The last half century has seen the birth of seven educational laws in Spain. From the General Education Law of 1970 to the LOGSE, the LOE or the controversial Wert Law (LOMCE), among others. Norms that, however, never managed (and in some cases may not even try) to establish a political and educational consensus capable of resisting the passage of time and successfully addressing the needs of all its students. Gregorio Luri, PhD in Philosophy from the Autonomous University of Barcelona and an expert in pedagogy, argues that the educational debate is full of acrimony, and is noted more for his ideological confrontations than for an approach that addresses the authentic priorities of our school system. We talked with him about these urgencies, about the ideal public school and how that public debate should be about an issue as sensitive as the education of the little ones.
QUESTION. What are the biggest challenges of the public school?
REPLY. There are a number of communities, such as Castilla y León, Navarra or La Rioja that are above the average of the OECD results. Soria, for example, has been systematically above Finland, but our politicians have seen more glamorous visiting Finland than Soria. If we analyze our educational laws according to the results of these regions, we would have good laws. But if we see them according to the results of others such as Andalucía, Canarias, Extremadura or Castilla La Mancha, we would say that they do not work. The question I ask myself is, what is the real impact of our educational laws on school reality? It seems that little. We do not have a clear diagnosis of the situation.
We should consider a rigorous diagnosis of reality, based on a white paper of the teaching profession, where teaching professionals will express their objective analysis of the practical reality of the teaching profession. We would take many surprises. When I go to schools, what I find is a lot of skepticism towards another reform; There is a real chasm between our speeches and teaching practices.
Luis Lisasoain, a researcher at the University of the Basque Country, has unquestionably demonstrated that there are educational centers that perform in a manner superior to what the cultural environment in which they are located would allow to foresee (and also the contrary). So, Why don’t we identify those educational centers and analyze their good practices, to see what they have in common and try to generalize them? School efficiency does not have as much to do with the results as with the differences in the situation of the students when entering and leaving the center. Imagine that, in an elite center, the average number of students is nine; but that these students arrived from their homes with a level of eight, so the intervention of the center is quantified at one point. Now think of a center where they leave with a seven, but they came with a two … This second center has greater efficiency and added value. If we know that the FP of Guipúzcoa is excellent, we will do everything possible so that these practices can be generalized; If school absenteeism is much lower in the Basque Country than in Andalusia, why is this difference?
P. What problems can cause the implementation of the so-called parental veto in some communities?
R. When in a class the teacher says something that is contrary to what a father thinks ideologically, for the child the loss of credibility is not going to be that of the father, but that of the teacher, that of the school. I ask myself this question regardless of what I believe or may believe. In a society where pluralism is considered one of its supreme constitutional values, if a family believes (for example) that virginity before marriage is a value, it may seem like an eccentric opinion to me, but the school should teach us to live with people with values different from ours. If you do not do this, you are not fulfilling the mandate of a democratic school. If the public school, which says and repeats that it wants to be inclusive, closes the doors to parents with certain value systems, which are legal, then it is telling those parents to go to private school, that there is no place in the school Public for them.
With regard to critical thinking, there is an exercise of extraordinary cynicism. If we really want to encourage it, we guarantee that all our students leave ESO knowing how to read and write. And if not, we are saying nonsense. One in four students finish their schooling without being able to understand a minimally complex text. If it turns out that, as the last PISA study says, nine out of ten students are unable to distinguish a fact from an opinion, what are we talking about here when referring to critical thinking? A democratic school has to assume liberal values within it, and know that within the school they must live ideologies that are equally legitimate. There is a drift in which there is less and less weight of knowledge and more of ideology in schools; Ideology with which maybe I agree. But it does not seem to me that the public school’s mission is to promote my beliefs, but the coexistence between different values. If I also launch the daily “fascist” insult to anyone who questions my world view, it is something insane and an extraordinary setback.
If we have accepted that no one has the right to tell me what religion to believe in, or whether to believe in one; that nobody can tell me who to vote for, who to love or even what my gender is, why does the school have to grant itself the right to educate me morally? For example, gender ideology creates suspicion in some families. If we want to take it to schools, are we giving only objective and scientific information (and therefore controversial), or do we have to take it with an indoctrinating interest? If this is the case, it is logical that parents with different values are considered assaulted. The bottom line is that we have stridence and we lack serenity when talking about school. If we analyze any successful educational system, we see that there is always a virtuous circle of trust, in which the administrations trust the centers, the centers in the families, you are in the teachers … All the actors reinforce each other. When we intervene in the debates with the acrimony that characterizes us, what we do is weaken that circle of trust.
P. How can school failure be addressed?
R. Our scandal is not in the school failure, but in that the school failure of the children of 16 can already be intuited in those of nine or ten years, in third or fourth of Primary. That is when a true intellectual revolution occurs in children, who go from learning to reading to learning by reading. To read well, an essential condition is to have a broad vocabulary. Until third, we do not see many differences in children, but from then on the trajectories clearly differ. Our school failure is a linguistic failure. The child who has more vocabulary reads better, and the more he reads, the more vocabulary he acquires. The child with a poor vocabulary gets tired soon and stops reading; and the school has to compensate for this. The fundamental problem is how to detect school failure early and how to correct it.
P. Why is it so difficult to reach a State pact for Education?
A. Because the moment the content is reached, the moral and ideological differences appear. It must be understood that these differences are perfectly legitimate; and what is legal within our legal system must also be legal in our schools.
P. What would your ideal public school be like?
R. A school that values knowledge, which today is denigrated in Spain. Where everyone can read and write, and don’t be afraid of math. It would be a school capable of compensating the deficits that children bring from families and inserted into a meritocratic system, because in Spain they are still more important, to find work, your relationships than your curriculum. In addition, he would always be critically analyzing his own practices, which would have a scientific support behind, and learning from them.
Our society is a society of cognitive capitalism, in which knowledge is a source of wealth. We are attending the formation of a cognitive elite, and if we leave it like this we will obtain a very fragmented society.
P. The director of PISA, the German Andreas Schleicher, recommended last year to Spain work less memory and more other skills such as creativity, critical ability and teamwork. What do you think?
R. Why does he say one thing when he comes here and when he goes to China he says otherwise? It seems to me an aberration and enormous nonsense, which also seriously harms the most culturally and economically disadvantaged. If what we learn is not stored in memory, can we say that it has been learned? To think, you have to think about something, and if not, thought does not exist. Therefore, the more content you have, the more possibilities you have of thinking.
In my next book, The school is not an amusement park, That comes out in March, I make a defense of what I call the powerful knowledge: the rigorous, that of science, which should be given in school, and that manifests itself in a very well furnished and very rich memory. If we studied more sciences, we would be less dogmatic, because science is essentially antidogmatic. If you want to create consensus, you have to rely more on scientific content, on the knowledge that will empower students, and less on ideological content.
P. So memory above creativity?
R. If you want to build a house, you can make many plans and designs, but since you do not have construction materials you will not be able to lift anything. Being creative means being able to see a problem from a new angle, but first you have to know the problem. The ignorant cannot be creative or have rigorous knowledge. I defend the moral duty of being intelligent. The memory image that some have as a kind of file in which things are stored has nothing to do with reality … Memory is very, very active.
Poor children, especially, cannot do without elbows, the effort of learning, memorizing and reviewing memorized; They are an essential didactic tool that seems that we would like to take it from children.
P. Is there perhaps a lack of common sense?
R. There is too much dogmatism, too many armored people following their own principles, who are dedicated to throwing ideas like throwing weapons, and few people seeing what should be seen: the value of the school, or of an educational system, is not in the laws or in its ideology, but in what students take with them when they finish schooling. I get the feeling that our educational system values itself more for the height of its ideals than for its results.