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School and Ethnicit -The Case of Gypsies

School and Ethnicit -The Case of Gypsies

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The schooling of Gypsy children has become a major challenge for the Spanish educational system. After centuries of, first, exclusion and then segregation in separate schools, an egalitarian policy and a sudden enforcement of compulsory schooling have resulted in difficulties and conflicts in numerous Spanish schools. The specificity of the Gypsy way of life, paradoxically, brings to light the arbitrariness of the school system, i.e. its dependence on a particular culture and way of life marked by nation-state, market economy, wage labour, sedentariness, nuclear family, rule of formal law, etc. After the initial stages of exclusion and segregation, educational policy towards Gypsies is now going through a reinterpretation of the idea of equality, departing from formal egalitarianism to arrive at some form of multiculturalism. Yet this reinterpretation is always on the basis of an external appraisal of the needs and opportunities of this ethnic minority by different professional groups.

Published in PEDAGOGY, CULTURE AND SOCIETY XII, 2
The schooling of Gypsy children has become a major challenge for the Spanish educational system. After centuries of, first, exclusion and then segregation in separate schools, an egalitarian policy and a sudden enforcement of compulsory schooling have resulted in difficulties and conflicts in numerous Spanish schools. The specificity of the Gypsy way of life, paradoxically, brings to light the arbitrariness of the school system, i.e. its dependence on a particular culture and way of life marked by nation-state, market economy, wage labour, sedentariness, nuclear family, rule of formal law, etc. After the initial stages of exclusion and segregation, educational policy towards Gypsies is now going through a reinterpretation of the idea of equality, departing from formal egalitarianism to arrive at some form of multiculturalism. Yet this reinterpretation is always on the basis of an external appraisal of the needs and opportunities of this ethnic minority by different professional groups.

Published in PEDAGOGY, CULTURE AND SOCIETY XII, 2

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Published by: Mariano Fernández Enguita on Dec 14, 2009
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 Pedagogy, Culture and Society, Volume 12, Number 2, 2004
201
School and Ethnicity:the case of Gypsies
MARIANO F. ENGUITA
University of Salamanca, Spain 
ABSTRACT The schooling of Gypsy children has become a major challengefor the Spanish educational system. After centuries of, first, exclusion andthen segregation in separate schools, an egalitarian policy and a suddenenforcement of compulsory schooling have resulted in difficulties andconflicts in numerous Spanish schools. The specificity of the Gypsy way oflife, paradoxically, brings to light the arbitrariness of the school system, i.e.its dependence on a particular culture and way of life marked by nation-state, market economy, wage labour, sedentariness, nuclear family, rule offormal law, etc. After the initial stages of exclusion and segregation,educational policy towards Gypsies is now going through a reinterpretationof the idea of equality, departing from formal egalitarianism to arrive atsome form of multiculturalism. Yet this reinterpretation is always on thebasis of an external appraisal of the needs and opportunities of this ethnicminority by different professional groups.
Introduction
Though I am not, and I am not trying to become, an expert in Gypsyculture, I have been attracted by the problem of the schooling of Gypsypeople, especially in the current circumstances, because I see it as adramatic and paradigmatic case of ethnic conflict. The ethnic divide isamong the most important loci of division in our societies, together withthose divisions based on class (be they in terms of ownership or wealth,of authority or power, of education and skills), gender, community orterritory and, maybe soon, age. The school system, on the other side, isnot simply one more stage in which, as it could have been foreseen,ethnic prejudices and stresses appear once again, but it is an essentialinstitution in the production and reproduction of cultures, which isprecisely the element at stake in ethnic relations.
 
 Mariano F. Enguita
202The team that I lead, including myself, tried during a year to seewhat was going on with Gypsies inside schools, as well as among schoolswith Gypsies.[1] The existence of mutual prejudice, misunderstanding,and harassment is well known, with the balance of power held by theGadge (non-Gypsy) side.[2] Newspapers have reported many scarcelyconstructive episodes of rejection of Gypsies by Gadges in schools oraround them. But we tried to see something else: we tried to see directly,on the ground, the very same actors, namely (Gadge) teachers, Gadgepupils and families and Gypsy pupils and families. We also departed fromthe idea that the school, as well as what is learned in it, is simply made ofsyllabuses, programmes or textbooks, in order to consider the informalinteraction processes (the teachers’ comments on weather, on howpupils look, and on the news of the day, for instance) which, even ifunforeseen and hard to control, consume a lion’s share of school time.Further, we focused on the social structure of the educational process,meaning the material experience of schooling (time and spaceorganization, authority relationships among teachers and pupils,competition among pupils, etc.).Before getting to the heart of the matter, I should say that I feelparticularly uncomfortable speaking about ‘Gypsies’. This is not due tothe content of the concept, neither as a noun or an adjective, nor toanything that can be associated with it, but to the very use of the plural.Every process of knowledge is necessarily a process of simplification, asfar as it consists mainly of an attempt to put some order into a realitywhich appears tremendously rich, complex and diverse and, as aconsequence, too dispersed and casuistic. We sociologists used to get ridof this problem by saying we were operating with an abstraction, orreferring to regularities of social action, interaction patterns, models,structures, ideal types, etc. By this we mean that, when we talk about‘Catholics’, ‘wage relations’, ‘xenophobia’ or ‘amoral familism’, we arealluding to exactly or approximately mean or modal types – depending ofthe topic of study and the feasible research techniques – which weconsider useful to illuminate aggregates of individual cases.In the case of Gypsies, however, I think we cannot do this. I do notknow whether this impossibility derives from the specific case orwhether it is present in any ethnic problem. I do not intend to examinethis question now, but I want to say that I am not going to speak about amean or modal type of Gypsy, even if topical, but about an
extreme
 model. I do not know where the mean or the mode can be found when wespeak about Gypsies. What I do know is that there is, let us say, anextreme type of Gypsy way of life based on a clan, itinerancy, acombination of self-employment and subsistence economy, very differentfrom the Gadge way of life, and that, at some point in between lie mostindividual Gypsies (San Román, 1976, p. 26; Acton, 1974, p. 54). I amconvinced that we shall be better placed to understand the problems of
 
 SCHOOLING GYPSY CHILDREN 
 
203all of them, even those who are closer to the Gadge world, by reference tothis extreme type than looking for a mean or modal type that would bedifficult to find.Having said this, my purpose is to examine briefly, first, thepertinence of most general social functions of the school to the Gypsies;then, some relevant aspects of the recent experience of ethnic conflict;and finally, the situation recently provoked by certain social policies.
The Social Functions of the School and the Gypsy Way of Life
Even if a longer list could be proposed, we can probably agree on theprimacy of three main social functions of the school: first, qualification,socialization and selection in order to assign people to productive adultroles; second, the making and shaping of individuals as members of anation-state and citizens of a political system; third, but not least, thecare and custody of infancy (Fernández Enguita, 2002). A light referenceto them will be enough to make clear their lack of resonance with thehistory and the reality of the Gypsy people.School has become a substantial instrument of education for workand labour, first of all because the modern productive process inindustrial or post-industrial societies requires work habits which arespecific to collective production and wage relations: regular activity,cooperation, valorization of time, submission to ends and meansdetermined by authority, etc. Classrooms socialize pupils into adequatebehavior patterns such as time schedules, physical space allocation,emphasis on order and quietness, simultaneity in task performance,submission to contents and methods decided by the teacher or by otherssituated above her, etc. But what distinguishes most Gypsies fromGadges, wherever we look at the former, is the choice of subsistenceeconomy, self-employment or some combination of both (Acton, 1974,pp. 252ff.) These forms of existence demand a kind of socializationdifferent from the one offered by the school, something visible in thefrequent complaints on the inability of this institution to foster in youngpeople a sense of initiative, entrepreneurial vocation, abilities forindependent work, etc. This is even truer if we consider that it is notsimply direct work for the market, but for a market in which the otherside, the Gadge, is seen as a constant candidate for deception in productprice and/or quality (which, in the end, is nothing but the extrapolation ofmarket logic), so that not only the structural form of school socialization,itself functional for subordinated work, but the very fact of commonsocialization with the Gadge public who are to be exploited in the future,are counterproductive from the standpoint of Gypsies’ anticipatedeconomic activity.School is also important for the Gadge’s incorporation into workbecause most jobs demand basic common instrumental skills to be used

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