View from here - Boycotts on the curriculum

30th July 2010 at 01:00
Thousands of Spanish parents are becoming conscientious objectors in a bid to withdraw their children from citizenship classes, as Andrew Hickman reports

Carefully sipping his coffee in the Plaza del Castillo in the northern Spanish city of Pamplona, the well turned-out Mariano Bailly-Bailliere seems an unlikely revolutionary.

But for the past three years he has broken Spanish law almost every week by refusing to allow his children to attend classes in Educacion para la Ciudadania (EpC) - Spain's version of citizenship education.

Mr Bailly-Bailliere is known in Spain as an objetor de consciencia and he is not alone. Since its introduction to the Spanish curriculum in 2006, EpC has fiercely divided the opinions of parents and students.

Like its UK equivalent, the subject teaches students about government, human rights and international issues. More controversially, it appears to tread on the toes of the country's once-powerful Catholic church by declaring abortion a "right" and teaching that same-sex and heterosexual marriages are "equal".

But it is not so much the content of the subject as the way that it is assessed that angers some parents.

"The evaluation of students isn't based on their knowledge of the content, but instead on whether they adhere to the principles and values it intends to implant: they are trying to force our children to think in a certain way," says Mr Bailly-Bailliere.

Spain's government has consistently argued that EpC is vital in developing responsible citizens. But in the past three years, parents have filed 55,000 objections and brought 2,000 law suits claiming the right to withdraw their children from the subject.

In February last year, the case of the objetors reached Spain's Supreme Court. After two-and-a-half days of deliberation, the extraordinary panel of 29 magistrates (it's usually five) ruled that EpC would be mandatory for all students.

Education minister Mercedes Cabrera said the judgment ended attempts to turn schools into a "political battlefield". But for Mr Bailly-Bailliere, sending his children back to EpC class was not an option.

"When a law is unfair, you have to oppose it. I knew we had to carry on fighting," he says.

The Supreme Court judgment split the objector movement. Fearing legal consequences and under pressure from schools, many parents ended their boycott.

Despite a reduced number of objetors, recent judgments by regional Spanish courts have cast doubt on the Supreme Court's decision by allowing some parents the right to conscientiously object to EpC.

In March this year, 300 parents and children took their fight to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, petitioning that their rights to family life, freedom of religion as well as their right to an education were being breached by the Spanish state.

As the uncertainty over EpC continues, Mr Bailly-Bailliere remains resolute.

"I'm prepared to go to prison if necessary," he says, leaning forward with a hushed voice.

"Fighting for the freedom of our families has been more of a citizenship lesson than any they are teaching in school."

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