When the essential degenerates into a minor matter

The heart of the school is at risk

by Carl Bossard*

Every young person has only one educational biography. That is why it is so important who is in the classroom – and how this person acts. Peter Bichsel, who later became a teacher himself, also experienced this. He says: “I had a wonderful primary school teacher in the 5th and 6th grade in the city of Olten: he convinced me of myself and made me a writer. Because he discovered, among all the mess of spelling mistakes, that I write good essays. I loved him.”
  To lead young people to themselves and to lead them out of themselves to their potential, for example to write, as Bichsel’s teacher did. Therein lies the central task of the school. If you zoom in here, you discover a pedagogical triangle. It is the heart of every school: the triad between teacher – schoolchildren – teaching content. It is in this triangle that individual and social learning and educational processes take place.
  The French Nobel Prize winner for literature Albert Camus reminds us of this resonance space in his book “Le Premier Homme”. With the character “The First Man”, he means his primary school teacher. He owes everything to him. Camus grew up in what was then French Algeria. In poor living conditions. School leads him into another world. Camus says of his teacher: he was “constantly interesting for the simple reason that he loved his profession passionately”. In his class, the children “felt for the first time that they existed and were the object of the highest respect: They were considered worthy of discovering the world.”
  Camus outlines the pedagogical triangle of everyday school life. This is where the be-all and end-all of school and teaching take place, basic education as the basis for all further learning. Here, for example, the basic skills of reading, writing and arithmetic are built up. This includes understanding and consolidating, consolidating and practising knowledge and skills, applying what has been learned and the interaction of these sub-processes with all the diverse links in the activated memory. These are the key processes of learning.
  But the essence of school is endangered by the educational policy flight from the pedagogical triangle to structural reforms. The school has experienced a cascade of top-down innovations: additional subjects with the two foreign languages early English and early French in primary school, the whole quality management, mixed-age or cross-grade learning, Curriculum 21 with the narrowly gridded competencies and their controls, the Integrative School with the goal of inclusion and the many agreements between the responsible persons. All this needs more guidelines and regulations from above, more directives from the education bureaucracy.
  Some things have been added – little has been taken away. The consequences are noticeable: Pressure and hectic pace increase, staying and deepening decrease. Many things can only be touched on briefly. Contents quickly replace each other. They do not deeply memorise themselves, hardly become experience and remain fragments. Too much has to be learned in too short a time – in fact by the children themselves. Self-responsibly and self-directed. Pupils with learning difficulties and mediocre pupils are at a disadvantage. This is what classroom research shows. It is therefore not surprising that even intelligent children often have large gaps in the basic skills of arithmetic and writing at the end of primary school. When they do master these basics, it is not uncommon for dedicated parents or private tutoring institutes to be behind them.
  Albert Camus takes us to the heart of school, to the micro-processes of learning. His life story illustrates how central they are for children. On the day he was awarded the Nobel Prize, he writes to his teacher, “Without you, without your loving hand extended to the poor little child that I was, without your instruction and example, none of this would have happened.” This sounds like a return to the pedagogical triangle.

First publication: CH Media of 12 October 2022

(Translation Current Concerns)

* Carl Bossard is the founding Director of the University of Teacher Education Zug. Before that, he was headmaster of the Cantonal Secondary School Nidwalden and director of the Cantonal School Lucerne. Today he accompanies schools and leads continuing education courses. He deals with questions of school history and education policy. www.carlbossard.ch


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