Last Sunday I went to see Alex Rigola’s production of Corolianus at Lliure. It was the first time I saw a Shakespeare without first reading the play but even so I could guess that something was very wrong as the performance only lasted for 75 minutes. The guy who appeared to be Corolianus’s main rival, Aufidius, was never seen on stage. Um, fishy! That sent me rushing to the library and I managed to squeeze the play within my crazy schedule this week (fancy reading Shakespeare on a noisy train full of schoolchildren, I must have seemed a complete nerd to the rest of the passage).
As I finished reading this marvellous play –thank you, Rigola, for the inspiration… – I thought that on that particular day the most important thing that had happened to me as a Literature teacher was getting acquainted with Coriolanus. Not my morning lecture, the later meeting with colleagues, the paperwork for the 2012-13 schedule. No. Reading that play, my 21st Shakespeare, had given my day the richness that I thought, when I was 18, all my days teaching Literature would have (or should have). Then I switched on the TV to watch the news, and the day changed completely. It was quite spoiled.
I had already heard that university tuition fees would go up next year but the increase announced on that day is quite outrageous. Our Humanities students pay now for a BA academic year 910 euros, 15% of the real cost of their public education (=6,000); this may be increased up to 66%, meaning that they might end up paying 1500/1660 euros, a 25% of the cost (depending on whether how many subjects they’re repeating they might pay the full amount per credit, 100 euros). If I think of England, where universities were allowed two years ago to charge up to 9,000 pounds, this is nothing (and, after all, 120-150 euros a month is still VERY cheap for a university education). Yet, I wonder at the insensivity of the politicians making a decision like this one at a point of deep, depressing crisis. Clearly, the idea is to expel as many working-class students as possible from our classrooms and, then, with the excuse of our having fewer students, terminate us, teachers, little by little. Here, in Catalonia, Generalitat has promised to turn 25% of the increased fees into scholarships but this is not enough.
I saw a minister of the current Spanish Government claim on TV that, despite being the product of a school with 40 children per class and of that overcrowded 1980s Spanish university in which you needed to rise up early to find a chair in 300-student classes, he was fine indeed. Well, he may be a minister but he’s NOT fine indeed if he thinks that going back 30 years in time is desirable. That other Minister claimed this week that with classes up to 25, children are insufficiently socialised, this is why they need 15 extra classmates… As a primary school teacher quipped, with 40 kids squeezed into classrooms meant for 25 they’ll have to socialise… or else.
In the end, that day will not make it to my personal history as a Literature teacher because I read Coriolanus, as it should, but because a further step has been taken in the demolition job that is fast destroying what has been achieved in the university by my generation and our elders in the last 30 years. I’m bracing myself for the many protests that I’m sure UAB students will soon stage and though I hate strikes I hate even more what’s been done to us collectively –I don’t mean the university, I mean Spain.
Someone please write a play about this soon, quick. How badly we need a Shakespeare! And how well Coriolanus still applies to our time (do read it, please…)