Disappearing Students: the Miseducation of Romania’s Gypsies

We were sitting on the steps of some hidden monument flanking the Danube, which celebrated a long-ago victory over the Ottomans.  There were 8 of us there on the steps, 1 guitar, and no voices melodic enough to be enjoyable.  We compensated by singing some traditional Romanian song in unison, reading the lyrics on little slips of paper our friends had printed up. The environment was relaxed, touching on boredom.

Then the four gypsy boys arrived. They were young, 10 years old maybe, but their presence made the air so tense it could have been cut with a knife. The Romanians pulled their bags a little closer. Nobody said anything, but nobody turned their backs to the boys either. There was a Uruguayan volunteer in the group, and she invited the boys to sing with us; it did little for the Romanian’s nerves. The first boy to receive a slip with lyrics glanced at the paper and handed it back. “I can’t read,” he said.

Romania’s whites and its biggest minority, the gypsies, co-exist in a racial tension that mirrors the 1930’s south. Gypsies, called the Roma by the politically correct, tend to have less money, less education, and a higher unemployment rate. They have a reputation for crime and theft. More often than not, they live apart from their ethnic Romanian countrymen, in separate communities that are tight knit and closed with their own customs, dress, and even language. Each ethnicity likes to keep the other at arm’s length.

The racial tensions, cultural differences, and poverty produce a spectrum of problems broad enough to be its own college major. All of the problems, of course, are inter-related.  But where their ugly face cannot hide is in the education system. Huge numbers of gypsies barely go to school at all. A quick look at the numbers gives a sense of the story. From first to fourth grade, 13-16 percent of the Romanian student population is Roma. From fifth to eighth grade, it drops to 9-11 percent.  By the time the class reaches high school, only 2 percent of the class is Roma. That’s an effective dropout rate of 85%.

These are statistics that make Los Angeles Unified look functional. The problem is far from a simple one, but the thickest of its roots leads to poverty. World Bank statistics list that nearly 70% of the declared Roma live under the poverty line, and 20% live off less than 2 dollars a day.

The Roma Market in Craiova

Constin, a native of Calafat who gave only his first name, came from one such poor family. The fifteen year old boy had only finished three years of school.  By the time he was 12, he was accompanying his family to Spain every year to work as day laborers on the farms. “We can get more money there” he said. In Spain, Constin and his family members could earn up to 45 euros a day, while the number was under 15 euros a day in Romania, if there was any work at all. When asked if he wanted to finish school, Contin didn’t show a lot of interest. “I can read and write… making money for my family is much more important.” The 15 year old ended the conversation by asking for my spare change.

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3 Responses to Disappearing Students: the Miseducation of Romania’s Gypsies

  1. pH says:

    Fabulous! Loved the surprise of the first Post’One issue..The format inflates a piqued curiosity: effective video fly-over spreads out the story for perusal ( I dig the gypsy reprise of the theme music)…an opening paragraph opens the door into a deeper look while faces from the culture greet the visitor and invite future visits. Outstanding literary lay-out of a controversial situation, with memorable photography. This first issue provides a window into the future of “feature story” publishing.

    Bravo! I raise my glass to Postulate One, its two stars, and their production support team. Thank you for the bold web refreshment.
    Merci, vă mulţumesc!

  2. Scott says:

    As I was reading your great article, I was anxious to see what your concluding thoughts would be about possible solutions to the divide, and if you would come back to Cezara David’s comments.

    I think you’re spot on with your analyze of what one of the biggest issue is… integration and the Roma’s values.

    I know many casual observers would simply attribute the rift to the lack of opportunity or the financial inequality that they see. “Fix that”, many say, and all will be well. I think your ending thought is a much more astute observation and show than you were able to get a better understanding of the culture and values at play here. Refreshing.

    Ever read any of Lawrence Harrison’s essays? He’s a Harvard Professor and former director of the U.S. Agency for International Development in Guatemala, Haiti, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. In his recent book, he tackles the question of why some nations and ethnic groups prosper while others stagnate, in particularly North America versus Latin America, who both had tremendous raw materials.

    He finds the answer in a culture’s values. In his analysis, he comments on Mexico’s economic disaster and failure to build solid democratic institutions were due to its “Hispanic value system” which include a mistrust of outsiders and an overemphasis on family.

    Love Dennis Prager’s lecture on “E pluribus Unim” where he talks about the same thing – how America was the first time where “blood” didn’t matter. Wherein other countries, if you weren’t “blood”, they didn’t trust you. However, in the US, familism didn’t exist. If you could do the job, you were hired, regardless of your tribe or bloodline. I find the whole “melting pot versus quilt” discussion interesting.

    Anyway – great job providing a well rounded article guys and for not settling for easy answers on a problem that clearly doesn’t have any simple solutions. Keep up the great work!

    Oh…and would be curious to hear more of Gheorghe Sarau story and how he became so successful.

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