- Francisco Esteban Bara
- The Conversation*
The story goes that Socrates was known among his fellow citizens as “the gadfly of Athens.” It is also said that he was delighted with that nickname because it described him very well: his mission was to prod the staff through questions and explanations of those that annoy and, above all, wake up.
Of course, it was very expensive for the great Greek philosopher to make certain people think who, in truth, preferred to continue sleeping. This “gadfly” that does not stop must be given hemlock, they agreed.
But nevertheless, His critical spirit has resulted in one of the greatest revolutions in history.a.
That invitation to think with criteria – ask ourselves why things are like this and not otherwise, try to discover truths and dismantle falsehoods, and not stop saying, as he himself did, “I just know that I don’t know anything” -, it is unmatched.
Basically because the critical spirit frees us from ignorance, that is, of anyone or anything that pretends to think for us; and we already know that we are surrounded by people and technological devices willing to do so.
Certainly, there is no way to talk with people in whom that spirit resides, they teach us everything that has been said and show us that there are people with whom it is very pleasant to talk.
Our current and majority way of thinking about education, that indeterminate and enveloping voice that marks the path for us, bets on a critical spirit.
Spirit of “costume jewelery”
The new generations, it is said, must improve the world, we need many Socrates in offices, hospitals, schools, political parties, streets and squares.
However, reality shows that not only does this discourse form a critical spirit, but also, and increasingly, poorly achieved versions of it.
There are many young people who, after going through the different educational stages, including the university, present themselves in society with a critical “costume jewelery” spirit, far removed from that of Socrates.
Or we rethink education and its policies and the community begins to value critical spirits more than footballers and celebrities or the teachers and families who try to cultivate them day by day will see that their joy is in a well. Let’s look at three of those knockoffs, and maybe some remedies.
1. The critical spirit is the set of opinions that one defends. The famous motto that says the student is the protagonist of education could be the main cause of this curious imitation. That’s what we want it to be, of course, but we should recognize that it can’t be right off the bat, at least not in relation to the critical spirit.
And not because it is not wanted, but because the student is not in a position to assume such a role. Those of us who think that the educational event consists, precisely, in leading the student towards the conquest of their protagonism, that is, of their intellectual and moral autonomy, are surprised when we hear that such a thing “already comes from the factory” and that what you have to do is maximize it.
So things, the “opinologist” is educated, an individual convinced that his opinion is as valid as anyone’s, also like the one who knows the most; and encouraged to present himself in any conversation while sitting down.
There is no critical spirit when we carry the principle that says that to give your opinion before you have to know, when we stop valuing that intellectual and moral autonomy consists of traveling a long and hard stretch of truth.
2. The critical spirit is the domain and knowledge of what is cooking today and now. And that is what we have been doing for years: educating in useful, profitable and effective responses.
But nevertheless, If there is something that keeps the critical spirit alive, it is the big questions that affect us all and never go out of style, and we should think why there are many young people who finish the educational journey with hardly anything serious to ask about themselves and the world in which they live.
These great questions are usually found in the classics of thought, yes, in those works that, as Ítalo Calvino said, tend to relegate the present to the category of background noise, but at the same time they cannot do without it.
That is why a classic, whether it is centuries or ten years ago, a book or a movie, it is a classic because it never finishes saying what it is saying, because it always challenges us.
As much as it costs to believe, a critical spirit without classics gropes, if it really does, and we are surprised that university students, study the career they study, do not have a first course in liberal arts, great ideas, humanities, general culture or whatever you want to call it.
3. The critical spirit is shown in many ways, it goes with the character of each one. Perhaps the media and social networks are the best showcase to see what is being said here. However, something tells us that things are going in the opposite direction, that this spirit is conquered, that it is one who must adapt to it.
It is demonstrated by those people who They have learned to philosophize with delicacy, humility, prudence and good words, fleeing from fever, rudeness, rancor and cold revenge.
The critical spirit also has its aesthetics, something that, it is said, is not usually found on the list of competencies in our school and university curricula.
That aesthetic is learned very well by example. It would be good to select a few of them and discuss them weekly with our students.
A fine, we will not have young people with a critical spirit just by pretending it, much less with promoting imitations that do nothing more than blur and waste the invitation of Socrates and so many others who have followed his path.
*Francisco Esteban Bara is Associate Professor of the Department of Theory and History of Education of the Faculty of Education of the University of Barcelona.
This note originally appeared on The Conversation and is published here under a Creative Commons license.
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