Education is a complex thing that can be tackled on many fronts. In it, as in soccer, in addition to players —professionals and fans— there are also regulators, businessmen and commentators. While some people learn and teach, others write laws, some focus on statistics and others on giving opinions and interviews; there are even politicians who use the word education as a campaign slogan. I am convinced that what is truly constitutive, that without which there would not be education, are those magical moments in which someone, thanks to her effort, manages to understand what she did not understand or do what she could not do before. Therefore, I will focus on those wonderful moments to speak to you, réfousianos, whom I feel close even without knowing you, about the beauty of education and to invite you to continue learning the rest of your lives.
Try to remember the time when you were able to do something for the very first time: ride a bike without wheels, swim without a float, read continuously, communicate with someone in a language other than your native language. Who had that incredible, though elusive feeling of finally understanding MM7? I remember very well the sparkle in the eyes of some of my students when they finally understood what a sistema fundamental de vecindades was. Can you imagine how wonderful it is to live those moments daily, in your own flesh and through those who learn with you? Well, that's the life of a teacher and that's why the joy of his students ends up being his own joy. Thanks to Monsieur Jeangros I understood that dedicating your life to education is living in search of those magical moments and that makes your life beautiful.
Someday, when you were babies, you discovered that your mother smiled at you if you smiled at her and that she responded when you made a sound. At that time, you were already immersed in a teaching and learning process. Thanks to this serve and return game, as Professor Jack Shonkoff (2016) calls it, you created and strengthened neural connections, and by doing this, you built, literally, part of the architecture of your brain. Professor Shonkoff and his team at the Center on the Developing Child, at Harvard University, say that we can continue learning throughout our life. While it is true that the ability to develop our brain through learning experiences is very high during our first years of life and then it gradually decreases as we age, and that it requires more and more effort on our part, it never becomes zero while we are alive. We can always keep learning and every time we do it we keep building and strengthening ourselves, at any age.
Understanding education in terms of the magical moments that I have already talked about makes me value immensely the pedagogical approaches that allow us to learn just for the pleasure of learning, for those approaches allow us to move away from the primarily utilitarian vision of education. However, it seems that the idea that the main purpose of education is to improve the possibilities of people to enter the labor market is taking more and more strength and therefore, only what is useful, in an economic sense, should be taught. From that sad and very limited perspective, research and efforts to achieve a better education should focus on finding increasingly efficient ways to attain better performances, which, in turn, translates into higher scores on standardized tests. I don't think it is wrong to prepare people for work, but I do think it is a mistake to assume that this is the ultimate goal of education. I understand that, for those who do not live the daily challenges and joys in a classroom, or in any other place where teaching and learning truly happens, it is difficult to understand that good education has little to do with standardized tests, rankings or institutional accreditations.
In his book, What Money Can't Buy, Professor Michael Sandel (2012) denounces the intrusion of the market mentality in almost every area of the human experience. In education, for example, he presents the case of a school in the United States that implemented the strategy of paying children money for each page they read, in order to increase reading indicators. The fact that many people judges this as something positive shows that education has the challenge of escaping from the entrepreneurial vision to avoid being reduced to a simple mechanism that nullifies the beautiful complexity of the human being for the sake of efficiency. Ernesto Sábato (1951), in his book Hombres y engranajes, and Jean-Michel Besnier (2012), in his book L'Homme simplifié, warned us, long ago, of the dangers of reducing the human being to a productive and interchangeable unit whose life can be measured in terms of indicators of development.
Human beings have to aim higher, you have to aim higher, and education must ensure that these aspirations can come true. You and I were fortunate enough to study at a school that keeps people safe, as much as possible, from that voice that lulls them to sleep while it tells them what they can aspire to, how much they have to consume, and ultimately how they should live. At Colegio Réfous education is taken seriously, that is why we are treated as students and not as clients, that is why they are demanding and they never give us anything that we have not earned with effort, and thanks to all this we learn that we are capable beings. At our school we learn that you can live in different ways, walking along the path that each of us chooses, without having to adjust to what already exists, learning all our lives. How fortunate we were to have grown up at Colegio Réfous, which is the work and life of the great Roland Jeangros!
Besnier, J. M. (2012). L'Homme simplifié: Le syndrome de la touche étoile. Fayard.
Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University (2016). From Best Practices to Breakthrough Impacts: A Science-Based Approach to Building a More Promising Future for Young Children and Families. Retrieved from www.developingchild.harvard.edu
Sábato, E. (1951). Hombres y engranajes. Emecé.
Sandel, M. J. (2012). What money can't buy: the moral limits of markets. Macmillan.