In this complicated world, the school draws on its oldest and most enduring components to serve as social cohesion. These components form an ancestral ritual that has been preserved since Antiquity. Learning is experienced there as a game; the community that composes it functions as a veritable laboratory of social roles experienced in all forms of cultural relations; in addition, the appeal to the truth as a spearhead, which all members of this community embrace as a common goal, flowing together, not seamlessly but often with turbulent energy. This energy finds its channel via a fourth ritual component: discipline, which envelops and gives form to a dynamic and not static form. The channel is mobile and changeable, firm and flexible, the main attribute of which is to creatively contain the community.
In addition to these four components, a fifth element insists on knocking on the door and participating in this legendary ritual. I’m talking about human communication. Giving it a place can cause controversy. Byung-Chul Han (the now indispensable Korean philosopher) speaks of oriental rituals as simple formal acts that unite a community without the need for communication between its members. They repeat thousand-year-old gestures whose meaning, if it ever existed, has been lost in time.
It is difficult for Westerners to conceive of human beings grouped together without any message circulating between them (even the beginning of a desire to be together). Undoubtedly, we identify fully with this vision of the mid-twentieth century, decreeing categorically that everything communicates (everything absolutely, consciously or unconsciously). In addition, we have deeply embraced the idea that communication opens up the possibility of moving forward and growing. Han’s vision and this idea that everything communicates, each with its successes, show the need to question both the scope of communication that always propels us forward and the repetitions of the ritual, which call us to the past, to the origin.
As ancestral as they are, the components of the school ritual are tested day by day by daily reality. As for the game, everything that students study in school (which could be a source of great pleasure) is likely to become tedious and daunting for the most enthusiastic. (David Strogatz, a pleasant popularizer like few others, places the mathematics learned at school on the “serious” side of this discipline, leaving it out of the playful arenas of more playful spaces). Also exercise of social roles, which could make us real experts in relationships with others, often becomes an artificial, even cruel interaction, capable of violating our social skills. Likewise, the appeal to the truthwhich leads us on the path of knowledge, revealing its limits to us and helping us to live with uncertainty, becomes, on the contrary, an appeal to universal law, the only authentic way of knowing, which promises us a finite world, a definitive truth. In this world of fixed goals, discipline can become a binding gag and, in many cases (increasingly), a self-flagellating, self-channeling whip that impedes us from the natural process of moving between light and darkness, right and off-center, routine and adventure, protection and risk.
The sixth part
humans are contradictory beings: We emit two or more opposite truths of each thing. We can more or less cope with this in our human relations, our political opinions, our religious beliefs and our questions of philosophy and art; however, it becomes truly catastrophic when we find mutually exclusive laws even in the exact sciences. This has been demonstrated in quantum and classical physics, which oppose each other. (Scientists say it’s only a matter of time before this antinomy is resolved and the unity of all existence is recomposed, but as Nobel physics laureate Eugene Wigner explained, there’s no guarantee that scientific antinomies will one day disappear.)
In an effort to save our rationality, Edgar Morin develops the theory of complexity, starting from the fact that we are in an archipelago of certainties surrounded by an ocean of uncertainties. For him, if I understand correctly, human beings can use these rare certainties to build rafts to venture into a sea whose laws are unknown to us (an enterprise which, at least for me, singularly resembles the Homeric Odyssey ). Søren Kierkegaard, perhaps more realistically (although it seems a joke to say so), speaks of leaps of faith into the void, thanks to which the vast sea becomes navigable. A similar circus image is that of “jump and the net will appear”, which some attribute to Zen wisdom.
For his part, Erich Fromm thinks that only Love (the mysterious fusion of different realities which does not lose the essential in each one) can relieve reason when it comes up against its limits. According to him, if reason is really reasonable, it voluntarily abandons the issue of knowledge to this invisible relay. If, following these ideas, we make a place for love among the components of the ritual, we find in it the capacity to recompose the essence of scholasticism in the face of a daily life unfamiliar with uncertainty.
To be clear, in my vision, love is far from being an exclusively protective and debilitating feeling. I want to first resort to its image of strength capable of questioning everything, of questioning everything up to the ultimate consequences without destroying, but on the contrary, infinitely affirming its integrity in a process of dialogue. Thus, faced with a teaching/learning that aspires to master reality and to accumulate certainties with a view to perfect knowledge, love values learning in itself, like a game, discovery in the unproductive a powerful source of meaning for our lives. (Do not do, do not intervene altering reality is the basis of one of the oldest and most valid philosophies today: taoism. If the reader does not recognize the currency by this name, consider one of its fundamental concepts, the Yin-Yang). Love comforts us and allows us to release the forces where the frustration of not being complete beings, instead of being something missingterrifies us.
At the same time, love ensures that we do not give up all productive knowledge and develop a new gambling addiction: the addiction to participanti.e. to feel part community and losing our individuality, wanting to always participate; getting lost in the sense of the whole and sacrificing our own. Love reactivates us and takes us away from the need to disperse ourselves in the whole to finally get rid of this obligation that haunts us so much: that of to be someone. It is well known that the premise that underpins the success of casinos is that the vast majority of players only like to win so they can keep playing. However, the good player has a plan for himself, which allows him to stop when he is in front. Love is a back and forth between a self who becomes more and more locked into his inner potential and a self who wishes to extricate himself from an infinite game.
If we speak now of exercising social roles, love knows, respects and cares for others; he rejoices with them and accompanies them over unsuspected precipices or responds to them with excessive anger and rejection without ever destroying them. The love of the educator allows students to develop in every way, with multiple emotions, ideas, intentions and words, providing motivation and safeguards. It protects and offers freedom. He is attentive, careful. It responds to what the student has done. He sets limits (sometimes drastic and even dramatic) when necessary. (In the case of intimidation, love – attentive and questioning – identifies both open and passive aggression; the latter can be as destructive as the former).
As for the call to truth, love (as we have said) makes it possible to value knowledge for its own sake, as a game, and as a reason for union. The game is unifying and the social exchange is conflictual; for his part, the appeal to the truth brings the two energies together towards one point, bringing us together. It once again builds a unifying bond between us, not to invigorate the need to know (or any other anxieties) but to allow us to spread our knowledge in the understanding that all truth is shared. In this dialogue, science (which has always wanted to bestow upon us common truths) is most welcome as a participant. In fact, we can all use it; the call only asks for the “authenticity” of each one of us, that is to say the correspondence between thinking, feeling and acting.
(To be continued)