From Reflexion to Implementation *

I would like to suggest, first, that we already know a great deal. We also have a good intuitive sense of the direction in which we would like to see things going. What seems to elude us still, however, is the resolve - and perhaps an effective process - to implement radical changes in the education system. The question might be: Do we have the means to support our convictions?

I would propose that we start believing our own prophecies. Have we not observed, for at least four decades now, some major transformative forces in contemporary societies? Have we not extrapolated possible outcomes and imagined strategies?

For example, we noted the shift from an industrial era to the information age, pointing out the impact of new technologies on culture and knowledge. While information proliferates and sources of information multiply, real - embodied - knowledge loses ground. We are experiencing a major epistemological crisis.

We announced the advent of post-modernism and post-colonialism. These too constitute an epistemological crisis, triggered this time by our identifying, critiquing and deconstructing modernity's meta-narratives and canons.

We have commented at length on a globalization of the economy, warning about possible threats to cultural diversity and democracy. New forms of colonialism and a further aggravation of inequalities are feared, along with disastrous over-exploitation of natural and human resources.

We are witnessing multiple ecological disasters and progressive destruction of ecosystems, which seem to indicate that in several places we have reached (or are about to reach) a point of no return.

If these forces (and I could list others too, operating at even deeper levels) are indeed at work, then the West is in tremendous crisis - though we don't know if the outcome will be positive or only disastrous. The rationalist mind is meeting the millenarian; they have begun speaking a common language. Ecological, human, industrial, military catastrophes are foreseen. We find ourselves in the midst of a cultural revolution while the economic system may be collapsing. We are beginning to understand that these shifts proceed from similar root causes, to be found in the intimate heart of modernity: grave epistemological errors, spiritual bankruptcy, Self-Other dynamics in crisis. With this situation in mind, then, what should we teach?

Federico Mayor highlighted, in this issue, the need to shift our focus from "teaching" to "learning." This shift is imperative, indeed. Interestingly, education specialists agree with this suggestion, as we can see from the debates around the UNESCO Commission's report. A consensus has formed about the recommendations of the Commission, which stress the importance of learning throughout life and the importance of the "four pillars" for an education centered on the holistic development of the individual [1]. Not only are we quite advanced in our conceptualizing of this new education, we also have significant practical expertise - with experiments conducted throughout the world. Half a century of progressive education in the US has provided us with concrete data on possible applications of this kind of educational philosophy. For more than sixty years now, Goddard College has had the four pillars embedded in its academic program, and keeps actualizing them in new formats.

The time has come for us to move from reflection to implementation. Yes, we might have to redo the entire curriculum and pedagogy of the university if we want to help our students meet the challenges we have identified. But, to begin with, there are at least three things we could do for them:

1. See them as researchers and creators in the first place. They will be undertaking the construction of new epistemologies, of a good portion of the content of science and culture - all those discourses that we, postmodernists, have deconstructed.

2. Be honest with them about the shortcomings of modernity. It may not be any more relevant today to perpetuate the content we learned than it was to teach scholasticism to Renaissance minds. We should tell our students that, much as we wanted to believe in the ideals of science and technology, of democracy, of "great culture", our passion for them did not prevent us from making terrible mistakes. It may still be relevant to teach history, science, the arts, and philosophy, but we need to add to our curricula some good explanations as to how those bodies of knowledge were constructed, what methods we employed, what were our paradigms and our assumptions. This, in order to help students make their own decisions as to what they want to keep, what they want to transform, what they may discard.

3. Most importantly, empower them. Inheriting the keys to the City, they may find the current architecture obsolete, if not the City in ruins. Our street maps will only be marginally useful to them - and only insofar as they might want to draw new streets along the same lines, or historicize the previous era. Wouldn't it be wiser to teach them to create, to build, to imagine the future, without burdening them with an old collection of maps?

Danielle BOUTET
Director, MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts Program
Goddard College, Vermont, USA

*   Traduction par l'autrice.

[1] It may be relevant here to remind ourselves of Wilhelm Reich's remark "If a true revolution in the ideological superstructure governing society keeps failing, it is because the support base for this superstructure, that is, the psychic structure of human beings, hasn't changed", Wilhelm Reich, La Psychologie de masse du fascisme, Payot, Paris, 1974, p. 238, my own translation. The Delors Report seems to address Reich's remark.

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Bulletin Interactif du Centre International de Recherches et Études Transdisciplinaires n° 16 - Février 2002

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