The paradox of education: A conversation

Journal of Aesthetic Education 40 (1):25-33 (2006)
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In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:The Paradox of Education:A ConversationHumberto R. Maturana and Bernhard PoerksenResponsibility of the TeacherPoerksen: Immanuel Kant writes in his essay Über Pädagogik that the wide field of education is governed by a fundamental paradox. On the one hand, we want free and self-determined individuals to leave our schools; on the other, we impose a syllabus on the future individuals, force them to attend schools, punish their failures, and persecute their noncompliance. There is, if we follow Kant, an inescapable relationship of tension between the goals and the means of educational efforts: They contradict each other. Would you agree?Maturana: No. Education, the commentary of an observer, is the process of transformation resulting from the co-existence with adults. We become the adults we have been living with. This means: If freedom and self-determined thinking are the goals of educational activity, then we have to live together in a way that is supported by the mutual respect for the autonomy of the other. In my view, the paradox formulated by Kant does not exist at all. The way of life, the manner of living together, shapes and transforms people. If you want to teach autonomy and reflection, you cannot use force as a method but must create an open space for communal reflection and action. There must be no contradiction between goals and means.Poerksen: Surely, there must also be constraints? It must be laid down when everybody has to be present, what the task is, who the teacher is, who has authority.Maturana: Compulsion will emerge if the teachers do not succeed in presenting their material in a thrilling way and in making school an attractive place of being together. Their failure will lead to force.Poerksen: The teacher is totally responsible for everything that may happen in school. Is this not an exaggerated claim?Maturana: No. If a teacher behaves respectfully, if he does not intimidate his pupils, if he listens, encourages cooperation and reflection, then a special form of interaction will emerge. The way of living practiced by the teacher, including the goals of teaching, will be the source of profitable learning for the pupils. This also implies that three questions and tasks must be sorted out cooperatively in education. First it seems necessary to me to debate the educational ideal to be chosen—what should the future adults be like when leaving the school one day? Should they be democratically minded and responsibly acting citizens? Or are they to be authoritarian and commandeering hierarchs, lords who feel superior to everyone else? It is then necessary to anchor a way of life in the school that permits acting and thinking according to that ideal. Finally, there is the essential task of preparing the teachers for their job in such a [End Page 25] way as to do justice to the desired goals—to enable them to live what they have to achieve.Poerksen: This would mean that teaching has nothing to do with the stepwise elimination of ignorance, as is commonly thought. The transmission of knowledge is secondary. The primary requirement is a way of life that corresponds with one's ideals, a particular form of living together, out of which the material topics will arise in due course.Maturana: Exactly. The children do not learn mathematics in school; they learn how to live together with a mathematics teacher. Perhaps they will one day carry on this enjoyable and exciting kind of being together independently—and become mathematics teachers or mathematicians themselves. Teachers do not simply transmit some content; they acquaint their pupils with a way of living. In the process, the rules of arithmetic, the laws of physics, or the grammar of a language will be acquired. My claim is: Pupils learn teachers.Poerksen: What about children who systematically refuse to cooperate? What is to be done with them? The classical answer is, of course: bad marks, relegation, exclusion from the winning circles.Maturana: The so-called difficult children about whom teachers keep complaining often only struggle to be seen and accepted, while the whole world expects them to behave in a calculable manner and to adapt to strange demands. Asking...

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