Are we living in a time of no-education?

Education forgot its ends during Modernity. Postmodernity is reversing this error.
If the Enlightenment’s educational project failed, today we find all the ingredients for its success.

Are we living in a time of no-education? This question arised from a conference made by Dr. Salvi Turró in 2014. It was entitled “Education and Enlightenment” and dealed with how the Enlightenment’s educational project simply failed. Kant, Schiller and Fichte were aware that education was being limited to the “erudition/scholarship/culture” elements, without taking into account the education ends.

According to Kant, there were three moments in the education of the child/youngster. First, a necessary negative moment: discipline learning. A second positive moment of competence and skills learning (afforded by the child’s cognitive development). This led to the third and last moment which relates strictly to education (Bildung) where we find personal autonomy, the sense of duty and the acknowledgement of rational human beings alike. This third level is what is known as being educated. If we limit education to the first two moments then we would be talking about mere training: the no-education. Educating implies the establishment of purposes that put everything together and shape human beings.

The main idea of the conference was that moral ideals were forgotten in children and youth education in favour of teaching technical knowledge and social sciences (the instrumental rationality). The Enlightenment forgot about Humanity’s ends which were precisely the elements on which it was rooted. This same problem was radically identified by Rousseau himself several years before as one of the biggest problems of human beings: a senseless education decorates our intelligence and corrupts our minds. (…) Huge buildings costly educate our youth teaching them all the things, except their duties.

education enlightenmentSchool of Application “J. J. Rousseau” in Colmar, France

At the end of the conference, the speaker posed the next question: If education today is based on the Information and Knowledge Society, Kant, Schiller and Fichte would say that our educational system is a system for no-education. Is it really that we are living a an age of “no-education”?

Modernity, which appeared after the Enlightenment, brought ends and moral (values) to society, but it ended up in barbarity (i.e: capitalism, positivism, socialism, communism, futurism, fascism and an excess of aesthetics). In the 21st Century, Postmodernity meant a crisis of these principles, and their atomization and liquation. But something wonderful is going on: the 21st century is opening its doors to knowledge, what the Enlightenment intellectuals were longing for humanity. Data is growing just as much as knowledge, rapidly and sometimes exponentially. And this is what is making impossible -yes, impossible- an education based on information transmission and on the Encyclopaedia. It’s absolutely useless now.

Nowadays, there is an active appropriation of contents by the student, a knowledge re-elaboration and also the necessary learning of skills (Kant’s negative moment of education). The traditional learning limits are surpassed. The informal education power is recognized and is stepping into the classroom, just like games, narratives and emotions. The classroom is being redesigned and connected to the world. The curriculum is no longer something to be taught in a linear and compartmentalized way. It is approached in an interdisciplinary and active manner. It has to be significative, collaborative, and situated through project activities and problem-based learning, with the help of real methodologies and tools.

There is a permeability like never before in the walls of formal education. Is there an alternative? Education is redefining its ends. The Information and Knowledge Society puts the Encyclopaedic education to an end and, step by step, it tends to the learning to be and to the learning to live together, two pillars of education that were fixed by the UNESCO reports.

All those failed ideals of the Enlightenment’s education project can succeed today. Education has to relocate Modernity’s no-education ways because they are of no use for today’s Humanity’s needs. I have the impression that there is a lot of hope and optimism for this readjustment. This is shown by the numerous educational initiatives worldwide, collective and individual and under several names and tags, that aim to reach to a wider audience.

The current educational project (or projects) should prevail over barbarity. But, as it occurred during the Enlightenment, we can still spoil it. I am afraid maybe we will have to talk about it in another time. For now, let’s retain this idea: “Man can only become man by education. He is merely what education makes of him. (…) It is delightful to realise that through education human nature will be continually improved, and brought to such a condition as is worthy of the nature of man. This opens out to us the prospect of a happier human race in the future.. (…) (Immanuel Kant, 1803).

Background music: Another Brick in the Wall (Pink Floyd, The Wall 1979):