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Karel Holomek: Our children, Czech and Romani, need to go to school together now more than ever

9.2.2016 21:02
Romani activist Karel Holomek speaking at the memorial to the former concentration camp for Romani people at Hodonín u Kunštátu Czech Republic. (PHOTO:  ROMEA TV)
Romani activist Karel Holomek speaking at the memorial to the former concentration camp for Romani people at Hodonín u Kunštátu Czech Republic. (PHOTO: ROMEA TV)

Here in the Czech Republic we have all been talking about the terminology being used to describe the education of children in the primary schools. Of course, it is the impact of these education programs that has such a basic, determining influence on all of society once the children educated in these programs grow up.

That impact affects at least two areas of the life of this society:  One is civic literacy when it comes to democracy, and one is the economy. Those assertions might be so incomprehensible to some that they require further explanation in detail.

Personally, I welcome the recent decision by the Czech Education Ministry, specifically Minister Valachová, to establish a program of inclusion in the primary schools. I think everyone here can accept the following axiom without qualifications:  The rights of each child have been recognized by the minister, and we should be grateful to her for that.

Each child's right to the best of educations should be sacred to everyone in this country. I hope it might even be sacred to those now asserting that inclusion will disrupt instruction and destroy all of Czech education.

We won't name who those people are here (if the shoe fits, wear it!). Let's instead be rational and stick to the facts.

The incontestable argument is as follows:  Equality in the education of children in a democratic society is just like the equality of all citizens before the law. It is the same thing, just in a different form - it is one of the principles of a democratic society.

Those who claim it will be difficult if not impossible to establish this principle in the case of Romani children because to do so would ostensibly harm the Czech schools, are simply supporting the denial of democratic principles. Their argument is similar to the one made when we propose backing down in the face of terrorism by abandoning or limiting our democratic principles.

Today absolutely the same principles are also at stake when it comes to persisting with our humane principle of providing aid to those fleeing war zones as migrants. The same democratic principles apply in all these circumstances, and our support for them can be compared, today and every day, irrespective of the specific barriers and obstacles facing us.

We must act so that these desirable principles are upheld. We must provide both for the security of our society and for equality in the schools by acting in accordance with the terms established by those democratic principles.

This, in short, is what characterizes the current challenges we are facing every single day in this society. However, I have the haunting feeling that all of this is perceived by most people as a matter of just easily, lazily succumbing to prejudices in an effort to easily and simply get rid of these problems.

We succumb to prejudice with ease when we are called to do so by people like Czech President Zeman and his ilk. Who could resist such an easy lure when it is expressed by such a powerful figure?

Very few people here compare his putatively easy, effortless solutions with any sort of analytical, rational perspective on the issues. These matters are far more complicated than Zeman makes them seem - there are no easy, immediate solutions to them.

Of course, it would be rational to admit that there are solutions for these matters that will result in benefits for all of society - not just economic ones, but benefits that cultivate society. All of these fears, all of this hatred, the division of society into those who feel comfortable living here and see no limits to their power versus those who are aware of their limits and intend to actually cope with them - all of this is just a game of hide-and-go-seek.

Those who do not understand this game are acting against their own best interests. The worst thing is that they don't even know it.

We should not have to remind everyone that inclusion in the schools concerns Romani children and their equal opportunities in education most of all. Such inclusion should not even be a big deal.

At the most, there will be one or two such children turning up in the classrooms of the normal primary schools. They probably won't even be children with special needs, or with "mild mental disability", unlike the others whose inclusion is now being discussed.

They might even be children who will be, in certain areas, gifted in above-average ways - for example, when it comes to creativity, to language, to movement, to music. Such children can only enrich a classroom, not harm it.

These children will just be different, and that's a good thing. Finally our Czech children will realize that they are not the center of the universe and that there are other children here from whom they might even be able to learn something.

If only the parents of those Czech children were aware of that. If only the parents of the Romani children were aware of it - they might finally acquire the self-confidence that is so necessary to them.

Every other Romani child here speaks the Romani language - romaňi čhib. You can speak the Romani language with people anywhere in Europe.

Who else is able to say that? The Romani language is absolutely unique know-how.

Romani children who speak the Romani language exceed all of the Czech children in terms of their knowledge and strengths. Having that language is like a class that only they will have attended.

These Romani children will be native speakers not just of Czech, but also of Romani once they grow up. For those who are not aware, it must also be said here that Romani, as a language, was being cultivated at the same time that the Czech language was groping its way through the Dark Ages.

Today I cannot rid myself of the feeling that our children - Czech and Romani - need to attend school together right now more than they ever have. It is, therefore, good to combine the process of inclusion with the process of reducing segregation in our schools.

In some localities and towns here there are schools entirely populated by Romani children. That is an abomination - it's wrong.

The special educators should be able to grasp that. Where there is no understanding as to why segregation is wrong, then I no longer know what kind of argument I can present to make this case.

Karel Holomek, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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