Parents challenge “citizenship” course

MADRID — On Jan. 26 Spain’s Supreme Court will consider a challenge to “Education for Citizenship,” a part of the school curriculum as divisive here as the teaching of evolution is in the United States.

The program teaches citizens’ rights and duties, human rights, equality, freedom, tolerance, solidarity, social justice, self-esteem and dignity. Supporters say it teaches children the democratic values enshrined in the Spanish Constitution. But opponents say it constitutes indoctrination.

“It’s an invasion of the parents’ right to educate their children in their fundamental convictions,” said Fabian Fernandez de Alarcon, a father of six and member of Profesionales por la Etica, a group that promotes ethical values in public life from a Christian perspective.

Antonio Canizares, archbishop of Toledo, went so far as to say that teaching Education for Citizenship is “collaborating with evil.”

One flashpoint: The program teaches understanding and acceptance of homosexuality. A widely used textbook, published by Grupo SM, says, “We have the ethical obligation to respect the dignity of every person, as reflected in the Spanish Constitution and laws, which prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex or sexual orientation.”

The course, which began last year and is slowly being phased in around the country, is a four-year curriculum for students ages 12 to 16.

In Spain, it is up to each school council — composed of parents, teachers, and students of a particular school — to select each school’s books. The Ministry of Education and regional governments publish minimum class contents, then the council determines the syllabus.

With this flexibility, FERE, a Spanish federation of Catholic educators, decided to adapt the class to its Christian values and chose a textbook compatible with those beliefs.

Profesionales por la Etica rejects even that compromise, saying the government should not be able to mandate the class in the first place.

“In the end, we’re talking about teaching ideology. That’s extremely dangerous and proper of authoritarian regimes,” said Fernandez de Alarcon. “‘Adaptability’ is a poisoned candy to minimize civic response against the subject.”

But to Encarna Salvador, secretary general of CEAPA, a confederation of 12,000 parents’ associations, one hour a week — or 35 hours per school year — of Education for Citizenship is not enough.

“I give my son an education in values at home,” Salvador said. “But I want that to be reinforced in school because it’s there where my son becomes social, where he has to respect his classmates, where he’s learning to live in society, with all its diversity.”

“The class teaches students to be critical, to think and debate,” she added.

Parents who oppose the law say that more than 50,000 objections to the class have been filed in court. Sixty percent of objectors are parents whose children attend public schools, according to Profesionales por la Etica.

Some regional courts sided with these parents, while others determined that conscientious objection cannot be recognized in this case. Parents appealed, and the cases are now before Spain’s Supreme Court, which is the country’s highest court unless a case relates to a constitutional question. If they are not satisfied with the court’s ruling, the objecting parents have said they plan to bring the case to Spain’s Constitutional Court.

Meanwhile, children whose parents have objected to the class move to another room during the Education for Citizenship hour. There, they learn about the constitution or read. A final court decision may take months. If the ruling deems conscientious objection unacceptable, these children will have missed a good part of the school year for that class, which could mean a failing grade and another year in Education for Citizenship.