What pedagogical passion can bring about

by Carl Bossard*

Anyone who leafs through biographies and browses the works of writers can feel it again and again: the pedagogic passion. Searching for traces of a forgotten term.
Peter Bichsel tells how he immediately fell in love with his first class teacher in his “Schulmeistereien”. The little chap liked her, the passionate person, and even years later he could describe her dress.1 That, according to Bichsel, was the only explanation why he did not become a school failure. The same was true for many others, also for the great philosopher Sir Karl R. Popper. That is why he dedicated the autobiography to his teacher Emma Goldberger. He writes that he owes his whole thinking and actually everything to her and her pedagogical passion.

About something held true for ever

One thing becomes immediately apparent with both teachers: the passionate pedagogical ethos for their profession and for the young people or – perhaps formulated a bit pathetically – the love for the duty. The two stories tell about the inner impetus moving these teachers to take their actions.
These are ancient pedagogical terms. The current language of education hardly knows them; they do not exist in the discourse about professional teacher competencies. But they are values without expiry date – old though, admittedly, but not obsolete regardless of their age. On the contrary. Recent studies on effectiveness research and neurobiology rehabilitate them.

The underestimated influence of the teachers

The New Zealand education researcher John Hattie evaluated about 800 meta­studies for many years. They all revolve around the cardinal question, which are the most important factors for good instruction. The university lecturer allocates effect values to individual factors. Hattie’s study “Visible Learning” derives the explosive force from its unique scientific breadth: Hattie’s research work is based on more than 80,000 individual studies. His results include the experience of 250 million pupils. Therefore, he can empirically prove what he demands normatively.2
On the other hand, there is an almost confusing clarity of the results that Hattie’s mega study has brought to light. The euphoria about self-responsible work or learning without a teacher (LwT) is to be questioned critically. What counts is the individual teacher, says John Hattie, the vital present teacher, the trustworthy teacher and his teaching. How do they prepare the subject matter? Do they reach the children and encourage them? How strictly does the teacher guide through the lesson, and how exactly does he give feedback? Is the  teacher himself enthusiastic about what he teaches?

The practical test

If this is too theoretical, ask the poets. Even with them this magic word appears again and again: inspire, inflame. He was “infectious [and] thrilling,” writes Thomas Hürlimann, writer from the city of Zug about his physics teacher Father Kassian Etter at the monastery school Einsiedeln,  “in love with his subject and obsessed by it”. That is why he understood “even to inspire me for physical processes and formulas. He was an excellent teacher because he infected us with his passion.”3 Hürlimann adds: P. Kassian led us young people “from Plato’s cave to the stars to the gods’.”
The secret of this success can probably also be explained neurologically – by the mirror neurons. The brain researcher and physician Joachim Bauer writes that the motivation systems of the human brain are activated primarily by “respect, interest, attention and sympathy of other people. The strongest motivational drug for man is the other human being.”4

About the passion for the world

The passion for the pedagogical task results from the passion for the world and from a lively interest in the subject and the young people. Hannah Arendt, the clever political philosopher and publicist, was deeply convinced of this fact. The physics teacher P. Kassian lived and embodied this.
This passion shows the old idea of pedagogy: the teacher as a bridge builder to the world, the teacher as an expedition manager, a chauffeur into life. As it is one of the curiosities of modern media that the large amount of information does not necessarily promote understanding. On the contrary! It needs people to make us understand and bring us closer to the world.

Educational ethos as a driving force

Emma Goldberger as well as P. Kassian would explain their teaching as being effective and suitable for the pupil, entirely without mirror-neural superstructure, but otherwise they would say quite the same as the scientist Joachim Bauer: decisive for their work were professional claim and charming authority, energy and empathy, passion and love, precisely: a perceptible passion for their profession and appreciative respect for the pupils.

Bichsels and Camus’ passionate teachers

Albert Camus, Nobel Prize winner in Literature, draws such a teacher’s portrait in his autobiographical work “The First Man”. Camus tells about Monsieur Bernard that he was “constantly interesting for the simple reason that he passionately loved his profession”. In his class, the children felt “for the first time that they existed and that they were object of the highest respect: they were thought worthy to discover the world.” Monsieur Bernard’s method was “to not tolerate anything in conduct, and to make the lessons lively and amusing.”5 This teaching was tight-relaxed, embedded in a supportive learning environment, guided by a teacher-centered pupil orientation.
Albert Camus adored his teacher; Peter Bichsel was in love with his teacher and Thomas Hürlimann was fascinated by his physics lecturer. Camus’ teacher, Bichsel’s teacher and Hurlimann’s Father had an effect on their pupils. And how! Everything depended on them and their teaching. The three portraits reveal how effective they were with their passion for the world and for the young people. Any school management would engage such teachers, and John Hattie would give all three of them maximum grades. Not to mention the children and teenagers.
Passion – an ancient term, yet timeless and therefore modern.     •

1    Bichsel, Peter. Schulmeistereien. Darmstadt 1985, p. 15
2    Hattie, John A. C. Visible Learning for teachers, Routledge, London/New York 2012, ISBN 978-0-415-69015- rer. 2014
3    “Die pädagogische Provinz”, in: Hürlimann, Thomas. Der Sprung in den Papierkorb. Geschichten, Gedanken und Notizen am Rand. Zurich 2008, p. 109f.
4    Kowal-Summek, Ludger. Neurowissenschaften und Musikpädagogik. Klärungsversuche und Praxisbezüge. Cologne: Springer, 2016, p. 141
5    in: Camus, Albert. The First Man. Reinbek b. Hamburg, 1997, p. 125, 128

source: www.journal21.ch  from 5.3.2017

(Translation Current Concerns)