Monday, August 05, 2013

This Is Europe: Trilingualism in Mallorca

Guillem Cifre de Colonya is one of Pollensa's most famous sons. The name "Colonya" is known mostly for the co-operative savings bank that he founded; its current-day main branch is situated on one corner of the Plaça Major in Pollensa town. Cifre was a philanthropist. He held egalitarian and republican views. And these views influenced heavily his other highly important innovation in Pollensa; the founding of the Institution of Education. This was the first school in Spain outside of Madrid to be co-educational and to advocate academic freedom and to not be ruled by religious dogma. It was essentially an experiment in public education, one that aimed to empower the working class and to better prepare it for a changing world, even one that had, at the end of the nineteenth century, barely encroached on Pollensa.

When the school opened in 1885, Cifre was visited by his friend, a leading educationalist of his day, Manuel Bartolomé Cossió. In front of the school, Cossió uttered these words - "this is Europe". Cossió couldn't have foreseen what this Europe was to eventually become, but through liberal education for the masses, he understood that backwaters such as Pollensa were not going to be unaffected by developments and that the town, Mallorca and indeed Spain had to begin to adjust to new realities, in which servitude and the disadvantaging of the ordinary man through not having an education had to change and in which the power of "caciquismo", the corrupt system of government, had to be dismantled.

Cifre's wife, Clara Hammerl, continued his efforts at the school and also at Colonya bank. Last month, she was named as an adoptive daughter of Pollensa (she was German). Those efforts were put a stop to in 1936. For over 40 years, it wasn't only the school which fell into neglect, so also did the name of Guillem Cifre. Everything he stood for was anathema to the Franco regime. In 1977, a public lecture reminded the people of Pollensa who Cifre was. Nowadays, there is no one who doesn't know who he was, and the town's secondary school proudly bears his name.

On this school's website, there is a link to something called "Projecte TIL". It is explained in Catalan. No judgement is made of the project, but there is a telling word in its opening sentence - "obliged". The school is obliged to having to introduce a system of trilingualism for this coming school year; TIL stands for the integrated treatment of languages.

Obligation doesn't mean that the school wants to introduce the system. Indeed, it, as with many other schools in Mallorca, doesn't want the system. So great is the opposition to TIL that public education in Mallorca and the Balearics is on the point of descending into chaos. Rebellion against TIL is such that the Balearics education minister, Joana Maria Camps, has suspended directors of three secondary schools in Menorca because of their refusal to devote more teaching hours (as required) to classes taken in English and Castellano. A platform called Crida has called on other directors in the Balearics to resign en masse. In Menorca, the administration of public education has become a total mess, the delegate for education on that island having resigned last week because he didn't agree with the pace of the introduction of TIL, and his successor, a professor of religion, having resigned two days after being appointed because of the flood of criticism that greeted his appointment.

The new school year, still a few weeks away, could signal even more chaos. Strikes are being threatened, directors might choose to walk out. And the chaos all has to do with language policy, one dictated both by regional and national government. It might be difficult for foreign onlookers to get their heads fully around why this is causing a fuss that might see the education system collapse. It is summed up in two words that have been used to describe the introduction of TIL: "cultural genocide".

At the heart of it is an undermining of Catalan. But it goes beyond this alone. It is seen as an attack on liberal principles such as those that Guillem Cifre espoused. The timing of the honouring of his wife has been symbolic, because Pollensa, more than many other towns in Mallorca, has a tradition of liberalism that is encapsulated in its historic place in educational history. 

Yet for all that TIL represents an attack on Catalan liberalism, there is perhaps a contradiction. It lies in those words of Manuel Bartolomé Cossió. For current-day Mallorca, does trilingualism not better serve "Europe" than the monolinguistic romanticism of Catalan?

Any comments to please.

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