Year XXXVIII, 1996, Number 2 - Page 119
INTERNATIONALISM AND EDUCATION*
The Twentieth Century: An Overview.
I would like to open this conversation by indicating first of all some reasons why I feel it is important today, looking at education, to take into consideration problems connected to internationalism.
The main reasons lie in certain features of contemporary society, which I believe are worth noting, considering that the goals of education are set by society — as Piaget puts it — both “spontaneously through the constrictions of language, customs, the way of thinking, the family, economic conditions etc.”, and “indirectly through the organs of the state or particular institutions”.
Without taking up the various analyses available, I will limit myself on this subject to pointing out the balance drawn up by Eric Hobsbawm in his book The Short Century, because I consider it particularly effective.
“Between 1914 and the early 1990s”, he writes, “the globe has become far more of a single operational unit, as it was not, and could not have been in 1914. In fact, for many purposes, notably in economic affairs, the globe is now the primary operational unit and older units such as the ‘national economies’, defined by the politics of territorial states, are reduced to complications of transnational activities. The stage reached by the 1990s in the construction of the ‘global village’ — the expression was coined in the 1960s (MacLuhan, 1962) — will not seem very advanced to observers in the mid-twenty-first century, but it had already transformed not only certain economic and technical activities, and the operations of science, but important aspects of private life, mainly by the unimaginable acceleration of communication and transport”.
The first characteristic element of our century is therefore the intensification of interdependence at global level, which has radically transformed economics, science, technology and private life.
But alongside this element, and closely connected to it, Hobsbawm perceives another: that of the problem of managing these processes at world political level: “Perhaps the most striking characteristic of the end of the twentieth century is the tension between this accelerating process of globalization and the inability of both public institutions and the collective behaviour of human beings to come to terms with it. Curiously enough, private human behaviour has had less trouble adjusting to the world of satellite television, E-mail, holidays in the Seychelles and transoceanic commuting”.
And this tension is rendered even more dramatic by a further element which, according to Hobsbawm, characterizes our century: “the disintegration of the old patterns of human social relationships, and with it incidentally, the snapping of the links between generations, that is to say, between past and present”, a disintegration which proves “particularly evident in the most developed countries of the western version of capitalism, in which the values of an absolute a-social individualism have been dominant, both in official and unofficial ideologies, though those who hold them often deplore their social consequences”, but which can “be found elsewhere, reinforced by the erosion of traditional societies and religions, as well as by the destruction, or autodestruction, of the societies of ‘real socialism’.’’
If these are some of the fundamental elements characterizing our century, which make it different from previous epochs, and if, as said, society determines the goals of education, clearly one cannot occupy oneself with education and the values it refers to, without taking account of the process of globalization and the problem of the construction of public institutions and collective behaviour suited to this process and hence able to govern it.
In this perspective it may be useful to recall briefly the thinking of certain educationalists of our century on internationalism.
The Consciousness of Historical Transformations and of Their Relationship with the Philosophy of Education in Dewey.
In quoting Hobsbawm we referred to a date, 1914, as the starting point from which to consider what is specific to our century. Indeed, we all know that the First World War was the first thing to signal this process of globalization, dramatically but very evidently.
It is no mere chance that from this there already emerged the need for a political instrument able to solve international disputes by peaceful and democratic methods, a need realized in the League of Nations. And this independently of the fact that from the very beginning it was deprived of real significance by the USA’s refusal to join it, and that it subsequently proved to be almost a total failure. Certainly I do not propose to go over or offer interpretations of the events of the twentieth century; I have cited these elements, underlining their presence already during the First World War, because it is precisely starting from these years, probably under the impression left by the events of war, that at the level of pedagogy and educational proposals there emerged in various authors a clear consciousness of the specificity of this epoch compared to previous ones, and consequently there is a strong affirmation in educational circles of an internationalist perspective, often connected with pacifist ideals.
In my opinion Dewey is the thinker who, more than any other in these years, expresses this consciousness of the close connection linking the internationalist perspective to the concept of education in the twentieth century.
In Democracy and Education, he arrives at this awareness both by an analysis of the contemporary world, and by a consideration of educational theories of the past.
In this connection Dewey considers in particular three eras, because of the great importance given in them to the social significance of education. The first is that corresponding to the thinking of Plato; Dewey finds in Platonic philosophy a fundamental pedagogic intuition, the most “adequate recognition... of the educational significance of social arrangements and... of the dependence of those arrangements upon the means used to educate the young”; however, because of the influence on his thought of the conditions of the society he lived in, Plato failed to recognize “the infinite diversity of active tendencies and combinations of tendencies of which an individual is capable”, nor escape a static perspective, one in which “the final end of life is fixed”.
After this reference to Platonic philosophy, Dewey concentrates his own analysis on the modern antecedents of contemporary educational theory: the “individualist” ideal of the eighteenth century and the national and social ideal of the nineteenth century.
According to Dewey, statements current in the eighteenth century concerning the diversity of natural individual talents and the need for free development of individuality only convey “an inadequate idea of the true significance of the movement”, whose chief interest lay “in progress and in social progress”. In other words we are dealing with a “seeming antisocial philosophy”, which in counterposing nature and society was “a somewhat transparent mask for an impetus toward a wider and freer society — towards cosmopolitanism”, a philosophy whose true ideal lay in “humanity”. And this because “in membership in humanity, as distinct from a state, man’s capacities would be liberated; while in existing political organizations his powers were hampered and distorted to meet the requirements and selfish interests of the rulers of the state”.
It is the ingenuousness of this theory which explains the shift to the national ideal in the nineteenth century: indeed, according to Dewey, it was bound to soon show its weakness from an educational point of view, since “merely to leave everything to nature was... but to negate the very idea of education”. Within a few years in fact the conviction grew that if the educational process, directed towards the “complete and harmonious development of all powers” was so important as to have “as its social counterpart an enlightened and progressive humanity”, this certainly could not be entrusted to the “accidents of circumstance”, but “required definite organization for its realization”. And this organization, in the nineteenth century, was identified precisely in the nation-state, which replaced humanity as an ideal; therefore “to form the citizen, not the man, became the aim of education”.
Thus the preceding theory was turned on its head. Dewey wrote, “with the immense importance attached to the nationalistic state, surrounded by other competing and more or less hostile states”, it was in fact impossible not to end up demanding “the subordination of individuals to the superior interests of the state”, and to consider “the educational process” as “one of disciplinary training rather than of personal development”. And nevertheless the philosophy of education attempted, by recourse to the concept of the “organic” nature of the state, to theoretically reconcile the idea of the complete realization of the individual with the ideal of the state.
Now it is precisely this nationalistic goal, characteristic of nineteenth century education according to Dewey, with which the democratic concept of education of the twentieth century must take into account, in order to distance itself from it and itself be realized. He writes: “one of the fundamental problems of education in and for a democratic society is posed by the conflict between a nationalistic and a wider social aim”.
The problem is generated when “the social aim of education and its national aim” are identified, because “the result” is “a marked obscuring of the meaning of the social aim”.
On the other hand, Dewey himself realizes that “this confusion corresponds to the existing situation of human intercourse”, in which he sees “on the one hand, science, commerce and art transcend national boundaries” and “involve interdependencies and cooperation among the peoples”, while on the other “each nation lives in a state of suppressed hostility and incipient war with its neighbours”.
Faced with this contradiction, twentieth century educational theory should, according to Dewey, seriously consider the question: “Is it possible for an educational system to be conducted by a national state and yet the full social ends of the educative process not be restricted, constrained, and corrupted?”
In order that the true social ends of the educative process are not corrupted, enormous problems have to be faced: “Internally, the question has to face the tendencies, due to present economic conditions, which split society into classes some of which are made merely tools for the higher culture of others. Externally, the question is concerned with the reconciliation of national loyalty, of patriotism, with superior devotion to the things which unite men in common ends, irrespective of national political boundaries”.
To eliminate the effects of economic inequalities and nationalistic barriers, powerful administrative provisions are necessary first of all; but also “modification of traditional ideals of culture, traditional subjects of study and traditional methods of teaching and discipline”.
As for what concerns, in particular, teaching related to relations between nations, according to Dewey “it is not enough to teach the horrors of war and to avoid everything which would stimulate international jealousy and animosity. The emphasis must be put upon whatever binds people together in cooperative human pursuits and results, apart from geographical limitations. The secondary and provisional character of national sovereignty in respect to the fuller, freer, and more fruitful association and intercourse of all human beings with one another must be instilled as a working disposition of mind”.
The democratic idea “of education as a freeing of individual capacity in a progressive growth directed to social aim” is closely linked for Dewey to these aspects. If these are not tackled, Dewey tells us, “a democratic criterion of education can only be inconsistently applied”. By way of explanation, we could say that the importance given in Dewey’s pedagogy to interest, to the connection between practice and theory, to the investigative method and to group research, finds its full significance only if linked to the prospect of overcoming social and national barriers.
The Internationalist Perspective in Other Educationalists.
In addition to Dewey, who expressed so clearly back in 1916 the consciousness of the connection in a democratic society between education and overcoming the nationalistic perspective, and of the need to link this aim to the utilization of suitable economic, cultural and methodological-didactic means, many other authors could be cited. These are generally exponents of the new schools and of activist pedagogy, who, starting from these same years and up till the period following the Second World War, dealt with the same theme. I will limit myself to recalling a few, chosen for their contribution to focalizing various aspects of the problem.
Still in the ambit of the United States and in the wake of Dewey, Kilpatrick, discussing the problem of nationalism in 1926, links it to anarchism, declaring in no uncertain terms: “Nationalism... has, as we know, a history. The conception of absolute national sovereignty is comparatively new in the world and, in a world of ever growing interrelatedness, quite as unworkable as is the theory of absolute personal sovereignty... Just as history has convinced mankind that laws are necessary to the most effective freedom of each person living in human relations with others, so now, with integration daily weaving the world more and more into one social whole, does it increasingly appear necessary that law must govern nations. And if enforcement by the common strength is necessary to save the weak person from the unwarranted invasion of the strong, why not so with nations? Increasingly the world sees and understands it so”.
From this point of view it is, for Kilpatrick, a matter of transforming not only methods in education, but the traditional cultural vision of certain disciplines. If it is the school’s duty to give “a vision and a grasp of facts able to cope with these facts as they are”, it must adopt “world mindedness”. “And this means a new history”, writes Kilpatrick, “a new geography, probably a new inclusive social science. For the old history and the old geography by a selective perversion of the facts render us incapable of seeing truly the actual oncoming situation”.
It is worth underlining that this importance attributed by Kilpatrick to the transformation of the historic-social disciplines is confirmed by other authors who adopt a similar perspective against nationalism; to quote only one example, we may mention the name of Cousinet. Writing in Europe and at a later date (1943), he condemns traditional history teaching, directed at children and pre-adolescents: “There is the sole preoccupation of always exalting national sentiment and leaving schoolchildren ignorant of all those cases where people not belonging to the same country have cooperated and worked for the common good in commerce, industry, arts and sciences. This is the source in all peoples of the hatred of the foreigner, whom schoolchildren never see appear on the scene of history except with weapon in hand”.
Other authors, still taking the perspective of an internationalist education, seem on the other hand to favour the analysis of more properly psycho-affective dynamics with respect to the organization of content.
This is the case with Pierre Herman Bovet, who, in discussing civic education, takes into consideration human instincts, and among these the instinct for struggle and the instinct to solidarity; according to Bovet these are closely linked together in man, which is why the transformation of the former to the service of the ideals of solidarity — in various forms, from canalization to sublimation — is possible and constitutes one of the principal tasks of education. In fact “education inspired by the ideal of peace between peoples is simply the moral, civic and human education of the individual taken as a whole”. “From the family to the clan, from the clan to the tribe, from the latter to the country. Who will stop us from setting our sights even further and seeing the moment when this highest form of social sentiment, solidarity, will take as its object not the state alone, but all mankind? After the confederation of districts into cantons, the confederation of cantons into a nation, the confederation of nations”.
This emphasis on affective dynamics is also found in Montessori, who, discussing the question of peace, maintains that among “the hidden instincts which guide man in the construction of himself”, and which “education must exploit”, there is “a powerful social instinct”. In reality, “the child is misunderstood by the adult”, who represses him. “A war without truce... awaits man from birth and accompanies him throughout his development”, a war “between the strong and the weak”, won by the adult; it is “fatal for humanity”, because, according to Montessori, who here appears to take up psychoanalytical themes, “the obedience to which the child is subjected in the family and in the school, obedience which does not admit reason and justice, prepares man to accept subjugation as his fate... it opens up the way to the spirit of devotion, almost of idolatry towards leaders, who represent for the trapped man the father and schoolmaster, figures which imposed themselves on the child as perfect and infallible”. And the children’s life of slavery, punished if they help their classmates and encouraged if they do better than them and beat them by emulation, is an education which prepares men for war.
These psychological mechanisms count much more, according to Montessori, than the cultural content they are taught: “Whether one speaks of war to children, whether the history of mankind is adapted this way or that for the use of children”, she writes, “this changes nothing in the destiny of society”. Montessori, aware of the transformations going on at a historical level in the direction of interdependence (further signalled by how different war is in the contemporary world), considers it fundamental that they are accompanied by progress on the interior level in the direction of mental health and happiness; because “a union of withered and isolated men is not a society, cannot be a fertile society offering any moral progress, or any human elevation”. To construct a “science of peace” — in short — it is necessary to base it on two realities. “One is that a new child exists... the other is that today humanity constitutes in many respects a single nation... both from the economic point of view, and from the material and intellectual point of view”. And central to all this is the task of an education which makes the most of the child: “The man who today is overwhelmed by his time must dominate it. If men were prepared for the present state of life, instead of being dragged along by events, they could themselves direct them so that mankind, instead of precipitating from one illness to the other, from one crisis to another, would start on the conquest of social health”.
Claparède also refers to psychological dynamics, but more focalized on cognitive development, in an essay written in 1937, where, referring to the social development of the individual described by Piaget, he compares nationalism to infantile egocentrism, and internationalism to the level of higher mental development constituted by socialized thought, maintaining that “the current maladjustment in international relations can be put down to a state of infantilism due to retarded growth”. In his opinion, “only by educating the new generations can these sentiments be modified”, and for this education he advances some proposals: “the young person has to experience for himself these international sentiments, for example through inter-scholastic correspondence and international holiday camps”.
And Piaget himself is the last author whom I intend to consider, since I find the analyses conducted by him extremely profound and interesting. When looking at the problem of international education after the Second World War, Piaget points out to us that, from the point of view of implied mental operations, “social reality in general, and particularly current international social reality, are among the things which we understand least”; and this because “collective phenomena have changed in scale, and the level on which they are produced is that of complete interdependence”, “a state of affairs which in truth we fail to assimilate, to which we are not yet accustomed”. It is with these difficulties of comprehension, which are both intellectual and moral, that education must reckon. It must not only offer the child “some new knowledge concerning reality and international institutions”, but above all it must foster “an attitude sui generis, an instrument of coordination both intellectual and moral, valid at all levels and adaptable to international problems too”.
This attitude however meets a fundamental obstacle in another attitude, the “most spontaneous and least easily uprooted from every individual consciousness as from every collective consciousness — egocentrism ... and sociocentrism”. If thinking directed towards natural reality has succeeded in freeing itself from egocentrism over centuries of striving, as the development of science shows us, “from the social point of view... the decentring of the I, of the we, or of their symbols and territories, is still impeded by much more numerous obstacles”... “our spirit is divided between national egocentrism, class egocentrism, racial egocentrism, and many other more or less powerful forms which impose on it a whole gamut of errors ranging from simple illusions of perspective to the lie stemming from collective constrictions”.
For an international education therefore it is not enough to add on some teaching concerning international institutions. In the first place, all teaching must be rendered “entirely international: not only that of history, geography and modern languages, disciplines in which the interdependence of nations leaps to the eyes of even the most blind”, writes Piaget, “but also that of literature and science”; in this way we might hope to arrive at comprehension and tolerance.
In the second place, active methods must be used, “which put in the first place shared research (group work)... and the social life of the pupils (self-government)”: and this on the one hand because social experiences help them discover directly those “same conflicts of reciprocity” and the “same lack of comprehension” of which “international life is the theatre, on an entirely different scale naturally”; and on the other hand because “in organizing a social life among the pupils themselves it becomes possible to extend it by setting up international exchanges and also study groups which have as their object international problems”.
From the International Pedagogical Movements to the International Institutions for Education.
The authors considered, as we have said, are not the only ones to concern themselves with the problem of international education: their analyses certainly make them particularly significant; but they are significant also because in various cases they made themselves promoters or participated actively in associations or movements with international perspectives in the field of education. Among the various movements, institutes and associations, — the list of which would be of little significance here and necessarily incomplete — I would like to limit myself to noting, because of its importance and influence, the Bureau International d’Education, founded in 1925 in the ambit of the Jean Jacques Rousseau Institute in Geneva, of which two of the authors quoted — Bovet and Piaget — were directors.
The BIE was founded as a reaction to the exclusion of questions of a pedagogic nature from the area of action of the League of Nations, an exclusion due to the explicit opposition expressed in many intellectual environments, under the pretext of national sovereignty, to any form of international collaboration in education (we must not forget that in the pedagogical ambit in the twentieth century there are not only internationalist orientations).
The BIE, born as a private institution, after having organized various congresses, changed its structure in 1929 so as to be able to receive governments or ministers of education as members. Thus it began, at the annual assemblies of its Council, to organize the discussion of general reports given by ministers of public education represented in the Council itself. In this way, the international Conferences on Public Education originated, starting in 1932, which from 1934, because of the intermediation of the Swiss government, were opened to all countries, members and non-members of the Bureau.
After the Second World War, the opposition to international collaboration in education having disappeared, Unesco (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) was set up under the aegis of the United Nations; it immediately set up close relations with the BIE, to the point that the international conferences on public education, from which, as is well-known, emerged important “recommendations” on education, were organized in collaboration between the two institutes. The BIE, at the end of the mandate of Piaget and Pedro Rossello, while continuing to maintain its own intellectual autonomy, was incorporated into the general structure of Unesco.
Unesco, in addition to carrying out important work regarding literacy and education in developing countries, adopted and agreed to realize various projects coherent with the proposals of the educationalists quoted, relating to education in an internationalist perspective. I will limit myself here to citing two achievements.
First of all, as regards the need for a transformation of culture in an international sense, in particular of the historic-social disciplines, I would like to note the History of the Scientific and Cultural Development of Mankind, originally planned by Julian Huxley, director-general of Unesco, then carried forward with wide international intellectual cooperation, and published by Unesco itself.
In the second place I would like to note as an example of an action directly aimed at affecting teaching practice, the creation in 1953 of the system of schools associated to Unesco, schools which integrate their own curricular activities with others inserted in syllabuses for the promotion of an education tending to foster international understanding.
The Current Situation. Limitations and Prospects.
The work of Unesco is certainly very important and represents, among other things, an attempt to give concrete form to certain of the principles and objectives enunciated by the educationalists whom we have quoted, and an important effort in the direction of international intellectual cooperation. However, from the point of view of effectiveness, it has some limitations which I believe are clear to anyone like us, works in the field of teaching. The chief limitation can be seen at once when one asks how well-known the two initiatives mentioned, — the History of the Scientific and Cultural Development of Mankind and the system of Associated Schools — are among teachers.
Things clearly become unstuck between Unesco and those who work directly in the field of education, due to the fact that the international meetings fostered by Unesco, via governments, are in fact meetings between ministers.
But that is not all. This difficulty of relations exists, to a large degree, also for the experts. This was already signalled by Piaget in 1965, when he maintained, for the realization of the aims of Unesco, the need for “continuous and organized dialogue” not only between governments, but also between experts, and “a constant to and fro” between these two groups and the groups of teachers and their associations. And if the difficulty of dialogue is harmful for the aims of Unesco, it is so, I believe, also from other points of view, namely from the point of view of pedagogic research and that of educational action.
Indeed, if we consider the pedagogical research of the second half of the twentieth century — the same which reaches teachers in the form of orientation for teaching offered in manuals or journals of didactics, training courses or competitive examinations — I think that in these the tendency can be noted, apart from specializing into various branches, to concentrate more on the operational and concrete aspects of didactic action than on the great problems debated in the first half of the century.
Certainly, the minute and concrete problems of didactic practice have great importance; but if their connection with general problems is lost sight of — as for example might happen with that of the international perspective of education, obviously brought up to date compared to the first half of the century — the various proposed solutions risk becoming devoid of meaning and therefore not leading to any real educational reform. Piaget wrote : “Only when a dialogue is set up between three interlocutors, the scientific currents, the authorities and the real protagonists, can one speak of a sufficiently complete international collaboration in the sector of education”.
I would like to add that perhaps it could be precisely this “three-way dialogue” which might foster a new interest in powerful themes, give pedagogical research a more far-reaching orientation, and make teachers rediscover the full meaning of what they are doing.
*Text of a lecture delivered at the Seminar for teachers on “Nationalism, Internationalism and Federalism” held in Ventotene 4-6 September 1996 under the auspices of the Association for Research and Teaching in Philosophy and History in co-operation with the Faculty of Political Sciences, University of Turin and the Altiero Spinelli Institute, Pavia.
Jean Piaget, Psychologie et pédagogie, Paris, Edition Gonthier, 1969.
Eric J. Hobsbawm, Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century 1914-1991, London, Michael Joseph, 1994, p.15.
John Dewey, Democracy and Education, New York, Macmillan, 1916, p. 104.
Ibid., p. 104.
Ibid., p.105. Elsewhere in the same section of Democracy and Education, we find further details of Dewey’s interpretation of Plato: “Lacking the perception of the uniqueness of every individual, his incommensurability with others, and consequently not recognizing that a society might change and yet be stable, his doctrine of limited powers and classes came in net effect to the idea of the subordination of individuality”. (p. 105) And again, “He thought that change or alteration was evidence of lawless flux; that true reality was unchangeable. Hence while he would radically change the existing state of society, his aim was to construct a state in which change would subsequently have no place” (p. 105).
Ibid., p. 106.
Ibid., p. 106.
Ibid., p. 108.
Ibid., p. 108.
Ibid., p. 109.
Ibid., pp. 109-110.
Ibid., p. 113.
Ibid., p. 113.
Ibid., p. 113.
Ibid., pp. 113-114.
Ibid., p. 114.
Ibid., p. 114.
Ibid., pp. 114-115.
William Heard Kilpatrick, Education for a Changing Civilization, New York, Macmillan, 1926, pp. 72-74.
In connection with W.H. Kilpatrick, we recall the “project method”, illustrated in Fondamenti del metodo, Firenze, La Nuova Italia, 1962.
W.H. Kilpatrick, Education for a Changing Civilization, cit., p.74.
Roger Cousinet, Une méthode de travail libre par groupes, Paris, Edition du cerf, 1949.
Bovet, born in Switzerland in 1878 and dead in 1965, collaborated with Claparède, director of the Jean-Jacques Rousseau Institute in Geneva and founder of the Bureau International de l’Education in 1925, which he directed until 1929.
Pierre Herman Bovet, L’instinct combatif, Paris-Neuchâtel, Delachaux et Nestlé, 1961.
See La paix par l’école, proceedings of the International Conference held in Prague April 16th-20th 1927, Paris, Flammarion, 1927.
G. Galeazzi (ed.), ‘Educazione e pace’ di Maria Montessori e la pedagogia della pace nel ‘900, Torino, Paravia, 1992, p. 68.
Ibid., p. 68.
Ibid., p. 57.
Ibid., p. 59.
Ibid., p. 61.
Ibid., p. 60.
Ibid., p. 77.
Ibid., p. 94.
Ibid., p. 96.
Edouard Claparède, Psychologie de la compréhension internationale, Actes du XI Congrès international de psychologie.
For this quotation from Piaget and those that follow see: Jean Piaget, Où va l’éducation?, Paris, Unesco, 1948, 1972.
The project of this history, which corresponded initially to the conceptions of Julian Huxley, at that time director-general of Unesco, was adopted in Florence in 1950 on the basis of a compromise, designed to avoid any form of bias on the part of the organization towards any particular philosophical vision: each volume was entrusted to an author whose value was recognized and yet all the preparatory work was the object, through national committees, of wide consultation. For a reconstruction of the history and an examination of some of Unesco’s achievements, it may be useful to read Dans l’esprit des hommes, Unesco, 1946-1971.
Jean Piaget, Psychologie et pédagogie, Paris, Edition Gonthier, 1969.