Education has always been considered a treasure in this country. For hundreds of years people who have had a formal education were revered. When my parents were children one of the most respected persons was the village schoolteacher. To become a maestro was considered one of the highest professions to achieve. The language reflects this reverance. To be polite is to be educado or educated. To be rude or impolite is to be maleducado, badly educated, ignorant. 

For many, many years only the rich could study. Most poor didn't even know how to read or write unless they paid the village priest to teach them their ABC's. My grandparents couldn't read or write. Only one grandfather could, and he became a union member and Socialist and fought against Franco. It was part of the strategy of the ruling aristocrats and the Church to keep the lowly masses ignorant and dependant on the powerful classes. Surprisingly enough it was Franco who instituted obligatory primary education. More than anything it was another way to teach the children to continue obeying the ruling class and the Church by fomenting extreme patriotism and Catholic values. 

That system was in place until the late eighties. Every child obligatorily attended school until eighth grade. When they finished they got a diploma saying they had finished General Basic Education (E.G.B.) and could then (at fourteen years of age) find a job or continue their studies, paying for them. After the democracy came in and emphasis was taken off the religious values and patriotism, it was a pretty good education. A fourteen year-old had rudimentary notions of English, the equivalent of first-year algebra, the ability to read, speak and write intelligently in Castilian and the regional language, and knowledge of European and Spanish geography and history. At that time there was still the reverance of education and parents taught children that studying was important. Few children failed grades or subjects.

The drawback was the discipline. Teachers felt free to slap a child who hadn't done his homework or spoke in class. A common punishment for a misdemeanor was to make a child kneel and place pebbles under his knees. Parents supported the teachers and if a complaint made its way home they would punish the child with a spanking. 

After the Socialists got into power in the eighties things started to change. Grants and scholarships became available so that everyone, regardless of income, could attend secondary education and eventually, university. Education became generalized, and in that generalization, lost the awe in which it had been held. And now it came to be seen as a necessity.

For Spaniards have now, after forty years of democracy, woken up and found themselves in Europe. Now it is necessary to have a decent education if Spaniards and Spain is to become a leading power in a democratic Europe. Perhaps with that realization democracy has finally grown roots in this society. No one wants to return to the totalitarian Spain of history with its poverty and ignorance, and everyone has learnt that the key to democracy is education. 

Which is why there are protests against all the cutbacks in education spending done by this government in the name of austerity. People still reverance education, but now because they see it as the road to the future. And there is no going back to the past.


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