La práctica educativa laica en la escuela pública española (1931-1939)

Supervised by:
  1. María del Mar del Pozo Andrés Director

Defence university: Universidad de Alcalá

Fecha de defensa: 16 July 2012

  1. Alejandro Mayordomo Pérez Chair
  2. Verónica Sierra Blas Secretary
  3. Frank Simon Committee member
  4. Feliciano Montero García Committee member
  5. Alejandro Tiana Ferrer Committee member
  1. Ciencias de la Educación

Type: Thesis

Teseo: 331727 DIALNET lock_openTESEO editor


One of the guiding ideals of Spain’s Second Republic (1931–1939) was the principle of laicism or secularisation, whereby the Church was separated from State in an attempt to shrug off the Catholic influence which had for centuries been a key actor in the political sphere. There can be no doubt that this was one of the first republican executive’s most important and, possibly, riskiest undertakings, one which would meet with an energetic response from society at large. The policy of laicism implemented by the Ministry of Public Instruction has been widely studied, but the aim of this piece of research is to analyse from a historical-educational perspective how the lay project was actually executed in the republic’s educational practice. Never losing sight of the social context which marked the school’s daily routine, this thesis studies the introduction of these measures into the schools, the ways in which schoolmasters accommodated their praxis to ministerial directions, the orders of the General Board of Public Instructions, and the guidelines of the educational inspectorate. This thesis basically uses three approaches when analysing lay teaching in Spanish state schools. In the first place, a macro approach is used to take account of the general historical context. The process of change which Spain underwent in the 1930s is addressed from different perspectives which all affected education directly or indirectly: politics, society, culture and religion. To this end the historical-educational antecedents which defined Spain were explored in depth, as were the European influences on Spanish lay education and the impulses that came from lay movements campaigning for educational renewal. At the same time, we were able to distinguish three key stages in the legislative process of secularising Spain: the constitutive stage, the constitutional stage and the stage of constitutional development. At one level below the national political panorama the pedagogical perspective is to be found from which I study the model of the lay and republican citizen. As part of this meso approach, analysis is made of attempts to initiate the building of a modern man; at the same time a sketch is offered of the profile of the new republican child and of the messages transmitted through moral education in schools in order to achieve it. It was also necessary to explore the antithesis of the republican model, namely the view of conservative, Catholic man promulgated by the Church, if meaningful comparisons were to be made. Moreover, I researched the steps taken to implant the lay republican model from the offices of power to the schoolroom. To do so I considered three fundamental phenomena: the Pedagogical Weeks, which were essential for disseminating the message; the primary school inspectorate, spokesman of the lay message in every town and city in Spain; and the educational press, a veritable forum for information and opinion forming among Spanish state-schoolmasters. Finally, and of greatest importance to the thesis, there is the level of the lay teaching praxis on the part of the Republic’s schoolmasters. The school was a faithful reflection of the socio-political tensions which gave rise to the lay model in Spanish education under the Republic, and the schoolroom was transformed into a battlefield where the state-schoolmasters were plunged into prejudged in accordance with the secular/Catholic binary which defined Spain in the 1930s. Teachers became the object of praise or blame, were decried or applauded, admired or hated, even though their chief functions, irrespective of their religious or political ideals, were to improve the catastrophic educational panorama with its high rates or illiteracy and inequality and to regard the school as the place of educating men and women to be useful for society. That explains why my main source of information has been the 52,255 dismissal files of Spanish state-schoolmasters. As well as the accusations and penalties imposed on the schoolmasters as a result of the commencement of the lay school, the General Archive of the Administration also houses the main arguments, testimonies, proofs and explanation of how the Republic’s schoolmasters erected the main pillar of the reforms envisioned by the Ministry of Public Instruction. After demonstrating once more how history helps to understand the present and, what is more, to build a better future, the thesis ends by turning its eyes onto the twentyfirst century and pointing out how the controversy lingers on in Spain’s education system. Compulsory state education at primary and secondary levels is still engaged in intense debate over the presence of Catholic doctrine in educational institutions. It is my hope, and belief, that the historical-educational analysis offered by this thesis will one day contribute to finding a pacted and consensual social and political solution to the problem of the religious question in the classrooms of Spain’s state schools.