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libreria ingegneria

12 Apr 2019

The big shot: investing on education

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Let’s talk about the smallpox vaccine, frescoes on the Sistine Chapel ceiling, landing of the Mars Rover. Who made all of this possible? Weapons of mass destruction, global warming, international terrorism. Who made all of this possible? What about the two world wars, the discovery of penicillin, the religious wars and the drafting of fundamental human rights? Who is responsible for all of this?

We are stuck in one of those rare contexts in which the simplest answer to these questions is also the right one. Man is responsible. And when I say man I don’t mean it as a single individual, of course, but as a species. The “homo sapiens-sapiens” brought these miracles on Earth as well as he brought these wounds. But how is it possible that the same man who talked about nonviolent resistance, was also able to drop the bomb on Hiroshima? What makes men so different from one another?

Before getting into the substance of this essay, I invite you, the one reading this text not to interpret it as the claim to give a final and definitive answer to the topic discussed below. This essay should be interpreted, firstly, as food-for-thought that can direct the minds of readers towards a critical evaluation of the presented thesis, and secondly, it should stimulate as many minds as possible to operate and collaborate for the concrete design of the general solution shown below.

The French philosopher Hippolyte Taine believed that the actions of individuals are determined by three elements: historical context, genetic makeup, and socio-cultural context. The first element considers the historical context in which we live like a consequence of the past history, and since we are not able to change the past we must be pleased to act on this lever (the history lever) by trying to leave a good past history to our posterity. Therefore, giving Taine's assumptions for good, unless someone wants to try to modify human action starting from the modification of the human genetic make-up, the only element that can be conditioned in the short run is the socio-cultural context. In fact, the necessary tools to improve a person’s life is held by a multitude of institutions and one above all is the State. The State, in its modern meaning, has a series of point of strength that are useful to modify the socio-cultural conditions of the individual belonging to it. One point of strength in particular goes through the welfare state. More precisely, the welfare state is that characteristic of modern States, aimed at reducing social inequalities through health care, social security, environmental protection and through public education. Anyhow, it is not important, given the aim of this text, to specify if the school system is dependent on the State or not. All that matters is to observe that, given the current state of affairs, one of the most incising ways of influencing human action, whether you consider man as an individual or as a species, it is through a socio-cultural influence. Today this influence is mainly exercised by the State through the modification or consolidation of the welfare state and, in particular, through the school education leverage.

Our goal is to improve the world, but it seems that our political leaders hardly know where to begin. Some might say that they want to start solving the problems of the world by reducing the scope of war conflicts currently under way, or trying to stop the inexorable melting of the glaciers. Someone might try to solve the problems of a country by trying to reduce the unemployment rate or by blocking organized crime. These potential initiatives have a common flaw: they are palliative. It may be sad to admit it, but as has been established at the beginning of this essay, the common cause of these evil is the man so that the greatest evils that we are fighting today were caused by ourselves. So, what if we try to start right from the beginning? What if we decide to change the world investing in education? It is the best point of view, seeing education as one of those points of strength with the highest potential to influence human action, but it is also one of the most underestimated ones. The fact that we should start from school education to change society (and the "World Society") might seem obvious to someone and underestimated and insufficient to others.

mandela editFirst of all it is important to point out that, if the school education point of strength has such an incisive power to make common this essay, the problems that afflicts humanity certainly show that we are not making proper use of this incentive for the global level. Whoever considers it obvious that to solve mankind’s problems it is necessary to focus on the tool of education, should be horrified by the concrete form that the school assumes for millions of children today. The school has usually turned in a depersonalizing and cold institution, pushing young minds to an iniquitous and frustrating confrontation, usually for its own sake. The processes of studying and learning become tedious activities to be carried out unwillingly and to be undertaken in a completely passive and uncritical way. School tries to fill the minds of the students with notions, as if they were buckets to be filled. Knowledge turns into a vote, the student transforms it into the average of votes he or she has obtained and then, about moral education, civic and ethics is not dedicated any kind of resource. It looks like we have arrived in full opposition to the system devised by Thales, in the sixth century BC, materialized in the Ionian School. A system in which a teacher and several learners, linked by a bond of love and mutual respect, in opened and stimulating dialogues, freely used to discuss not only mathematics, physics and astronomy, but also of politics and ethics. For historical correctness, it is specified that until the advent of Aristotle, all these subjects were synthesized in just a single word: “philosophy”, word whose etymology says a lot about the ancient Greek way of thinking, to the letter it means "love of wisdom". The writer is totally aware that every institution is an expression of the historical context that generated it. Therefore, a utopian restoration of the Ionian school is not suggested. But for us who live in the era in which we know the price of everything and the value of nothing (cited O. Wild) it would be appropriate to start observing how much the education that is generally given in today’s schools is far from the original archetype, and how much the school system has been enslaved and violated by the market system in which it is fitted. The aim of these words is not to underline the job of all those good teachers and professors who have spent their life working in schools, since undoubtedly there are thousands of teachers doing their best given the current state of affairs.  Anyway I want to invite as many readers as possible, teachers included, to observe that in the current state of things, the school system and the way we think about school education needs an urgent revision. There is no doubt about it, since nowadays (OECD data, year 2017) 56% of students belonging to the OECD countries admit to being "very anxious" for the tests although they are prepared, 66% of students is constantly worried about grades and 19% feels uncomfortable at school. When you interpret this data, try not to commit the error of " Trilussa’s chicken ". In fact, it should be noted that in many countries the maximum percentages are even higher than those previously reported (the percentage of Italian students who accuses a state of great anxiety before a test touches the 85%, and 93% of US students face school with a "super competitive" attitude, against 97% of Thai students). The analysis becomes even more interesting when you realize that not even the OECD surveys include elements related to another dimensions of the individual education and personal growth that should be deemed to be essential. Indeed there is no trace of items such as the capacity to develop students’ critical spirit, curiosity for knowledge and relationship skills at school, and this should be sufficient to justify the words of Roger Waters when he says "Hey teacher leave us kids alone ".

On the other hand, I remind those who consider inadequate a plan whose aim is enhancing our quality of life starting from a change in the educational institutions and from a modification in the way in which the concept of school is globally conceived today, that the main fractures in global history have been the daughters of cultural change. Effectively, cultural revolutions have periodically changed the face of the World. A cultural revolution, by definition, can be considered as such under two conditions: firstly, new ways of thinking and interpreting reality that calls into question the dominant thought must be established. Secondly, this cultural spark must use a vector to spread and proliferate. History leaves us numerous examples on this topic: just think about the Protestant Reformation, which led Europe to the Wars of Religion, at the end of which (Westfalia, 1648) Modern Age begun (spark of the Protestant reform: Luther's 95 Thesis; vector: Gutenberg press).  You can also take into account the diffusions of the ideals of nation and liberalism in Europe, which led to the ‘48 revolutions and to the born of new States in the second half of the 19th Century (spark: Enlightenment thinking, vector: Napoleonic Empire). Furthermore, consideration should be given to the spread of consumer culture, which has influenced and characterizes today most of the OECD countries (spark: US economic and technological development, vector: US soft power). Besides, in the power of school education were aware many leaders of the past, some of whom were unfortunately capable to set up solid dictatorial regimes thanks to the use of this ladder. Textbook examples of it are both related to Benito Mussolini, who came to power in Italy in October 1922 and reformed the school system already in 1923 ("Gentile Reform"), and Adolf Hitler, who became chancellor in 1933 and reformed German school as early as in January 1934. Both the fascist and the Nazi regimes introduced both extra lessons of history, so to give children a distorted perception of their country’s history and to rebuild their world view, and also physical education, in order to reinforce young people’s bodies and spirits. Indeed, providing education to young children was considered crucial for the solidity of both regimes. These gruesome examples allow us to appreciate the scope of the potential connected to school education, and to understand how an effective use of this tool is capable to modify human action and, from a wider perspective, the same course of history. Obviously, a change as big as the one desired could not be the result of a simple school reform: a redefinition of the concept as well as of the functioning of school itself would be necessary. So just imagine the impact that a sort of slow but profound cultural reform could have on the life of millions people in the next few years (we say reform instead of revolution, because in this case it would be consciously undertaken).

Finally, a reform that starts by redefining the concepts of education, culture and ultimately school (which in this case would be both the spark and vector of change), could undergo a great improvement process. School would eventually turn into a meeting place for young minds that, guided by teachers/mentors, could not only pursue a passive learning process based on a superficial factual knowledge. As a matter, young people could also grow from a moral, ethical and civic point of view, learning to dialogue, to criticize and to fall in love with culture every day. In a world in which people are accompanied to knowledge and not forced to memorize concepts, a world in which school does not arouse anxiety but fascination and curiosity, we would learn about the world and we could grow without prejudice. Thanks to a school where people try to grow up and not to be promoted, where they get used to criticize and not to judge, the quality of human life will grow exponentially, and not only we would prepare the ground for a world in which solutions to the problems that afflict humanity could be found, but the emergence of new, tragic, contingencies would be limited too.

 

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