When the philosopher meets the educator, the debate strikes the right balance between ideas and values and their concrete application in school. Abdennour Bidar and Philippe Meirieu start a mobilizing dialogue about the School in a new book (Growing up in humanity, editions Different). Faced with the crisis of the School, they call for a real overhaul that can re-mobilize the actors of the School. It is a question of authority and the place of the school in the construction of society. It is about training requirements. But the book also discusses the pedagogical freedom of teachers in the light of the “evidence” ideology. The book advocates a “weaver” school that can meet the challenges of our time and the needs of little men.
This dialogue with Abdennour Bidar on education begins with a reflection on authority. To what extent should the school contribute to the establishment of a new social authority? And how to reconcile this social mission with an emancipatory school?
Indeed, our work is primarily intended as a dialogue. And I am infinitely grateful to Abdennour Bidar for taking the initiative. It was a beautiful meeting in all respects and which, I believe, holds the promises of a real dialogue as defined by Maurice Merleau-Ponty in “Phenomenology of Perception”: “In dialogue, he explained, the thoughts of others are his thoughts are indeed, I am not the one who molds them, although I grab them as soon as they are born, and the objection that the interlocutor makes against me tears me away thoughts that I thought I did not possess, so that if I give him thoughts leen, he in turn makes me think I want to emphasize this dimension of the book: pedagogy has been the subject of too many controversies, blind attacks or blunt pleas that please no one and rather pollute public space then enlighten. We wanted to step out of this deadly logic and take the time to discuss the content, each with our training and our sensitivity, each with our references and our analyses. Abdennour is a philosopher, he taught more than twenty years of philosophy; he is also a great connoisseur of Islam and a man committed to the issue of secularism. For my part, I am a pedagogue, an observer of the history and the current state of pedagogy, involved in the educational institution, in various positions of responsibility, for more than thirty years and whose orientations in favor of new education. The dialogue between the philosopher and the pedagogue has not always been easy, but together we show here that it is not only possible but above all fruitful.
And in fact Abdennour opened the book by raising the issue of ‘making a society’. But it doesn’t stop at the hackneyed observation of the existence of social rifts and the rise of communitarianism; he wonders what anthropological changes we are going through and what answers they demand. In this way we continue together on a path that is actually still relatively little practiced: in what way are education and especially the school challenged by these changes and what challenges do they face? In this way we can immediately show that what we are missing today is a clear course, a foundational educational project. We are crumbling under the pipe reforms of a “school machine” whose meaning we have lost. We blindly search for “school efficiency”, forgetting that the evaluation of least efficiency depends on the choice of values and that these values need to be discussed. And it is to this discussion that we devote ourselves. With a strong principle that brings us together: education and school only regain their social legitimacy when they express an educational project of collective emancipation. And not just in words, in general and generous statements of intent, but in the daily life of what we let our children experience.
How can the pedagogical freedom of teachers be defined in this school? Is it the freedom of the teacher alone in his class? To whom should this officer be “loyal”? Finally, how do you define necessary learning ethics in this book?
We are indeed attached to this essential issue of the pedagogical freedom of teachers by exposing the ambiguities and hypocrisy of many analyzes on this theme. We try to base this pedagogical freedom both on the missions of the school in a democracy, on the status of children and adolescents in our societies and on the fundamental ethics of the teaching profession. We in no way deny the importance of guidelines and programs, even if we ask for a reconsideration of all this in light of the goals of the school. But we call for teachers to be seen collectively as responsible actors and not as implementers of standardized procedures. We do not believe at all that pedagogical freedom is the door for individual whims; on the contrary, we are convinced that true educational freedom is fueled by the work, initiative and inventiveness of collectives seeking the best way to achieve the goals of their institution.
We are not against pedagogical freedom and coherence of the system, on the contrary… We wonder under what conditions pedagogical freedom can contribute to the unity of the system and under what conditions this system can promote and stimulate the pedagogical freedom of its actors. This question is, in our opinion, very important, even today essential. Because if no one disputes that the crisis of teacher recruitment is largely related to the question of their remuneration, we believe that the problem of their recognition is not only material, but also symbolic. By implying that “evidence” should dictate decisions in the classroom, we are doing horrendous violence to teachers. We completely forget what is at stake in the educational encounter. We ignore the scope and meaning of the teacher’s word, a word we are trying to analyze and find absolutely essential to helping our students learn. Even worse, we endorse a school that “creates masses” rather than promotes subjects that cultivate their uniqueness as they learn to interact with others and with the world. But precisely because of this, everyone can “grow in humanity”. And this, as far as we are concerned, is the core of learning ethics.
Today the minister announces a “new pact” for teachers. It also announces local discussions that have been extended to local authorities and associations in every school and establishment. How do you view this ‘re-establishment’ of the School in this book?
When we were working on this book, the current minister was not yet in office and we were obviously not aware of the announcement of this “new pact”. On the other hand, we tried to analyze the previous attempts at “refoundation” and show how they had often functioned as pure “rhetoric”: we modified the lyrics, changed the organization a bit, but without really the logic to times that sets the school up to the laws of liberal economics, with “maximum return on investment” and general competition for access to profit. We have not resigned ourselves to this. And like Bachelard, who at the end of “The Formation of the Scientific Mind” thought that the school should no longer be made for society, but society should be made for the school, we wonder about the possible radical change in the school paradigm. Therefore, the whole question is to know what the coming discussions will focus on: if they are limited to adjustments (useful, even essential) on the distribution of competences, the organization of studies, etc., we will miss the meeting. from the story. On the other hand, if we ask ourselves how we can mobilize together around common values to build at the same time an educational institution and a society where everyone can grow in humanity throughout their lives, we can make useful progress and perhaps we will give future to our future.
Your debate draws you to a “weaving school”. On what values can the School be founded again?
A “weaving school”, to use Abdennour’s expression, allows us to connect at once with ourselves, with others and with nature. In a “weaving school” we weave a bond with ourselves by taking the time to observe, reflect and think; we weave bonds with others, which we learn to discover in their otherness and their likeness; Finally, we weave bonds with all people and with the planet with which we know we are deeply united. This school should be built around solidarity groups and on a human scale. It must be a school where “the least gesture” is in accordance with the educational principles to which we refer: access to liberty, equal right of access for all to education and concrete practice and the daily life of brotherhood through mutual aid and cooperation.
Because the importance of the dialogue between the philosopher and the pedagogue is also to work together on the links that connect the goals we announce and the methods we implement. Too often our institutions are schizophrenic: they display ambitions and cheerfully betray them in their practice. With Abdennour, we wanted to escape this shortcoming and constantly ask ourselves: how can we embody our values in practices… but also what values do our practices reflect? That is why our book is both very philosophical and very concrete. There we talk a bit about our experiences and our encounters, about what we’ve been through and about the colleagues we’ve met, about our more or less successful attempts to make progress. And we try to share all of this with our readers. Not to “teach” them, but to invite them to walk with us and participate in a project whose urgency does not escape anyone.
Interview by François Jarraud
Abdennour Bidar, Philippe Meirieu, Growing in Humanity. Free speech about school and education, other editions. ISBN: 9782080294777. 15€