Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) is an important figure in contemporary political philosophy. As such, his work on the totalitarian question has found considerable resonance. “Thinking without obstacles” was one of her credos, she naturally focused on the tasks of the school and the education of the citizens. His reflections on this topic, presented in The culture crisismeets a number of current debates and deserves to be read again.
We are on the wrong track when it comes to school for three main reasons, she believes. The first is to believe that there is a world of children and ‘that as much as possible we must allow it to govern (itself). Viewing childhood as a community distinct and opposed to that of adults, the moderns gradually lose the sense of an educational work always attentive to a single theme inscribed in a single future.
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The second reason is an observation: “Under the influence of modern psychology and pragmatic teachings, pedagogy has become a teaching science in general, to the point of complete liberation from the subject to be taught. With the primacy of form over content, modality over content, the modern school would forget what is essential: knowledge. Arendt regrets that these new methods were adopted so quickly and “so slavishly and uncritically. »
But that’s not all. There would be a refusal of effort in the attitude of certain innovators, worse still, a kind of anti-intellectualistic creed, that is the third main reason why we would be on the wrong track. The study is corrupted by becoming an experiment, a manipulation, or even a falsification. This is what many innovators advise: “We can only know and understand what we have made ourselves, and the implementation in education is as elementary as it is self-evident: replace as much as possible, do it to learn. More precisely, it is the figure of the American philosopher John Dewey, promoter of the famous “learning by doing” who is being addressed here.
The place where we present the world
Where there is human community, there is world; Where there are people, there is human community. “The role of school is to teach children about the world, not (to) teach them (an) art of living. The world is the totality of productions, objects and human creations. It is also the speeches and thoughts that surround these “man-made” objects.
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If school is where the world presents itself to children, it is because it is an in-between place “between the world and the private sphere that makes up home. She prepares and organizes the transition, because one is never left alone to be contemporary with the world. In this sense, the teacher is always a mediator between past and present, between the household (the “domus”) and the world. Hence the original title of his book on school and culture Between past and futuresurprisingly renamed in its French version: The culture crisis.
“It seems to me, writes Hannah Arendt again, that conservatism in the sense of preservation is the very essence of education. Because it must be clear that we are always teaching a world that has already passed: “Basically, we only ever educate for a world that has already gone haywire or is threatening to break out of it, because that is the condition of human beings that the world was created by mortals to serve as their home for a limited time. “. But let’s not worry, because the “new” have precisely the ability to introduce something new. His master Heidegger is wrong. Men “are not born to die, but to innovate. »
But they can only innovate because they inherit a world older than themselves. she must protect this novelty and introduce it as a new leaven into an already old world […]. The future cannot be taught, it is invented directly, just as the path is drawn as we progress.
And yet there are innumerable preachers, soothsayers and other prophets. But these charlatans of the future always sell ready-made futures. The prophets, as Spinoza said, do not think better, they present themselves “with more vividness”. Arendt would certainly have agreed. But above all, nothing worse for them than using youth to promote the world one dreams of. That’s what totalitarian regimes do: enslave youth to control their future. Luckily, they still elude them.
A “pre-political” place
Arendt calls this place where the world is explained “pre-political”. It is a place that precedes, prepares and initiates. In short, a propaedeutic place. It is also a place marked by asymmetrical relationships. Let’s not say “uneven” but “asymmetrical” because this unevenness is anthropological in nature. The educational relationship therefore justifiably demands the exercise of an authority which, as Theodor Mommsen said, is “more than advice and less than an order”.
But let us note that what establishes the professor’s authority is related not only to his knowledge and expertise, but also to the fact that he is a witness to the world. “Although there is no authority without a certain competence, the latter, however high, can never produce authority of its own accord.
The teacher’s competency is knowing the world and being able to pass that knowledge on to others, but his authority rests in his role as world leader. To the child it is a little as if he were a representative of all adults who would point something out to him with the words “this is our world”. »
No education without authority. To give it up would be to rely on coercion or manipulation. But what should it be like in societies like ours, conquered by Tocqueville’s famous formula “passion for equality”? This is a burning question that Arendt makes us ponder.
A protective institution
If the school is a public institution, that is, open to anyone and everyone and placed under state supervision, it is still not a public place. Granted, a public place is always shareable, but it’s also that impressive place where everything can be seen and heard, by everyone. The child must be protected from “the unforgiving light of the public” for not only is it a newcomer, it is also a fragile subject in the making.
Hannah Arendt does not fail to raise the contradiction of modernity, which on the one hand denies the specifics of childhood with increasing subtlety and on the other hand wants to open up school to adult life again and again. How was it possible to expose the child to what characterizes the adult world more than anything else, namely public life, when we had just realized that the fault of all the old ways was to see the child as small? Adults? Of course, the school must be open to the world and not to life.
The school must also protect the world. Because whoever has not discovered and understood the value of the creations that populate the world can destroy the Buddhas of Bamiyan, burn Van Gogh and Picasso, or even destroy the sublime city of Palmyra with a mortar. Anyone who has not gone to school can behave like the Louisiana savages of which Montesquieu speaks: “When the Louisiana savages want fruit, they cut down the tree at the base and pluck the fruit. »
So double protection, for the child and for the world. “The child needs special protection and care to prevent the world from destroying it. But this world also needs a protection that prevents it from being devastated and destroyed by the wave of newcomers that sweeps over it with each new generation.” Protection is never an empty word in Hannah Arendt’s mouth.