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Adolfo Sánchez

Really learn

One day, almost twenty years ago, I received a call from the Réfous. It was Piedad to tell me to go to school because Monsieur wanted to talk to me. I was starting my working life as an industrial engineer in a pharmaceutical company, after having been in France, in a beautiful city called Aix-en-Provence, where, in addition to dusting off what I had learned in school French classes, I had studied beekeeping. Monsieur knew that I was filled with rage and sadness at having left the rooms where he taught mathematics to spend his days locked in a building, in front of a computer, in what I — with utmost contempt — called the corporate world.


Monsieur told me that he was going to open a vocational beekeeping course and wanted me to be the teacher. I was excited and immediately accepted. While we were walking around the school in search of the best place for the apiary, Monsieur told me that his grandfather had had bees and that he, as a child, had accompanied him many times to visit them; He told me that they did not wear suits or smokers, only the tobacco smoke that his grandfather smoked. After a while, we found the ideal place: it was a place near the orchard, where the mountain begins, a beautiful and a bit mysterious place, protected by a rock, surrounded by trees and flowers, with a privileged view to the east . A true refuge full of life.


After our walk, Monsieur taught me that a good class can never be like a "guided tour of a museum". He used as an example a philosophy class in which the students, instead of living the philosophy, sit down to listen to a teacher who says to them: “This is Socrates and these are his main ideas. On this other side is Plato ... ". He was emphatic that in the beekeeping course, the students had to do things, not me. It was not that I mounted an apiary on them and then took them for a walk to see the bees. They had to learn to do all the work that is really done in an apiary.


Learning to do things for real, regardless of whether it is something artistic, practical, manual, intellectual, abstract or concrete, is part of the essence of Réfous. Vocations and mathematics are excellent examples of this. When we learn to cultivate, weave, cook or work clay, we learn to do something for real, we have to get our hands dirty. In the same way, when we play with the strips, the colored arrows and the sets, we learn real mathematics. Exploring Pi dotted, P nine or the usual Topology is infinitely better than repeating the multiplication tables as automata or executing basic operations over and over again, if what you want is to learn to think really, with rigor and creativity.


Following Monsieur's instructions, I tried to make my students really learn to install an apiary, care for the bees and harvest the different products from the hive. Every Saturday, after talking to Monsieur, I met my students and together we walked to our classroom: a clearing in the woods where we read, discussed, played and shared food before lighting the smokers and preparing to enter the apiary . Without knowing it, each one of my students helped me regain a taste for life after that short stint in the dreadful world of large corporations. By teaching the art of raising bees I learned many things, I was happy and encouraged to make important decisions.


Shortly after having started teaching beekeeping at the Réfous, I decided to dedicate myself fully to education, no longer as a parallel activity but assuming the exercise of learning and teaching as my trade, as my way of life. I quit my job as an engineer, went back to university to do a master's in education, and kept going to the Réfous every Saturday. I think Monsieur liked my decision; He always supported me and encouraged me, but he also made me see how far I was from being a real teacher. Over time, and thanks to him, I understood that anyone can give an explanation, and that some people explain better than others, but that has little to do with being a good teacher. Being a good teacher is something much more complex than knowing how to explain well.


Every Saturday I came to school very early to speak to Monsieur before going to the apiary. He was always listening to music; I wondered if he knew what we were hearing and when I answered no, which was almost always, he taught me. Then I wondered what I had done again, what I had learned, what ideas I had for the beekeeping course and when we were going to have honey. I also wondered what I knew about a topic and my answer, as with music, was almost always that I didn't know anything. Monsieur wrote a reference on a cut-out card, handed it to me, looked at me and said to me in a firm voice: "For next week!" That was my task. Usually it was something of education, philosophy or mathematics.


We had those talks for about sixteen years. In the beginning, when I was a beekeeping teacher, we walked around the school while talking. Then, over the years, the walks became shorter and the time we spent sitting in one of the school gardens became longer. In the end, the last years, we stayed in the office all the time, we were no longer alone, there were many silences —which were by no means uncomfortable— and I stayed with him almost all morning. When Monsieur died, I felt a deep sadness, fear and a huge emptiness. How I miss those talks with Monsieur, my great teacher, whom I will always remember with infinite gratitude!

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