The doubts and crises we are experiencing with regard to education- and teachingrelated issues mean that we have to look for new solutions. Some experts, such as psychologists, educationalists and theorists, concentrate on techniques, structures and methodologies. They study the nature of the difficulties and suggest new directions. Observing the gaps between parents and children, parents and school, teachers and students, and schools and the social environment, they outline methods of communication and relational strategies that should make it possible to ‘connect’ spaces, parties and institutions facing similar difficulties. Numerous books, studies and reports have been published in both the North and the South in an attempt to face up to the crises of authority (both within the family and at school), communication and transmission. They attempt to outline a new approach to a system that is being forced upon us by the imperatives of globalization, the attractions of a hypertrophied individualism, the pressure to produce results and the dominance of mass communications that provide no opportunity for any real dialogue. Institutions are being created to support and counsel struggling parents, psychologists are sent to listen, advise, support and, ultimately, ‘communicate’. Teaching methods are being revised, curricula are being reformed and selection procedures are being reorganized in an attempt to get better results, or least limit the damage that has been done. A deep and widespread feeling of unease has set in. Precisely the same situation can be observed in the countries of the South, at the heart of the more traditional societies of Hinduism, Buddhism and the three monotheisms. They may not have the resources that are needed to rethink the whole system or to reform the family and the educational system, but they often hide behind a veneer of ‘preserved’ traditions or the ideals of their spiritual and religious teachings, which they repeatedly evoke to avoid the need to contemplate the deep crisis affecting both the family and the educational system. It is the same from South America to Asia: the ideals of ‘the family’, ‘education’, ‘knowledge’ and ‘equality’ are celebrated in the abstract, but the reality is much more bleak: families are breaking up, heritages are being lost, and memories are fading away. Knowledge (which should, it is to be hoped, include meaning, ideas and critical thinking) is increasingly reduced to know-how, and equality through education and schooling is no more than wishful thinking.
Our relationship with memory and history is one index of the depth and scale of the crisis in education. This will be the subject of the next chapter, and we will simply note here that globalization seems to produce one constant: we are living in a new world culture, and it is a culture of speed and the instantaneous. Our world’s younger generations are cruelly lacking in historical knowledge and have a very uncertain relationship with ‘memory’. No matter whether we refer to memories of past events, of repetitions and cycles, or to traditions and roots, our relationship with the heritage and teachings of the past has undergone a revolution. We are being swept away by the ‘novelty’ of the present and engulfed by the ‘progress of the future’. Our families and schools, which have a responsibility to pass on the heritage of the past, are, of course, the first victims. The crisis affecting them has to do with the fact that our memories lack any sense of history.
In our search for solutions, we often go back to the basics that have been common to all spiritualities for so long. If we turn to the old African and Asian traditions, we can always find Creation ‘stories’ and other narratives that often use symbolic human figures to personify the meanings of the rites and teachings they describe. The gods of Olympus and ancient Rome served the same function and acted as archetypes with which both men and women could identify. The Hindu, Taoist and Buddhist traditions abound in gods and spiritual guides who, like Siddhârta, act as mirrors and reflect or serve as living examples of what we are and give us a sense of what we could or should be. Judaism, Christianity and Islam use and extend the same educational model: their prophets and saints are role-models who, through their lives, experiences and example, teach the principles of life and good behaviour, and the meanings of personal and social success. The ‘model’ function is a central part of all spiritual and religious traditions: it allows us to identify, and instils values through experience. The model and the values it conveys also indicate that we really can achieve our goals, and give the fundamentally positive message: ‘It is possible.’ The gratitude and praise shown to the prophet, saint or guide by his fellows, community and society adds an essential dimension to his exemplary function: even though he must suffer rejection, criticism or exile, his being, values and experience grant him a special status amongst his fellows. The possibility of identification, the actual experience of values, the realistic humanization of goals and social recognition are key aspects of the model’s function.
Both modern and more traditional societies are now returning to the idea of the model regarding relations between adults or teachers and children. Children should, it is argued, be provided with role-models in the form of men and women with whom they can identify, who can teach them values in a practical way, and who can convince them that success is within their reach and that, in the long run, they can earn the esteem and respect of their families and society. In Africa and Asia, rolemodels are now being used in problem areas, schools and neighbourhoods, as well as in the media, sports and popular culture, in an attempt to influence young people in a positive sense, and to show that they can succeed and that there is hope for the future. The use that is made of role-models is interesting and often positive, but it can be dangerous unless certain basic issues are addressed. Identification on the basis of colour, culture or social status has become more important than identification with our common humanity and with the quest for meaning and values. There is nothing trivial about this change of emphasis: ‘success’ stories are publicized, but the nature and substance of ‘success’ is rarely questioned. What kind of success is involved, and what system of recognition and what values are being promoted? Are we talking about upward social mobility or well-being? About the ability to make money or solidarity? Wealth or human dignity? Are we promoting a functional system that is adapted to the structure and logic of the economic system, or a human model that can challenge and fight the power of that logic? The voices of the philosophers, thinkers, mystics, moralists and educationalists who speak to us across the ages have always been critical of educational systems and of the content of education and teaching. From Confucius and Socrates, through Rousseau, Kant, Nietzsche, Pestalozzi, down to Maria Montessori, all the ‘new education’ theorists and many others throughout history and in all societies all say the same thing. Their criticisms of parenting and of educational systems, which have always resulted in reforms, have often been associated with social and political criticisms. If we look at them in historical terms, we find that, no matter how far back we go, they have always defended a certain conception of man and outlined ideals worth striving for. The humanist Montaigne makes it quite explicit in his Essays that he sees a link between his conception of man and his ideas about education. In his Some Thoughts Concerning Education John Locke concentrates on the aristocratic elite and argues that man is not just a mind, but also a body that must be properly trained and educated. Emile; or, On Education tells us about Rousseau’s views on man and wisdom. The same is true of the sharp and incisive criticisms made by Nietzsche in his lectures on The Future of Our Educational Institutions. One senses the impact of his philosophy when he argues that the surest way to corrupt minds is to have educational institutions that teach ‘to value those who think in the same way more highly than those who think differently’. In an age of globalization and mass communications, we need to think seriously about the role of the family in both traditional, modern and postmodern societies. We should opt for priorities and systems that relate the philosophical, spiritual or religious conceptions of humanity. We must know what we are transmitting, how we are transmitting it, and why we are transmitting it.