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Spain: The Minister of Education's Many Gaffes

[All links lead to Spanish-language websites unless otherwise noted]

The Spanish Minister of Education, Culture, and Sport, José Ignacio Wert, has sparked controversy after controversy since starting the position less than a year ago. It isn't an accident that he is the minister with the worst approval rating in the entire government. In a parliamentary session several weeks ago, with the delicate situation of Catalonia, where nationalist parties have revived the debate over independence, hanging over head, Wert let loose the following to representative Francesc Vallès:

Nuestro interés es españolizar a los alumnos catalanes y que se sientan tan orgullosos de ser españoles como de ser catalanes.

Our interest is in Spanish-izing students in Catalonia and making sure they feel as proud to be Spanish as they feel to be Catalan.

His remark made the hashtags #wert and #EspañolizarEs [To Spanish-ize is] trending topics on Twitter that same day:

@ElPolisemico: #EspañolizarEs matar toros, ser fiel a la Pantoja, dejar vía libre a la corrupción y reprimir manifestaciones

@ElPolisemico: To Spanish-ize is to kill bulls, be loyal to la Pantoja [a reference to popular Spanish singer Isabel Pantoja, whose husband, bullfighter Francisco Rivera Pérez, was gored to death by a bull during a fight], clear the way for corruption and suppress demonstrations

@melycamento#EspañolizarEs gritar “Yo soy español español” llevar la bandera de España en el polo, cinturón y pulsera y luego defraudar a Hacienda. #OLÉ

@melycamento: To Spanish-ize is to shout “I am Spanish Spanish”, to carry around the Spanish flag on a flagpole, a belt and a bracelet and then defraud the Finance Ministry. #OLÉ

@ElExpecial: ÚLTIMA HORA: El ministro Wert será el encargado del cambio horario el 28 de octubre: a las 2 de la madrugada será 1939.

@ElExpecial: LATEST: Minister Wert will be in charge of time change on October 28: at two in the morning it will be 1939.

Rocky Horror was more realistic:

@helenanito: Españolizar a los Beatles cantando “All I need is work”

@helenanito: To Spanish-ize The Beatles singing “All I need is work”
El Ministro de Educación español, José Ignacio Wert. Foto del blog Cinereverso.org

The Spanish Minister of Education, José Ignacio Wert. Photo from the blog Cinereverso.org

In a country troubled more and more by austerity measures affecting all parts of society, education is a sore subject. In budget estimations for the 2012/2013 term, education suffered a cutback of almost 22%, meanwhile higher Value Added Tax (VAT) rates that went into effect in September have spiked the tax on school materials 17 points, going from the superreduced rate of 4% to the general rate of 21%. Even though textbooks continue to be taxed at 4%, the budget for grants to help with the purchase of books has been reduced by 70%, which means that many families have been forced to cover the cost. And that's not the only thing being slashed from the budget – money allocated for meal programs, school transportation and scholarships has also been reduced.

The minister has stated that the number of students per class has not increased, but that the limit has been “eased by 20%“. And he considers the change to be a good thing for children:

Porque hay que tener en cuenta que además de aprender, los niños en la escuela pues socializan, se comunican con otros niños, tienen experiencias formativas distintas… que son muy difíciles si el número es muy escaso.

Because you have to keep in mind that in addition to learning, children in school also socialize, communicate with other children, have distinct formative experiences…which are very difficult if the number is low.

He has also said that “it isn't true that scholarships have been cut,” even though 185 million euros set aside for this type of aid have in fact been done away with. When it comes to increases in university tuition, the minister has declared:

¿Que la familia no tiene recursos para afrontar el pago de esas tasas? Evidentemente, se pueden dar casos, pero no tener recursos, pregunto una vez más, ¿qué quiere decir? que no se quieren dedicar, eh, recursos a eso en detrimento de otras posibilidades de usar los recursos en otras cosas.

What family can't afford to pay these fees? Obviously, there might be cases, but to not be able to afford it, I ask again, what does that mean? That they don't want to spend money on it if that means losing out on the possibility of spending that money on other things.

With such damaging cuts being made to the education system, the Student Union called for a 72-hour strike on October 16, 17, and 18, which the Confederation of Mothers and Fathers of Students (CEAPA) joined. The minister branded those parents “irresponsible” and criticized the organization for supporting the strike:

 que una asociación de padres y madres [se sume a esa huelga es] insólito y francamente contrario a la obligación que tienen los padres de procurar la mejor educación para sus hijos

An association of mothers and fathers [that joins that strike is] unbelievable and frankly goes against the obligation that parents have to make sure their children receive the best education.

Because according to him:

se trata de una huelga política inspirada desde supuestos de la extrema izquierda más radical antisistema.

We're dealing with a political strike based on the assumptions of the extreme, radical, anti-government left.

These defamatory remarks were followed by a letter titled “Dear Minister Wert…“ by Cecilia Jan published on October 17 on the About Mamas and Papas blog hosted by the newspaper El País:

Manifestación de padres en el mes de junio. Foto de Arriel Domínguez en arainfo.org.

Parents protest in June. Photo by Arriel Domínguez on arainfo.org.

Me presento, soy una de esas madres radicales extremistas y antisistema que mañana han decidido no llevar a sus hijos al colegio. (…)

Señor Wert, basta. Basta de tratarnos a los padres como a estúpidos con consejos como “reutilizar los libros” si no podemos pagarlos. Como si no se nos hubiera ocurrido. Como si siempre fuera posible. O con eufemismos como que “el número de alumnos por clase no aumenta, se flexibiliza”. (…)

Basta de recortar en profesorado. Basta de segregar a los que se quedan rezagados. Basta de fomentar la desigualdad reduciendo becas y subiendo tasas. Si realmente le interesa mejorar la competitividad de las futuras generaciones y sacarnos del primer puesto en fracaso escolar en Europa (…)

Let me introduce myself, I am one of those extreme, radical and anti-government mothers who have decided to not take their children to school this morning. (…)

Mr. Wert, enough. Enough of treating us parents like idiots with advice such as “reuse books” if we can't pay for them. As if it hadn't occurred to us. As if it is always possible. Or with euphemisms such as “the number of students per class hasn't increased, it's been made more flexible”. (…)

Enough of cutting teachers. Enough of segregating the students who lag behind. Enough of fomenting inequality by reducing scholarships and raising fees. If you are truly interested in increasing the competitiveness of future generations and combating the drop-out rate, one of the highest in Europe (…)

Or as San Tiago said on Twitter:

@San_Tiago: A mi hijo autista le quitan 40% d ayudas y el irresponsable soy yo x llevarle a manifas y hacer huelgas http://alasombradeltomate.es/2012/10/18/ministro-wert/ …#ParemosLeyWert

@San_Tiago: They cut 40% of the aid for my autistic son and I'm the irresponsible one for taking him to protests and going on strike http://alasombradeltomate.es/2012/10/18/ministro-wert/ … #StopWertLaw

However, even though Minister Wert has made cuts to all areas of culture, education, and sport, he announced in June the creation of a committee to draw up a National Plan for the Promotion and Protection of Bullfighting which will dedicate an as yet unknown amount of money to advertising and subsidizing bullfighting organizations. This support for bullfighting won him the honor of being named “Jerk of the Week” by the magazine El Jueves, which inspired the following comment from  CorrePayo, Lapoli

DADA LA COMPENTENSIA DE ESTE MINISTRO PROPONGO NOMBRARLE PARA EL GALLARDON DE JILIPOYAS DEL AÑO! PD: PERDONEN LAS FALTAS ESQUE ME SIENTO ATRAS Y CON MIS 50 COMPAÑEROS NO ENTIENDO BIEN NADA ^^

Give the competence of this minister, I propose naming him the jerk of the year! P.S. Forgive my mistakes. It just that I'm seated at the back and with my 50 classmates I don't understand anything ^^

 

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