The Future of Education May Not Include Schools

Paul Boyce published today (August 18, 2019) an article in the site of the Foundation for Economic Education with the following title: “Schools Are Outdated. It’s Time For Reform” (https://fee.org/articles/schools-are-outdated-its-time-for-reform/).

For those who are native speakers of English, there may be no ambiguity in this title. For those of us who are native speakers of Spanish and Portuguese, there is. As a matter of fact, there may be more than one ambiguity.

First:

The verb “to be” can be translated into Spanish or Portuguese as “estar” or “ser“. It makes a great difference which way we translate it.

A National Secretary of Education (Minister of Education) in Brazil, once said, when threatened with dismissal by his boss, the President: “That is ok: I merely ‘estou / estoy‘ Secretary, but I really ‘sou / soy‘ a teacher and a professor”.

Estar” refers to a transient, accidental condition; “ser” refers to a permanent, essential state.

When we say “Schools Are Outdated”, what do we mean: that they, at present, need to be updated to a new version of “schooling”, OR that they are, in their essence, something that does not fit into the present world? It makes a difference how we understand (and translate) the phrase. A huge difference.

Second:

The term “Outdated” is also somehow ambiguous. It may mean that the present version of something is not the latest, there is a new one in the market (like in “your version of x is outdated: download the most recent one in y’s site”), or it may mean that the something of which we are speaking is hopelessly anachronic, has no place in the contemporary word.

Boyce’s Apparent View:

Paul Boyce apparently understands “are” (in the title) in the sense of the Spanish or Portuguese “estar” and understands “outdated” in the sense that we need to “update” schools to the latest version of the “hardware / software” combination presently called school: update them to “new schools”, or to “innovative schools”. Paul Boyce speaks of “reforming” schools.

My View:

If Paul Boyce indeed thinks so, I disagree with him on both counts.

I think schools are, in their essence, and not only in their present incarnation, something totally anachronic and uncalled-for in this new era in which we are living. What we need is not a reform (or reformation) of the school, but its radical transformation (or transform) into something totally different from what we now have, something that amounts, in reality, to the substitution of what we now have by something totally new.

There is no doubt that, in creating something drastically new, we need to take into account what once was and learn from it — especially in a negative way, lest we repeat its errors.

John Dewey once said (in the Summary of Chapter 6 of Education and Democracy):

“Education may be conceived either retrospectively or prospectively. That is to say, it may be treated as process of accommodating the future to the past, or as an utilization of the past for a resource in a developing future.”

I agree with Dewey up to a certain point. He, of course, thought that this “Future-developing education” was “Progressive Education”. I think he was wrong on two counts. First, Progressive Education was not nearly radical enough for the task of creating a new future. Second, we have learned that it is not education alone that builds the future, but it is a host of allied forces: social, cultural, political, economic, technological. Looking back to Dewey’s time, its future has been created and we are it. And although education is terribly relevant at present (Dewey’s future), schools are not (not even the most progressive schools). Social networks and social media are.

How can we rebuild education in a society without schools? Ivan Illich and Paulo Freire were already asking that 50 years ago — although they themselves may not have fully realized how radical they were.

In São Paulo, on August 18, 2019

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