A brave young girl called Anna Andronache has quite rightly become something of a star in Romania this week. Andronache, who is 14, attends a school in Targoviste at which staff abuse of pupils is commonplace but regularly goes unreported and unpunished. Via her Facebook account Andronache has begun to chronicle much of the wrongdoing at the school, from the mental cruelty (not being allowed breaks by vindictive teachers) to actual physical abuse. For her trouble she has been reprimanded and sidelined, her parents ostracised. One teacher has remarked that ‘it is not normal for a pupil to write about her teachers.’
It’s always easier to shoot the messenger than it is to deal with real problems.
One of the stories Andronache has written about features a teacher who hit a child (the reason is irrelevant). The child did not report the incident, but Andronache did and her father brought it up at a parent-teacher meeting. The response from the teacher? ‘The kid must have done something to deserve it.’ What’s more, another less than enlightened parent at the same meeting said that ‘hitting pupils does them no harm, it actually wakes them up a bit.’
Reading Andronache’s posts – and the hysterical reaction (of some) to them – it becomes increasingly clear how lucky we are to have found a Romanian state school for our kids at which they are encouraged to think for themselves and challenge what they are taught. Yes, there is too much homework and class sizes are enormous, but these are minor quibbles. How many schools in Romania have biology teachers ready to show their classes films about the Snopes trial, or put on screenings of To Kill A Mocking Bird? How many sports teachers encourage girls to play football? How many heads organise exchanges with schools in other countries, or invite pre-teen pop idols to sing on the first day of term so that those kids entering Class 0 or Class 1 are entertained as they enter the school building for the first time, and not intimidated?
There is absolutely no abuse of students – be it physical or verbal – and yet discipline is tight. This despite every class comprising more than 30 students. Performance is outstanding. How is all this possible? Because the teaching staff – led by the superb head – is dedicated, engaging and generally respected by pupils. Not out of fear, but out of recognition that they actually know what they’re talking about and might be worth listening to.
We are lucky and we know it: our kids’ school is the exception, not the rule, which is why we sit through the endless parent meetings with admirable stoicness.
Much of the anger being aimed at Anna Andronache (and her parents) comes from those backwards elements of Romanian society which do not view children as having equal rights as adults (indeed, many would argue children should have no rights at all). To these traditionalist groups, stuck in the Middle Ages, children should be brought up as obedient, unthinking, uncritical robots, accepting without question everything their parents, teachers, priest or any other adult tells them. Obedient children will not change the world, which is exactly the point: obedient children become obedient adults with an inherent deference to authority. The same mentality was behind the outrage at parents taking their kids on anti-corruption demonstrations.
It went unnoticed amid the turbulence of those demonstrations and the emergency ordinance that sparked them but on February 17th the senate rejected a bill which would have created the post of Children’s Ombudsman in Romania, appointed to defend the rights of the child. The so-called Family Coalition cheered. (We can now add children to the increasingly long list of groups the appalling coalition hates, a list still headed of course by women and gays).
By and large it is the same mindset that persists throughout the state education sector in Romania. The enlightenment idea that schools should be centres of science, reason, critical thinking and personal development has yet to reach this far east. There have been attempts in the recent past by a couple of more progressive education ministers (Daniel Funeriu in particular) to change things but the resistance to change within the system has always been far too deep-rooted.
The latest attempt to bring about change came late last year when school headteachers across Romania (no exceptions) were all forced to reapply for their jobs. Many were not successful, having failed the reselection exam (some with scores that were pitifully low). Alas, one of the first acts of the current government was to overturn the decision of its predecessor and restore all sacked headteachers to their posts.
Change is never good for the PSD. A generation of Anna Andronaches would be fatal.
PS No, that’s not Anna Andronache in the top photo. It’s Juan Guzman’s legendary photo of Marina Ginesta on top of the Hotel Colon in Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War.