T is doing his homework on the kitchen table. A worksheet exhorts him to practice writing fa fe fi fo fu several times, and then write words corresponding to various pictures and circle those containing the letter f. Halfway through he gets bored, and starts looking around for diversion. There is an interesting word on a cardboard box.
- Eeen glee eengalee eengalees dad what’s that word over there?
- That one? It says ‘English’.
- That’s wrong. It ought to start with an ‘i’ then.
- Well, English spelling doesn‘t really make much sense a lot of the time. You just have to learn the words one by one.
- That’s silly.
T has learned a lot in his first year of proper school. It is a crash course in literacy and numeracy; a good deal of seriousness is expected of the student. No coercion is used, unlike in the old days when it was said that ’la letra entra con sangre’ (the letter enters with blood). The old way probably didn’t work all that well either - as one friend of mine here was put off school permanently when his friend was beaten on the first day. Still, those who fail to appreciate the importance of mastering their book this year are going to have a lot of trouble later on.
Education was a serious matter in the old days, expensive as it was. Plenty of the older country folk are largely illiterate. They are vastly impressed by free universal compulsory schooling, as well they might be. I remember one old fella talking to some kids by the side of the road one morning. He knew the farm where they lived, the former owners going back a couple of generations, and the worth of it’s land , as he did for all the places thereabouts. The kids had been driven several miles up to the tarmac road where they could catch the school bus.
- So you’re all going to school?
The younger one says yes.
- Three scholars in one family! Very good. Do you all work hard? Of course! Three scholars in the same house!
The oldest rolled her eyes as he went to his day’s work on the hillside.
Of our Malaga neighbours, Antonio was illiterate, having been born the youngest son of a poor farmer some time in the early thirties. He could sign his name. Antonia could read quite well and write a bit, as she had been born into a family wealthy enough to have the priest come to her house once a week, to instruct her older brothers. She and her sister had been allowed to sit in, and were made to do the same homework, although there was no-one to mark it.