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  • Bertsolaritza in the School Curriculum
  • Joxerra Garzia

Introduction: Orality and the School1

The institutions that traditionally have shouldered the burden of passing on the ethical and aesthetic standards of the individuals in a community appear to be in a permanent state of crisis in the so-called developed societies. The family, and the social networks closest to the individual, are breaking down, and these networks do not seem able to perform the function that was almost exclusively theirs up until recent times.2

And so it happens that this job of transmission is increasingly being handed over to the two most universal and important institutions that developed societies have at their disposal: the media and, above all, the educational system. Many teachers say they feel crushed by the increasing responsibility that developed societies are delegating to the school system. Another outcome is that the school, as an institution, is very far from being a prestigious establishment. The young, as Simone aptly puts it (2001), perceive school as something outside of the real world. On the other hand, the patently obvious authority crisis is causing increasingly serious and frequent problems that do not seem easy to resolve.

Many varied factors are responsible for the present situation. This article cannot possibly provide an adequate forum for discussing the complexities of the situation, so I shall confine myself to mentioning just one of the factors that, as I see it, discredit today's educational system and make it inefficient in developed societies. The factor to which I refer is related not so much to the actual educational content delivered as to the way in which that knowledge is transmitted. Generally speaking, the school is still anchored in the primacy of the written word––although that primacy is, of course, a matter of degree.

If I only touch on the two major school systems from which the Basque Country takes its benchmark, it is a demonstrable fact that the French system pays far more attention to orality than the Spanish one. Given that the Basque educational system does not enjoy full autonomy, the situation of orality in schools in the Basque Iberian Peninsula (that is, in the Basque Autonomous Community and Navarre) is far more precarious than on the Basque European Continent (in Iparralde, in French territory). [End Page 69]

The precarious situation of orality in the school system manifests itself in two major ways. Where content is concerned, the various expressions of Basque orality appear only, even in the best of cases, as mere exotic anecdotes devoid of relevance. When Basque pupils finish their compulsory education at the age of 16––even those who have been taught through the medium of Euskara (the native term for the Basque language)––they are far more familiar with the figure of Don Quixote than with that of Fernando Amezketarra or Maixu Juan. Naturally, it is not a case of condemning familiarity with Quixote (an essential figure whatever way you look at it) but instead of feeling troubled that the Basque community's own literary figures aren't better known.

The second aspect of the neglect of orality in schools relates to the methods of transmitting knowledge: namely, the fact that the written word is still usurping the prime position. Let's not beat about the bush: the typical pupil in our educational system is often ignorant. Meanwhile, the experts all point out that the ability to communicate effectively is, without a doubt, the most sought-after and valued skill in today's so-called "Information Society."

Things being as they are, one should not lose sight of the fact that the general aim of the Western educational system is none other than to prepare its "customers" as well as possible for playing their role in the society to which they belong. From that point of view, it seems clear that our school system is very far from being a suitable instrument for the accomplishment of its main purpose. In light of this fact, a complete integration into the school system of that conglomerate that J. M. Foley calls the "ecology of oral traditions" (2002:188-218) would not only be an act of justice for...

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