One of the peculiarities of our educational system is the high proportion of grade repeaters. About repetition we know that it is not so much a legal problem as a cultural one. Countries with legislation similar to ours in this matter, such as Denmark, show very low repetition rates. Logical, if one takes into account that it must be an extraordinary measure. On the other hand, we know that there is an important distance between repetition and competitions. Despite the commonplace that we are bad in PISA, the truth is that our student body is on an average close to the OECD. If something differentiates us, it is the lack of excellence, not the excess of lagging students. However, our repetition rates are very high. This means that students who do not repeat in Spain in OECD countries do. The case of Castilla y León is very striking, given that its levels of school failure and repetition have been high, while if it were a country it would be among the best in Europe. In addition, we are one of the most unequal countries in repetition. With equal competences, students of popular origins repeat three times more than those of high social origin. Above, repetition is not usually a path to improvement, but the first step to abandon the system. Without forgetting its high cost. On the one hand, for the educational system: all subjects must be taught again, and not only reinforce those in which there are difficulties. And personally: the students almost lose a year of their lives, because they will have to take part of what they already demonstrated that they know again.
Therefore, repetition as an educational measure takes us away from neighboring countries and is vitiated by social inequality, as well as expensive and ineffective. While few people in educational research support it, it is very popular. How to explain the dissociation between expert and popular knowledge? It could be that the experts don’t find out, despite the support of data and comparative evidence. It could be that what is good in other countries does not suit Spain, given our ancient carpetovetonic spirit. Or it may be that when we talk about repetition we are not talking about effective educational measures, but about other issues.
Proponents of repetition see it as synonymous with the culture of effort, but what does that culture consist of? It is a mixture of educational behaviorism and social brutalism. For behaviorists, we can do whatever we want with human beings if we design a good system of rewards and punishments. So if we want students to study, we establish the punishment of losing a year of life, breaking ties with friends and being stigmatized. A seamless plan. If it weren’t for the fact that meaningful learning, the one that transforms and lasts, doesn’t get along so well with behaviorism. Intrinsic motivation, recognition from the educational system of needs and concerns, educational support … in the long term generate better learning than punishment and reward. Advocates of repetition are an embers that the letter with blood enters.
As for brutalism, it exalts competition as a natural social order. It does not recognize that human beings are animals that live in community and take care of each other, but limits itself to seeing our dimension as wolves for other humans. So the strongest wolves are those who are entitled to the rewards, to appropriate a greater portion of the collective work that we produce as a society. Therefore, we must anticipate this brutal order in the classrooms, differentiating between “the sunk and the saved,” as Primo Levi would say, so that they know what awaits them outside. Thus, the school, instead of fighting brutalism, promotes it, in the name of excellence. A brutal excellence that led to two world wars. An excellence that confuses individual effort with the social and personal conditions that make that effort possible. That the most associated with educational success continues to be the cultic level of the families, that those of popular origins repeat more, is not “culture of effort”, it is trying to strain social inequalities as if they were individual responsibility, of “order of the nature of wolves. ”
Education should not be the field of ideological struggle, as the brutalists promote. We must look for new, more effective measures that reflect more sensitively what is known, instead of leaving it to an automatism such as the number of approved subjects.