Sunday, November 28

In defense of philosophizing

Just three years ago, the Proposition No of Law (NLP) to recover a complete cycle of philosophical content, which would cover from fourth year of Compulsory Secondary Education (ESO) to second year of high school, was supported by all parties of the parliamentary arch in Spain . The PNL was thus supported by the representatives of the Popular Party who, in this sense, opposed what they themselves had defended before through the so-called Wert law. However, in recent days it has been confirmed that the majority partner of the PSOE-United Podemos coalition government also intends to contradict itself on this matter. Unlike what he held in 2018, and against the criteria of the experts, he has proposed reducing the role of philosophy to a matter of civic and ethical values ​​of one hour a week and, in addition, suppressing the subject of philosophy which, as a subject Optional, it could be chosen by the students in the fourth year of ESO. If it is taken into account that the matter of civic and ethical values ​​does not necessarily have to be approached from a philosophical point of view, what these changes imply is that boys and girls who do not continue their studies can close their compulsory educational stage never having heard a word about philosophy in school. Surely this is regrettable. As regrettable as if the government decision consisted in suppressing, or reducing to a caricature, the hours devoted to the study of history, geography, art or classical culture, and otherwise as regrettable as it would be to propose the elimination of the practice of physical education in the curriculum.

Unlike what happened in the school fifty years ago, in which memorization prevailed, the organization of students was discouraged and they were placed as mere receivers at the end of the axis of content transmission with the teacher as provider not assessable, the current educational system, under the framework of a democratic society, places emphasis on the competence development of the students, the constant interaction between them and the teachers and the need for the evaluation to be accompanied by the self-evaluation of these last. At least in theory, what the model intends is to train boys and girls minimally so that they can function in the society of the immediate future and lead a meaningful life. We should all agree that the school should help to prepare socially, morally and ecologically responsible citizens, not obedient subjects, thoughtless selfish people, or barbaric workers. However, the exclusion of philosophy from this educational stage, parallel to the decline in the humanities not only in ESO, but also in high school, confirms that the type of core attitudes and competencies that we want to promote are none other than that the labor market demands, and not so much those appropriate to epistemic openness, the examination of the moral reasons for our actions, the constant questioning about our way of life or the search for a socially and ecologically just way of life for all.

The public school is a key part of the mechanism of social reproduction and today its democratic character cannot be doubted. However, as we also know, the ethos and neoliberal policies have permeated our societies for five decades and, in this sense, it would not seem sensible to argue that they have not also affected public education, what is taught, how, under what conditions and under what normative ideals. The truth is that they have done it and in multiple ways, with significant variations between the various stages of the educational cycle, and affecting all participants in the educational process, although doing it differently in countries with cultural traditions and levels of unionization among teachers. different. But amid the ruins of neoliberalism, to put it with the philosopher Wendy Brown, its lasting effects can still be recognized. In the present case, the design of the curriculum and the weight that legislators give to one subject or another come to coincide, in general terms, with the opinion of neoliberalism about the social world that it has contributed to generate: that the The economic reality is very harsh, that there is no alternative to capitalism, that the ecological scenario that awaits the young generations is a nightmare, that they will obviously live worse than their parents, etc. Faced with these apparently indisputable forecasts, it is said, the school, yes, public and democratic, cannot be up for quibbles. Therefore, you should not waste precious hours in the curriculum illustrating about the adventures of the spirit, encouraging students to wonder about the ultimate whys of the physical universe or the social world and, if you organize field trips or trips to the museum, has the obligation to verify that the students have extracted some kind of quantifiable learning through the corresponding cards.

But if the subtext that the students assimilate under the various contents is that all action must have the expectation of reciprocal action, be it in the form of reward or punishment, then the school institution does not escape the standard economic scheme according to which the initiative only it is carried out by the expectation of profit. In practice, it is true, this merely economistic understanding of school performance is canceled day after day by the work, generosity, empathy and ethical commitment of many teachers, who are the ones in the classroom, they look into the eyes of The students and they know better than anyone that they have in their hands the most fundamental, difficult and delicate task: helping to train people. However, there is something deeply unsatisfactory in considering not only the school, but also any public educational institution, exclusively as an appendage of production, as a nursery of producers and consumers, and today, in particular, as the mere springboard to launch, if you are lucky, to the uncertain waters of the world of work, and if you are not, to the stagnant waters of structural unemployment. After all, as Theodor W. Adorno argued, “only by virtue of their opposition to production, insofar as not entirely assimilated by order, can men give rise to a more worthy human production.” For the students, the school should offer, as should the home, both so close to their experience, a place for “a more dignified human production” or, in any case, – a place to plant the seed that they will be able to take it. out effectively one day. The school should be a refuge, one in which there is time to think not to dream — about the possibility of a different world and to gather certain resources for future resistance before the old world, with its routines and miseries, its thugs and creditors, their injustices and arbitrariness, their precariousness and disillusionment, definitely falls on young heads and young bodies.

The philosopher John Dewey argued that education consists of the formidable and always perfectible task of forming and giving effect to the fundamental intellectual and emotional dispositions of young people with respect to nature and society. In its Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education, picked up in a pragmatist vein the idea that philosophy can be understood as the general theory of education. Due to its protean and critical nature, due to its notorious lack of a privileged object of study, due to the fact that it incorporates the reflection that learning never ends, due to its unrepentant appeal to the reasons that assist us in discourse and action, Philosophy is close to the attitude of critical openness to the world of young people and is incorporated, with that patina of naturalness that the course of political history has granted us, to a way of understanding coexistence open to a democratic experimentalism that must be, in any case, respectful of human rights. If we stick to these reasons, then the proposal to banish the philosophy of the ESO curriculum is not simply wrong, but rather expresses a betrayal of the spirit of that public and democratic school, space of openness and refuge of freedom, that we all say defend.

I would like to conclude with one last and, I hope, decisive idea. In the return of conservatism that is seen everywhere, there is no shortage of supporters of a museum culture who defend the preservation of philosophy in the school curriculum as if thereby executing a bow of gratitude to what they call the roots of Western culture, the Sancta sanctorum of the knowledge of humanity, the sublime background of religious or artistic manifestations or, even, the ultimate foundations of the positive sciences. By expressing themselves in these terms, they project their gaze to the past, understanding philosophy as a discipline, a heritage, a set of contributions worthy of being remembered and not so much as a history mobilized by critics. However, the vindictive accent of this note wants to rest not on the past, but on the future; not in the old, but in the new; not in the callous men and women, who are back from everything, but in the young people who are still in school, learning, excited, and who have not yet had the opportunity to deny themselves, to become frustrated, to be brutalized. For this reason, I believe that, instead of defending philosophy as a heritage or result, as if its sentences had to be engraved in stone, we should defend it rather as an attitude of questioning towards life, as an attentive disposition to the world and to the men, as an inexhaustible desire for understanding. Philosophy, yes, but above all, philosophizing. Philosophy of and for specialists, yes, but to philosophize by and for all. On one occasion, the American philosopher Richard Rorty expressed this vocation for the future of philosophy in incomparably better words: “[…] Philosophy has absolutely nothing to do with eternity, knowledge or permanence, but it does have a lot to do with the future and hope, with the decision to grab the world by the neck and repeat once more than in this life there will always be something more than we have ever imagined. ”

So be it, at least, at school.

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