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  • Verse Schools
  • Ainhoa Agirreazaldegi and Arkaitz Goikoetxea

The Term

The term bertso-eskola, or "verse school,"1 consists of two words, bertso (verse) and eskola (school). To understand the nature and work of these verse schools, it is best to consider the concept behind each of these words. Bertso does not refer only to lines of verse and the rules of versification, nor when we say eskola do we mean simply a place where classes are given. The bertso-eskola should not be thought of as a mere school.

The Basque word for verse, bertso, evokes above all two closely linked ideas: bertsolaritza, the Basque cultural phenomenon of traditionally improvised verse; and verse creation as a form of creative communication. Eskola conveys the pedagogical notion of a place for the cultivation of values, attitudes, knowledge, and skills needed in human development, while at the same time attempting to teach the importance of teamwork and to constitute a group of friends united in a leisure activity. The purpose, then, is to go beyond the level of imparting knowledge towards a fuller sense of education, underlying which are four central concepts: learning to know, learning to do, learning to coexist, and learning to be.

Essential to the bertso-eskola approach is what we could call an "ecological educational model," wherein the immediate context and social life inside the classroom are both basic day-to -day principles. This methodology is founded on constructivism; verse school methods have always been based on meaningful learning and the construction of knowledge.

History of the Verse Schools: Origin and Development

It is hard to say exactly when the bertso-eskola movement started, since it did not begin as a single, united movement at all. Verse schools began to spring up independently in different parts of the southern Basque Country, responding to the features of society at the time. (For the purposes of this article, 1980 has been chosen as a convenient starting point from which to analyze the development of the verse schools.)

Only a few years after the death of the dictator Franco, the Spanish state and the countries it ruled were in the middle of a transition period. The Basque Country bore the scars of a 40-year-long [End Page 65] dictatorship: its language and culture were in serious danger, neglected and despised, and almost entirely excluded from the school system of the time.

Feelings that had long been smothered rose to the surface after Franco's death, and one idea in particular took on great force: many, many parents, seeing that the schools in this period denied their children a Basque-language education, set out to create alternative structures of their own. This was the origin of the ikastola, the Basque-language education movement.

The emergence and spread of verse schools was almost an automatic consequence of the birth of the ikastolak. It was only natural for the bertso tradition to flourish in a school system centered on Basque language and Basque culture. Verse enthusiasts saw their chance and began teaching Basque oral poetry to boys and girls as an after-school activity. That was how the first children's verse schools got started more than 25 years ago.

In the early 1980s, as society evolved so did the place of bertsolaritza, making the leap from its original rural setting in taverns and cider houses to the stage. In this new environment, transmission to future generations was no longer a foregone conclusion. Thus began the earliest courses for adult verse lovers. Groups met in every town; fueled by their passion for the Basque language and verse singing, they gathered to learn traditional verses and to discover and study their techniques. From the courses organized by these large and varied groups arose the adult verse schools.

Thus the verse schools did not come into being for the purpose of manufacturing or producing bertsolariak, but simply to have fun with verses and to pass on this folk tradition to the next generation. But it wasn't long before the first new bertsolaris started to emerge, particularly from the children's verse schools. The motivation and dedication of bertso teachers and the theoretical and practical literature...

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