Musings on Culture

Alejandra de Leiva's Blog

The Pedagogical Missions in the Second Spanish Republic

I’ve just seen a very interesting documentary about the Pedagogical Missions in the Second Spanish Republic. The film, directed by Gonzalo Tapia for Acacia Films in 2007, can be watched below (in Spanish with English subtitles).

When the Second Republic was proclaimed in 1931, Spain was a country riven by inequalities. It was a predominantly agrarian country with a deep division between landowners and peasants. Industrial development lagged far behind that of the US and Western Europe: modern industry existed only in a few Spanish regions. As a result, there was a a big chasm between urban and rural life.

One of the aims of the Republic was to fight these inequalities. Education was viewed as an indispensable instrument to lay the foundations of a new, equalitarian society. The government undertook an education reform to established free, obligatory, secular education for all. By then, the level of illiteracy stood at 44% per cent, and was predominant in rural areas.

The Pedagogical Missions were a project conceived to bring culture to remote villages. Teachers, school inspectors, artists and intellectuals travelled to the most underprivileged areas of the country to build libraries, show movies, reproductions of artworks, bring phonograph records and gramophones, teach music, organise open-aire theatre representations, etc., to bridge the chasm separating urban and rural areas. For many of the inhabitants of these towns, that was the first time they read a book, listened to a musical recording or saw a movie.

The documentary features actual interviews with former missionaries, inhabitants from these villages and original footage mostly shot by filmmaker José Val del Omar.

The implementation of the educational reform and the Pedagogical Missions arouse vehement protests from the conservative parties and the Church.

An interviewee in the documentary tells a funny and revealing anecdote: she explains that children were encouraged by the missionaries’ opponents to scornfully yell at them “Communists, communists!”… Some of the children did yell at them… but afterwards added: “When is the film?”.

Misiones Pedagogicas

This anecdote reminds me of the emotional and powerful last scene of La Lengua De Las Mariposas (The Butterfly’s Tongue), a film directed in 1999 by José Luis Cuerda, that adapted three short stories from Manuel Rivas’ book ¿Qué me quieres, amor?. People who have seen the film or read the book will know what I’m talking about; I don’t want to spoil the ending for those of you who don’t know the story!

In 1936, General Franco’s fascist uprising pushed Spain into a bloody civil war that resulted in the fascist victory in 1939 and the establishment of Franco’s dictatorship, until his death in 1975. The fascists’ regime carried out extensive purges among the teaching staff, that was regarded as permeated with communism. Franco’s regime endeavored to remove all vestiges of the Republicans’ education reform: Francoism reinforced class distinctions and ideological control.

To get a better understanding of the educational reform intended by the Second Republic, complement the viewing of the documentary with these  interesting articles:


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