could be done to achieve real bilingualism in Catalan schools?
This is a pending issue because it is not something that happens only in Catalonia. I was recently at the Escuela de Todos congress in Alicante, and we were analysing these issues, it is a real problem. There are 19 million Spanish citizens living in bilingual communities. And this affects us all. We have an objective problem that should be solved by the Spanish Parliament, and a law on Spanish and the official languages of Spain should be created, considering the general interest. This has not been done for 44 years. Each autonomous community has legislated on languages according to its own interests.
– How have they reacted in Europe when they have denounced these situations in the European Parliament?
All this is very striking, because when I was in Brussels, I was talking to MEPs from Nordic countries, and they found it strange that this was happening in a democratic EU country. It sounded strange to them. And also, with the scarecrow that, while they were in the European Parliament Hall, Carles Puigdemont and Clara Ponsatí came in to make a scene. They protested because they were against the event and left. But that did not prevent the event from taking place normally and the MEPs listened attentively to what the four rapporteurs had to say.
– At the end of the year a mission from the European Parliament will come to study the exclusion of Spanish in the education system of the Generalitat. What do you think will happen?
Linguistic issues do not fall within the competence of the EU. They can come, see, make reports, but the competence lies with the governments of Spain and the Spanish parliament, which have shirked their responsibility for 44 years. They will come, they will listen to each other, and a report will be drawn up. The only positive thing is that until now, those in control of the narrative have been the nationalists, who have been able to sell what they are doing as a success. And now they have heard a different narrative, which is just the opposite: discrimination, linguistic totalitarianism and so on.
In countries that are bilingual they have it well solved because the will of the families, the educational interest, takes precedence. Not here, only the political interest prevails, to create a homogeneous society according to a political project of secession. This is the fundamental idea. They verbalise it quite naturally, that is what they aspire to. Today the level of education in Catalonia is mediocre and low. Education is subject to political diktat. It’s the opposite of educational value: education only excels with excellent teachers, teaching professionalism and little external interventionism.
– You have been an inspector for 32 years, until 2015, what is your assessment?
I have often made reports, and I have worked to ensure that schools had more than two hours of Spanish Language, because I saw that children were not reaching the corresponding level, and I have come across chief inspectors who have put up obstacles: reports of mine kept in drawers, or pressure to change them… I have also experienced this. Even in recent years, when Artur Mas held the unconstitutional 9N consultation in 2014 with schools as polling stations, I wrote a letter to my schools telling them that they would be participating in an illegal act. I took that letter to the High Inspectorate, in compliance with the Civil Service Law. It went to the Public Prosecutor’s Office, and I had to testify in the trial in which Artur Mas, Irene Rigau and Joana Ortega were convicted. What did that mean for me? It meant absolute ostracism.
– In fact, you have had problems to publish a book, even to present it in Catalonia, is that so?
I have worked here all my life, and I have seen how children in schools were used in a way that went beyond all ethical and professional limits during the maelstrom of the secessionist process in 2017. I gathered all the evidence and published a book called Catalan nationalism and school indoctrination (Amarante), in which I provided data and, as an expert in evaluation, I assessed what was happening. Well, no publishing house in Catalonia wanted to publish the book. And when I presented it, no bookshop wanted to host the presentation. In the end, I had to turn to an association, Impulso Ciudadano, and I presented it at their headquarters. It was very well attended and aroused a lot of interest. Then I presented it in Madrid and interviews and reviews were published in various media.