Curative Education in Dialogue

Riccardo Bonfranchi and Eliane Perret: “Curative Education in Dialogue. Practical experiences, theoretical foundations and current discourses”

by Urs Graf

There are many educational policy issues today – not only in curative education – that need to be discussed. The two authors of the book1 think so and therefore enter into a dialogue about – not only from their point of view – relevant aspects of (curative) education, of school education in general.

As experts in curative education with a large practical background and a broad theoretical basis, they comment on 33 topics briefly, concisely and grasping the essentials. They refer to each other and, in this way, approach the questions posed from different aspects, in small steps with great professional depth and philosophically – and sometimes playfully humorous.
  The two authors, despite their partly different approaches, find a broad consensus regarding the natural preconditions of children and the necessary framework conditions for successful teaching. This applies to children with special needs as well as to all other children. They find common ground in their assessment of current developments in the institution of schooling, for example with regard to integration, digitalisation, performance measurement and teaching methodology in general.
  Bonfranchi looks at these developments mainly in terms of their effects in everyday education on children with multiple disabilities, physically and mentally. He sees how, under the conditions of “integration”, however well-intentioned, physical and mental impairments are sometimes trivialised and the specific individual support of disabled children is often devastatingly neglected.
  Perret focuses more on the historical and ideological aspect of school development and observes with great concern the paradigm shift from curative education to psychiatric treatment of children, especially since the authoritative diagnostic manuals since the 1980s are increasingly limited to the identification of formal and functional disorders. The social and life-historical context is hardly taken into consideration any more.
  The respective human individual as a social being is in danger of disappearing behind a cluster of symptoms – and with it the genuine pedagogical concern to strive for the possible beyond the obvious. It is precisely in making up for deficits what curative education is all about. The importance of the relationship between the teacher and the teachers always comes up, which is neglected in current developments.
  While a few topics deal with curative education in the narrower sense, the majority of the others deal with changes in education in general, the origins and foundations of which would raise many questions. That is why these chapters are particularly worth reading. If, for example, one is looking for an explanation of how such a paradigm shift in schooling and education could take place without reflection in a liberal democratic society, one cannot avoid an understanding of hypnotic language manipulation techniques in public discussion. Eliane Perret explains this clearly using the term “competence” in the output-oriented Curriculum 21. The school has thus said goodbye to the goal of holistically imparting knowledge and values to the students and thus also to the humanistic-emancipatory concern that the European educational tradition has developed over centuries. After reading her statements, one would like to hope, like Riccardo Bonfranchi, that this aberration will remain a footnote in the history of education.
  Another chapter deals with New Public Management. There, the reader learns more about the background of this anti-democratic policy, which also has an impact on education. In this context, the development of the world trade system since the fall of communism in 1989, when market radicalism became the guiding ideology, must be comprehended. By agreeing to the GATS convention of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the 164 participating countries had decided to open up their basic services – including school education – to a global market. As a result, the school system has been restructured according to the model of business units in the private sector. Decisive changes in our schools would therefore not have a pedagogical but this background reason.
  Both authors agree that in order to realise the right to education for all children, different paths must remain open, taking into account individual needs, and that one should not follow any ideology. And they attach great importance to the pedagogical work with the group and the class community in order to strengthen the social feeling of the children. The rights of people with disabilities are better guaranteed through school education for togetherness than through individualised coexistence in global performance competition. In this context, Perret also discusses the possibilities introduced by the inclusion of Alfred Adler's “individual psychology”, especially for the curative education.
  The book is interesting and stimulating because two practitioners with deep knowledge of disability education look beyond their field to the socio-economic context that has changed throughout the history and shapes education policy today. Despite the complexity of the issues, it is written in an easy-to-read way.
  The book is to be wished a wide circulation so that it can initiate a long overdue public debate about the school reforms of the last decades.  •

1 Bielefeld ATHENA wbv 2021, ISBN (Print) 978-3-7639-6580-9, ISBN (E-Book) 978-3-7639-6583-0

Learning goal exemption: Ethically justifiable?

Excerpt from Chapter 10: Curative Education is Ethical Action – Always (pages 81–83)

Contribution by Eliane Perret
Ten-year-old Elisa comes to our school. She has a very poor academic performance, can hardly read and needs her fingers to add up 5 + 3. The tests have determined a correspondingly low IQ – a borderline case to mild mental retardation. Until now, Elisa had been educated integratively, first with integrated support, then as a special student in a regular school. She was freed from “achieving any learning goals”. Now we were faced with the question of how we should work with Elisa and whether our school even met her needs. While working with her, we quickly noticed that she repeatedly showed thought processes that pointed to good intelligence. However, we also observed that she would flinch and “drop out” when she made a mistake. She stopped thinking in a sense and could barely add up 1 + 1. This raised an ethical question for me: was it right to free her from the learning goals? What was she freed from? Should we now try to get her back to working on the same learning goals as the other children who were found to be more mentally alert on the tests? Or would she feel too much pressure? What about her right to education? We continued to observe Elisa and gained initial experience when we taught her together with the other children. Learning goal exemption was out of the question, even though we knew we were facing challenging work with an open-ended outcome. Anything else would have been ethically unacceptable to us and a capitulation on our part as special educators. Incidentally, we are often confronted with similar problems; they challenge us to take a stand. To that purpose we often have to deal with the current state of research.
  In my opinion, this is an ethical question, connected with the demand to deal with new findings and research questions as far as possible as a curative educator.

Comment Riccardo Bonfranchi
[...] both of us have tried to connect ethics with the practice of everyday curative education. Reading your post, I was struck by the moral indignation, as ethicists say, towards the notion of learning goal exemption. I know this term all too well from my many years of professional practice.
  But it was only through your comments that I became aware of its negative meaning to the fullest extent. "Learning goal exemption" means: What this child does or achieves is basically irrelevant. It falls through the grid of the curriculum anyway. The question now arises: Is the child the problem or is the curriculum no good? Of course, this question is again meant rhetorically. Can a person, as long as they live, even if they are severely and multiply handicapped, be free of learning goals? No – I reject that. That would mean that we have already given up on this person. Or: We do not know what to do with this person in terms of education. But that is, from an ethical point of view, an untenable position. Consequently, the curriculum must be changed.

Reprinted with kind permission of the ATHENA Publishing House

(Translation Current Concerns)

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