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UMEC-WUCT Council Oradea November 2017

Educating Today and Tomorrow: A Passion that is Renewed

Italo Fiorin*

ABSTRACT

The perennial tasks of education are to convey to the young generations the cultural heritage of the community they belong to and to provide them with the appropriate skills to play a full part in economic and social life on completion of formal education. Today, however, these tasks need to be rethought in the light of the challenges that the 21st century society poses to education. We can summarize the challenges as follows: competitive individualism; multicultural society and the globalization of indifference. To help the human person to become more human (J. Maritain) and to fully realize his potential, we must change the logic of the debate, replacing the paradigm of individualistic utilitarianism with the paradigm of service. The pedagogical proposal of Service Learning seems particularly interesting in this respect.

What does it mean to educate in the cultural and social climate in which we currently live?

I like the definition of a French philosopher of the twentieth century, a great friend of Pope Paul VI: Education means helping the human person to become more human (J. Maritain). To educate, therefore, means recognizing this profound human vocation, to which we cannot respond answer alone because no one is self-sufficient, least of all the little child who needs someone accompanying him in his growth process, helping him to recognize the meaning of life. Educationally, the verb to accompany is very important, both delicate and strong at the same time.

This is a task that demands great respect, great care, great wisdom. The difference between those who use authority to direct the lives of others and those who use it to help others become as autonomous as possible is summed up as the difference between being authoritarian and being authoritative.

The authoritarian person demands undue obedience arising from of fear of sanction; the authoritative person fosters individual freedom and is listened to because he is credible,speaking meaningfully to our heart.

Moreover, the meaning of word authority ('augere' to grow, replenish, donate abundantly) is about fostering the growth, not the subordination, of others.

Children are helped to grow by parents who do not impose their life plans on them but help them discover their own talents and vocation.

Students are helped to grow by teachers who do not ask them simply to repeat what they have said, buthelp students to think for themselves.

Teachers help children to grow by giving good example, encouraging them to overcome difficulties, giving them confidence and responsibility.

Every educator educates by being authoritative.Simply by the act of accompanying, the educator deals with some basic educational responsibilitiesregarding different dimensions of time: the past, the future, the present.

Looking to the past, the task of each educator is to transmit a cultural heritage. Again, in this case there is a Latin word to help us: 'traditio' (tradition, delivery, reliance on something precious).No man is an island, no one is born outside a culture, a people, a story. As adults, we have the duty of not dispersing the cultural heritage that over time has allowed our community to grow and develop.

Pope Francis repeatedly reminds us of the importance of recognizing our common humanity. We have communities with bonds of solidarity, communities with spiritual, social, and even artistic values. In a different but equally important way, school, family and parishes are called to this task of fostering tradition thus showing the roots of our identity to allow children to experience a sense of belonging.

The teaching of what has been and is considered to be important locates this sense of belonging in community. It fosters the development of identity, sets the conditions for a commitment not to weaken the importance of the past and to promote values in the new contexts of life, thus nurturing a sense of citizenship. In the multicultural and pluralistic society of today, this commitment is not lessened but is enriched, the limits of citizenship expand, the person is invited to become not only a citizen of one's own community or state but a citizen of the world.

Looking to the future, our task can be defined by the Latin word 'educare' (educate, draw out, and thus help to develop our human potential, that is, to help the person to structure himself in order to know how to entersuitably prepared into adult life). And this theme of accompanying to foster growth introduces the theme of challenges.

If once we sought to prepare young people with the indispensable tools to fit in with the adult world, today this task is made more difficult because everything changes so quickly that it is impossible to plan. It is about to teaching them to accept uncertainty without being discouraged, relying on what is long-lasting: learning to learn, thinking critically, belonging to a community, having values.

Since the rapid and deep changes that we see happening at every level of society (social, scientific, technological, economic ...) make obsolete quickly that which is taught, many states have opted to see education as a process of learning to learn, of developing general skills that are flexible and easily transferable. In addition, the horizon of learning has expanded to such an extent that it is now a life-long journey, going beyond the traditional years of schooling. But there remains a needto keep together reference to the past and openness to the future. Otherwise we run the risk of a maintaining education systems defined only by the functional needs of an evolving market. The educational system cannot have the market as its sole reference point, reshaping school life to the demands of the economic world.

Looking to the present, education cannot be limited to the transmission of a cultural and values patrimony or to the preparation of children and young people for adult life: between the past and the future education takes now; it is happening as we speak in every person who learns, here and now, and for whom care and accompaniment are guaranteed. In this sense, education can be defined as an encounter and is developed in relationship with the other.

The delicacy of this task was expressed very well by Don Lorenzo Milani, a great educator who understood the option for the poor. In the small hamlet of Barbiana (in Tuscany) he founded a school open all year long for those 'on the margins of society'. This school offered pupils the cultural means to overcome a poverty which made them live like slaves.

The school sits between the past and the future and must have them both present in its way of working. It is the delicate art of walking a tight rope: on the one hand, to form respect for the law in them; on the other, to have better laws, that is, in the political sense (Don Lorenzo Milani).

Giving respect for the law was intended to prevent Barbiana's children from going down the path of criminality; giving a political meaning to their life meant teaching them to fight for their rights and for a better society. Education was understood as a means of social redemption and humanization. But how was this possible? What was the method of Don Lorenzo Milani?

Friends often ask me how I manage to run schools and how I get them full. They insist that I write down my method for them, that I make explicit the programme of study, the subjects, the teaching technique. The question is wrong, they should not worry about what they have to do to run schools, but how they have to be as human being in order to run schools.

Challenges for Education

If the demands of education are not new, however, the context in which educational action is located is new. Obviously, it is a question of knowing how to interpret traditional and basic missions in an abstract way, as if people lived in a bubble that was not in touch with the real world, but measured by the new challenges that the current context raises.

a) The challenge of competitive individualism

Today, education is threatened by a large model capable of responding to the challenges raised by change and which has made many promises to young generations.This model makes education subservient to the demands of the economy. This is noticeable when we consider how there is emerging in the school a great consensus that 'the market' should dictate the direction of the school curriculum, determining the 'skills' deemed indispensable. The skills to be developed concern useful skills ie responding to the demands of the market demand. The overvaluing of 'useful' knowledge does not in itself lead to the disappearance of other knowledge less readily available, but certainly is a downgrading of its importance.A neighbor of mine who teaches arts at a technical college, told me that one morning her students asked her, Teacher, what's the purpose of poetry?

What is poetry, what is art for?We live in a world dominated by the criteria of utility.

Knowing how to be in the world means knowing how to look after your own interests, no matter if these come at the expense of others.

The millennium just ended saw the world upset by the great world wars. It saw the collapse of the dominant ideologies of Nazism, fascism, communism. The place of the ideologies that deluded people has not been taken by ideals that seek to renew the world, but by a widespread disillusion, a lack of passion, or, as some say, from the sad passions, from disillusionment.

But maybe that is not so; it's not just as simple as that. Not all ideologies are finished.

An ideology, very strong and widespread on the planet, has set itself up as the only valuable ideology: unbridled capitalism, without limits and without other values beyond profit at all costs.

Nowadays, money is the rule that measures the world. The rule is money and profit.

Profit, to take advantage of not only opportunities but also others. The same relationships between people are linked by interest and utility; they are functional. We are together for mutual interest.

I am looking for you, I attend to your needs, I show you interest, sympathy, admiration because I expect benefits from it. I do not need you anymore, I do not want you anymore.

And who is the successful person? The ideal of success is set out in economic terms (making money) of power (being important) of appearance (being admired).

The school now risks being unable to resist the call of these siren voices. It sometimes feels that a good school needs to find recognition from the outside. It must accredit itself as truly and uncritically responsive to the demands of the economic world.

Once all of this happened through the mechanism of conformism. The ideal of the 'head well-filled' was cultivated, knowledge was transmitted through passive didactic styles (the lesson was studied and repeated, grades given not for the performance but for the person, selection as a tool for skimming ...). Pupils were taught to repeat the words of the teacher and the school manual, not to think for oneself, but to reproduce the thought of others.

Today, this model is no longer held 'useful'. It is not responsive to the demands of a modified economy that needs 'human capital', which does not look for executives but professionals, and therefore requires another type of training.

From the 'full head' we have gone to the 'head well formed'. No more knowledge, but skills, no more erudition and reproduction of lessons we have listened to, but the processing and reworking of skills, of problem-solving and entrepreneurship. This seems a step forward, a remarkable improvement. But the ideal of success proposed has not changed. Even today it is thought that the motivation of young people is their career. The paradigm of usefulness seems to impose itself as a natural, indisputable paradigm. But is it so?

Professor, what's the purpose of poetry? the pupils ask.

My neighbour, the teacher of the arts, replied this way:

Nothing, unless you take care of your soul.

The educator has this great mission: that he is called to nourish the soul, to distinguish what is simply useful from what is indispensable and essential, to help those entrusted to him and not to lose sight of this value. Because man does not live by bread alone.

b) The challenge of a multicultural society

Globalization is not an entirely new phenomenon, but today it is characterized by complexity and continuous, rapid, unpredictable transformation. If one could say that every village was a world (within which many people spent the entire lifetime) today it is obvious to everyone how the world is becoming a village. It is in this world-village that challenge becomes ambivalent, both as risk and as opportunity.

The multicultural dimension of everyday experience is often perceived as a threat: living with people who have not only different cultural origins, different points of reference, different habits and needs seems an unsustainable enterprise especially if it comes at the cost of the loss of something which we feel is our own, whether in material, spatial or symbolic terms. We are unwilling to make room to encounter others, we fear our own identity will be radically threatened, leading to an embrace of an increasingly embittered localism and the construction of new walls with varying degrees of symbolism. Alongside this defensive and closed-minded way of defending an identity oft-proclaimed but not fully understood, there is another way of responding to the challenge of globalization. This happens when it slides into a more equal way of living, where all diversity is lost, absorbed into a melting pot where individual faces vanish and a semblance of identity is given by being consumers in the same market, viewers of the same show and connected to the same WhatsApp group.

Increasing inequalities fuel social conflict, the presence of the world's poor in our cities is perceived as a threat to our uncertain prosperity, so ethnic conflicts grow (as do religious ones because the culture and religion of the other are exploited and denied).

We are concerned and ask ourselves: where will this unbridled racein which rationality (ie the search for efficiency and effectiveness in pursuit of our goals) is not accompanied by reasonableness (ie from questions about the meaning of our choices)take us?

Without denying the foundation of fear created by uncertainty and insecurity, can this be enough to forget basic principles of humanity, even before those of rights? As Enzo Bianchi (Prior of the Monastic Community of Bose, in Piedmont (Italy), writes, it is such emergencies that reveal the true roots from which we feed and help discern words from the facts. And this is particularly true of...