Ten theses about the school

by Oskar Freysinger

1. Education is an art of living, not an exact science.

Our entire pedagogy is based on the Greek Paideia1 which essentially reflects the relationship between teachers and students. There is no general education, which is equally applicable to all. The dignity of man lies in his uniqueness and the fact that he is irreplaceable. Education must thus obtain the attention and interest of each student as an individual and create the group dynamics of the class.
Who considers education to be an exact science is in danger of  depriving the relationship between teachers and students of their human dimension. So the student runs the risk to be deprived of his identity as a thinking and sympathetic subject and to degenerate into a mere “basin” of knowledge, or at worst a pseudo-scientific  test object.
A human and individual relation, however, creates a positive learning environment for each student. One must take care, however, not to make the groups too heterogeneous because they are then uncontrollable. By a certain degree of homogeneity in the class each student can move forward at an adequate pace without having to feel overloaded or being demotivated.

2. Schools must convey.

The school has to fight ignorance and to promote every student’s will to work. The student needs to understand that success is the result of his effort. He must integrate this relation into his memory as early as possible so that already as a child, he understands that he is the architect of his own fortune! To do this, he must develop his skills and talents in an active learning process. Luck is sometimes helpful – effort always pays!
In this sense, any effort at school – whether intellectual, athletic or artistic – contributes to developing strong and self-confident personalities.
At the same time, the long term memory must be trained, since it forms the basis for a person’s individual culture. We must avoid a premature specialization, for it  restricts the child’s intellectual development at an age where its personality must be comprehensively formed.
There is no greater disrespect towards students than asking too little of them in the name of a misunderstood equality. Leveling down is unjust for all – for the high-achieving and low-achieving: it fools the latter because their deficits are concealed or denied  and thus prepare a rude awakening for them. Minimum demands will free them of taking an effort to increase. The strong, however, are deprived of a healthy challenge and condemned to mediocrity. A harmonious society, however, is not characterized by average or anxious citizens, it consists of motivated and active people who are always trying to outdo themselves. Only the one who shows no commitment is really weak, and only the one who does his best is really strong.
Marks must not be used for an arbitrary selection, they serve as an indicator and an educational tool. They are preferable to linguistically formulated, inevitably subjective assessments since numbers have the advantage to be precise and objective.
Failure is certainly painful, but does not mean any shame or disgrace. Repeating a school year is an educational tool designed to motivate students and to show them where their shortcomings are. So the students should be able to adapt their behavior as well as their learning techniques to  quickly return  on the path of success. Assessments  must be made on the basis of objective knowledge acquisition and not based on sophisticated mathematical calculus. They must be easy and understandable.

3. Lessons must teach content.

During the first years of school, the child must also acquire learning techniques. However, school does not primarily serve this purpose. Above all  it has to ensure that the students learn things. The school is intended to provide knowledge which is a fundamental condition for the acquisition of competences. Without an own, patiently acquired knowledge the human being lacks orientation and culture. You can certainly find a lot of stuff on the Internet today but this mass of information is unstructured and confusing, it is not sorted according to importance and quality. If the student has not learned to arrange and rearrange his own thoughts in constant exercise, there is no orientation  in the mess of  electronic media. He needs a critical capacity for thought, enriched with a certain knowledge that allows him to insert new knowledge in his already existing scheme of thinking.
It is time to rehabilitate a certain degree of memorization. Apart from the fact that it represents a cerebral exercise, it is essential for independent thinking. What is in our heads belongs to us and cannot be taken away. To master the multiplication tables (mental arithmetic), knowing some key data of human history, the names of the most important cities in the world and to be able to find them on a map is an essential tool. In addition, general knowledge – poems, songs, idioms, readings, behaviors – are based essentially on our memory. It enriches our mind and our soul, it allows us to think independently, facilitates the life of society and strengthens our ability to communicate.

4. The quality of schools depends on the quality of teachers.

The teacher is the most important conveyor of knowledge. The connection between teacher and student is as old as civilization itself and has not fundamentally changed. This connection can only bear fruit if the teacher has the skills to fulfill his mission. That is why a good education is so important. This training must optimally prepare him for his specific role as educator and teach him to guide a class, without neglecting the theoretical tools. The theory depends on his knowledge in the fields of psychology and didactics. It is obvious that the knowledge acquired by the teacher during his studies is an essential prerequisite for a successful education.
Teaching is understood as something comprehensive, that is fed primarily by the personality of the teacher which is based on knowledge as well as on human and intellectual skills. The student must address the teacher with respect. The teacher should be a role model that the student follows and strives to surpass.

5. There must be a return to the basics.

A person’s knowledge is based on two pillars: the mother tongue and mathematics. There are no humanities without language and no exact or technical sciences without mathematics. By constructing these two pillars solidly, we create a strong foundation for the entire framework of knowledge. The schools’ expanding of learning areas and fields of research are rewarding, but this must not happen detrimentally to the basic subjects. The latter are the educational backbone and prepare the ground for all other areas of knowledge.
Not only does in particular the reading of literary works transform abstract characters into pictures, it also allows us to fathom the recesses of the human psyche. Thereby, the student develops his empathy – a virtue that is in danger to be extinguished by the huge amount of evanescent virtual images, he is exposed to in the modern media environment. Dealing with crucial literary works the student not only discovers the radiant beauty of linguistic expression, but also the complexity and tragedy of human destiny. Due to the deep insight into human nature, the appreciation, and the empathy, the reading student is inspired to encounter the fellow indulgently and favourably. The world of novels is not a creation of imagination isolated from reality, but it is the key to its exploration.

6. The dignity of schools must be respected.

School need to keep up with the times, but at the same time keep a certain distance to trends. This is the only way schools are able to retrieve their dignity. Schools are not a market in which traders sell their products to the customers. Students are not customers, who have to be satisfied – they are humans who need to be educated, trained and instructed. This is the moral and intellectual obligation of pedagogy, far away from all materialistic intentions. Without this assignment, the school will degenerate into a knowledge-bourse, a “diploma factory” or, at worst, a day nursery, where stressed teachers supervise uneducated children and young people after a fashion.

7. The objective justifies the means and not the other way around.

Making the students familiar with IT-tools and the internet is desirable and necessary, but this must serve the actual knowledge acquisition. The means – as enticing and entertaining as they may be – are not to be confused with the aim of the learning process: the acquisition of deepened knowledge and extensive information. It is essential to return to the basics and establish a meaningful relation between form and content in a world in which the forms increasingly replace contents. School is the best place for this. Too often teaching materials determine the educational contents. However, they are not the target, but only the means intending to facilitate the teacher’s tuition in the classroom.

8. The school is also a school for life.

The school is not a playing field for absolute relativism, even if it primarily serves to master critical thinking. Only through the development of moral consciousness and generally applicable measures of value, can the individual grow, become more human, and live in accordance with himself and with his fellows. An education without values serves merely to spread of nihilism. Furthermore, the denial of values usually causes despair and can lead to suicide, drug use, violence or apathy.
A moral conscience evolves only when we learn how our civilization has risen and grown. Knowing how it has developed allows us to ensure its survival. It is only possible to be increasingly more open for belief systems and values different from ours, if we have internalized our own culture’s values. If we do not know our own roots, we can neither understand nor accept those of others.

9. The school promotes languages.

In a world where the distance between the countries, peoples and cultures is decreasing, one cannot help but acquire diverse means of expression and communication. To master one or several languages fluently means to adapt to this new reality. The canton Valais has been so fortunate as to be a bilingual canton. For this reason, the teaching of the two cantonal languages is given priority, without neglecting the simultaneous or subsequent acquisition of additional languages. The better command a person has of classical or modern languages, the clearer and more accurately he can formulate his thoughts. In addition, each new language is a bridge to other forms of thought and different ideologies.

10. Subsidiarity must precede centralization.

Although the structure and activities of the school administration only have an indirect influence on the actual educational work, they are nevertheless of central importance. Due to the political nature of Switzerland and the specific geographical situation of the Valais, subsidiarity and decentralization are most suitable for the organization of the school. Daily decisions must be made as pragmatically and close to reality as possible. To this end, a large part of the responsibility is to be transferred to school boards and school centres. Moreover, the information flow should be simplified as much as possible. Structures should be exempt from all burdens that are not needed for instruction in and administration of schools and bureaucracy as well as administrative cooperation limited to the essentials. Training must take place in the classrooms and not in the offices of the administration. Accordingly, the administration should not be a yoke but a prop.     •

1    Wikipedia: Paideia (Greek “education”) is a key concept for understanding the ancient culture and a central value term. On the one hand, it stands for the intellectual and ethical education and training as a process and on the other for knowledge as a possession and output of the education process. It means not only the education of children, but the focus of people to think of the relevant and the training of the Arete [efficiency]. Only through the correct Paideia the soul achieves its “ultimate level”. The term is derived from the education of the child, but means the education received by a young person which characterizes him throughout his life. […] Paideia means on one hand the process of raising children and on the other hand the result of this education process, namely the knowledge. The gymnastic part of paideia refers to the physical regularity (symmetria) and the musical and philosophic part of paideia refers to the mental and spiritual harmony (kalokagathia). Later paideia is as synonymous for civilization and culture and at the same time the term for an education that distinguishes the civilised people as opposed to the barbarians.

(Translation Current Concerns)