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“Parental pin”: the Spanish far-right's fight to control public education

Categories: Western Europe, Spain, Breaking News, Censorship, Citizen Media, Digital Activism, Education, Freedom of Speech, Human Rights, Law, LGBTQ+, Media & Journalism, Migration & Immigration, Politics, Religion, Women & Gender
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Screenshots of false images shared by the far-right party Vox to support their policy of a parental veto in schools. Created by the author using images from maldita.es CC BY-SA 3.0

Since the start of 2020, the Spanish far-right political party Vox intensified [2] its policy campaigns months after having enforced [3] the approval of its “parental pin [4]” regulation in the Spanish Autonomous Community of Murcia, in southeastern Spain. In Murcia, the regional government — a coalition between the conservative parties Partido Popular and Ciudadanos — needs Vox's support to vote its budget.

This “parental pin”, referring to security systems on mobile phones, has been applied in schools [5] in Murcia since September 2019, and Vox wants to extend this initiative to Madrid and Andalusia [6]. Spain is now caught in an incendiary debate on public education.

Vox argues that parents have the right to educate their children as they see fit, and therefore want parents to give their “express authorisation [7] for any subject, discussion, workshop or activity that touches on socially controversial moral questions or on sexuality” given in schools by non-staff members.

By using this parental veto, parents in Murcia can prevent their children from participating in extra-curricular discussions and workshops [8].

These workshops focus on a variety of topics, such as sex education [9], misogynistic violence [10], gender equality [11], LGBTQI diversity [12] or immigration, all of which are topics that Vox calls “indoctrination” by “lobbies” [13], reflecting the stance of the most traditional denomination of the Catholic Church [14].

Groups such as the National Federation of Lesbians, Gays, Transgender People and Bisexuals say [15] that the workshops they organize fall under Spanish education law [16], which highlights “values in favour of personal freedom, responsibility, democratic citizenship, solidarity, tolerance, equality, respect and justice, as well as assistance in overcoming any type of discrimination.”

The Minister for Education, Isabel Celaá, declared that the “parental pin” goes against this law.  [17]She filed a contentious- [18]administrative appeal [18] against the policy and wants it immediately suspended [19].

The Student's Union [20] and the feminist group Libres y Combativas [21] (Free and Combative), meanwhile, have called for a general strike on 6 March to protest against a “regression to Francoist brutality. [22]” According to analysts [23], Vox brings back ideas from the dictatorship of Francisco Franco [24], who ruled over Spain for almost four decades.

Controversy on social media

The debate is fierce on social media, where people have been expressing their opinions on the policy. The Minister for Equality, Irene Montero, clearly expressed the government's position on the matter:

PP and Vox persist in their questioning of teachers in this country and attacking public education and the institutions that allow us to live side by side. Education on equality and on affective-sexuality matters is a right. https://t.co/7OscZZHIZ8 [25]

— Irene Montero (@IreneMontero) 24 January 2020 [26]

Many used humor in criticizing the policy:

“Good afternoon, are you my son's History of Art teacher?
“Yes.”
“I just wanted to let you know that he won't be in class tomorrow due to the parental pin.”
“Why's that?”
“Because you're teaching them about Baroque and we are a neoclassical family. I won't let you indoctrinate him with these Churrigueresque delusions.”

— José de León (@Jose_de_leon) 21 January 2020 [27]

Putting the parental pin on your child so that they don't sneak out to smoke between Group Masturbation and Devil Worship classes.

— Antílopez (@antilopez) 22 January 2020 [28]

Twitter user Anzarda expressed doubt about the influence teachers have on their students:

It's adorable how much faith the law has in teachers. They can't even teach us how to spell correctly and yet they're able to turn us gay…

— Anzarda (@Anzarda1) 18 January 2020 [29]

Some personalities have been defending the veto like Pablo Casado [30] of the Partido Popular and current leader of the opposition in Parliament:

My children are mine, not the State's, and I will fight to ensure that this radical and sectarian government doesn't instruct parents how to educate our children. Get your hands off our families. https://t.co/9sbwdbxZrm [31]

— Pablo Casado Blanco (@pablocasado_) 17 January 2020 [32]

Strategy of misinformation

In the middle of this controversy, Vox is accused of launching a campaign of misinformation [33], trying to show why the parental veto is needed. Their members and supporters circulated a series of images and videos on Twitter with messages indirectly related to educational activities.

Different websites exposed these far-right hoaxes, especially fact-checking websites such as Newtral [34] or Maldita.es [1].

Iván Espinosa de los Monteros, Vox's representative in Congress, had to give an explanation during an interview with broadcaster RTVE [35]about a video which a Vox political candidate had shared online [36]. [36] Although the video is from an artistic performance filmed in Brazil, Iván compared it to sex education in Spain:

¿Por qué es necesario el pin parental que Vox propone? Para que los padres puedan negarse a que sus hijos les enseñen este tipo de burradas. (…) Aunque lo que hayamos visto ahí sea una ‘performance’ es una burrada. (…) Así adoctrinan a menores de seis años en sexología en las escuelas de La Rioja.

Why is Vox's parental pin policy necessary? So that parents can refuse to let their children be taught ridiculous things like this. (…) Although what we see here is a performance, it is still ridiculous. (…) This is how children under six are being indoctrinated in sexology in schools in La Rioja.

Vox has been sharing hoaxes about the topics in the extra-curricular activities for a long time. Fact-checking website Maldita Hemeroteca [37] has compiled several of these hoaxes:

Bestiality, foot fetishes, homosexual relations between children: Vox incorrectly claims that these are what schools are teaching in order to defend their “parental pin”.

Available now at @Juliaenlaonda [38] https://t.co/x333wmnMge [39]

— MALDITA HEMEROTECA (@Mhemeroteca) 21 January 2020 [40]

Solving a non-existent problem?

The controversy doesn't seem to respond to a real demand from parents. Journalist Rosa Roda [41], who is from Murcia, wrote [42] that:

265.000 alumnos de Infantil, Primaria y Secundaria y ni una sola queja o denuncia registrada en la Consejería de Educación por actividades o charlas complementarias inadecuadas en colegios e institutos de la región de Murcia.

[there are] 265,000 children in pre-school, primary school or secondary school, and not one complaint or allegation was made to the Department of Education regarding unsuitable extra-curricular activities or discussions in schools in the region of Murcia.

The same can be said for Madrid, where Vox also intends to impose the parental veto:

The Minister of Education in Madrid (of the Partido Popular) has provided the following data regarding complaints made about discussions in schools: “With some 1,240,000 students, 53,000 teachers and 1200 schools, we have recorded ONE complaint made in writing and TWO on Twitter. This investigation was carried out and the result was that nothing had happened.”

— Adela Molina (@adelamolina) 20 January 2020 [43]

The controversy has been intensifying and peaked when Twitter suspended  [44]Vox's Twitter account for “inciting hatred,” when Vox told socialist MP Adriana Lastra that they weren't going to tolerate “public money financing paedophilia [45].” At the time of writing, the account remains suspended.

Twitter users were unable to resist pointing out the irony of this suspension:

Twitter applying the Parental Pin to Vox's account is in the running for the most poetic moment of the year.

— Miguel Montejo (@miguelmontejo74) 22 January 2020 [46]