Never let formal education get in the way of your learning.
Walking through the long path of education—as a student, as a teacher, as a researcher apprentice, and as a human being—I remember coming across many wise people that have left marks on my journey. One of the most special encounters was the one I had with English philosopher Iris Murdoch, and her words on education. According to Murdoch, neither education nor freedom are the ways to real happiness. More accurately, Iris Murdoch claims that far from being the formula for prestige and happiness, “ education may [rather] be the means by which we realize we’ re happy. It opens our eyes and ears, tells us where delights are lurking, convinces us that there is only one freedom that is essential to happiness, the freedom of the mind.” This beautiful encounter didn’ t occur in person or through her books, much less inside the classrooms in which I was educated. Coincidentally, I discovered Iris Murdoch through Richard Eyre’ s film Iris (2001), and as many other wonderful authors, texts, thoughts, and histories, her words came to me outside of school.
This brings us to the discussions and the subject leading these columns: education. Going back to the roots, we hope to explore its real meaning: from the Latin bas: educare, “ to lead,” “ to bring up” through simple thoughts, quotations, and most importantly, questions around the concept of school and academy as an old synonym of education. All this means that the landscapes we aim to explore may join groups of people that question the classroom as the best way to learn and to build up a human being in touch with his or her society, his or her world, and his or her self. It seems appropriate to point out that it is time to realize that the first image that has come to mind with the word “ education” in the West, and in our times, is its vanishing little by little. The reasons are not simple or few. The school system around the world is in crisis, it is not accessible to everybody, it has got big limitation, and, ultimately, it needs to evolve.
To those attentively reading and observing current events, it will not be hard to explain that these won’ t be words trying to put aside the achievements of academia. The goal—as it is in all pursuits for knowledge—is to observe all the ways in which the real spirit of education can metamorphose and present to all of us. Out of the walls of the school, we still cultivate ourselves. And now, with the advances of technology and communication, along with the fast way in which so many worlds are approaching one another, a real awareness of the nature and the peoples surrounding us is not only desirable, but also necessary.
What are the challenges of the schools in the world of today? I don’ t think I would have enough space to construct a fair review of the questions made by the experts. Nevertheless, some facts will suggest how it is urgent to think of new ways to build critical minds and cultivate citizens of the world. According to UNESCO, 71 million out-of-school adolescents of lower secondary-school age are excluded from any level of education. Also, from this huge number, young women make a tragically high percentage. We see how a space dreamed by leaders and philosophers stays back with the passing of time, denying its advantages to those without resources, while leading to marked paths full of unquestionable truths to those who actually can access it. Where I came from, the school consecrated all efforts to build a good citizen, whatever that meant to a country whose identity is still in a
dramatic construction of itself. This model can be seen in almost every nation, with changes depending on the goals of the movers-and-shakers of every society. The most obvious problems started when the school became a big collection of grades, dates, formulas and facts that far from inspiring and stimulating, bored and leaded to a disappointing lack of interest in almost anything.
This is how new hopes for education grow everywhere. From experiences through non-formal education (an organized system of learning out of school) to the fascinating ramifications of informal learning (happening almost everywhere through daily life) education keeps changing its features. With these new strategies, we go back to the basic ideals of learning and education, and we open a door that encourages new trails that lead to knowledge outside of school. Through this quest, technologies have been the right-hand man (or person if we keep the ideal of equality) of education, from the invention of the printing press to the Web 2.0. Observing these tools in the pursuit of knowledge and the building of a universal conscience will also be one of our objects through the experience of this space dedicated to divulge information about the world and about ourselves.
We also aim to point toward new projects, ideas, and concepts, mostly those exploring and questioning what is normal in some societies and what is exotic in others, while defending those who suffer intolerance because they are not understood. Taking the words of a good interpreter and communicator of philosophy, Alain de Botton on Michel de Montaigne, we should greet the diversities of the world, face prejudices, and loosen the grip among cultures, not only opening our minds, but also letting know the narrowness of our own. With a global perspective on our own behavior, we grow more accepting toward others and of ourselves. We live side by side in ways we have never lived before, and this empowers cultural exchanges as a means to avoid an anxious relationship with our roots as a way to close the eyes on a big world that, in reality, belongs to all of us. As all the paths lead once to Rome, the key of peace and understanding we need urgently seems to be education— a new, evolved, and critical education ready to free the mind. Let’ s hope for the best in this exciting journey, since it is one of those that are made walking barefoot, slow, and patiently to an end impossible to discern by the human eye.