Buxarrais, M. R., & Vilafranca, I. (Eds.) (2018). Una mirada femenina de la educación moral [A feminine view of moral education]. (Eric Ortega González)

Buxarrais, M. R., & Vilafranca, I. (Eds.) (2018).

Una mirada femenina de la educación moral [A feminine view of moral education].

Bilbao: Desclée De Brouwer. 233 pp.

“Le siècle prochain sera féminin, pour le meilleur ou pour le pire”, states the philosopher Julia Kristeva in the general introduction to her work Le génie féminin (p. 11), dedicated to Hannah Arendt. While we could judge her statement using the criteria of truth —in which case we could state that Kristeva is right given that the phrase was published in 1999 and the twenty-first century does seem to be part of the framework of the period in which women have had greatest visibility in the public sphere— we could also evaluate Kristeva’s sentence in aspirational or ideal terms. In this latter scenario, the work reviewed here offers countless reflections deserving attention. Because everyone agrees that it is fair that women occupy, in historical terms and in the most contemporary terms, the central role to which they are entitled. And it is widely known that pedagogy, at least in its most basic role, has something to say about the difficult task of making what is fair into something that is desirable. Texts like Kristeva’s partly contribute to this, as does, in the case that concerns us here, this edited volume with contributions by a total of 21 authors coordinated by Maria Rosa Buxarrais and Isabel Vilafranca.

Twenty-one authors with the aim of making visible discourses on moral Education developed by thirteen women of very different origins, from political theorists like Hannah Arendt to evolutionary psychologists like Carol Gilligan and Literary figures like Astrid Lindgren (creator of the universe and fascinating adventures of  Pippi Longstocking). Those who concentrated on moral philosophy (like Victoria Camps or Martha Nussbaum) or related philosophical topics (as in the case of Edith Stein, Virginia Held, and Judith Butler, among others) stand out as the majority. They are all thinkers with different origins and interests but, in view of their pedagogical-moral reflections, they oblige us to ask ourselves whether there is a specifically feminine moral pedagogy, as Marina Subirats notes in the prologue to the work. In other words, whether there is a difference between intellectual productions by women and men —in particularly in reflections concerning moral education developed by women— which, in some way, gives a certain family connection to the reflections done by each gender.

And the response, far from being one that can be given in a brief comment, offers us a framework in which to sitúate the thirteen thinkers named above. It does this by enabling us to sketch a limit, a sort of boundary between two different worldviews. On the one hand, those that develop their pedagogical reflections in the “androcentric mental universe” (p. 12) —see the cases of Stein, Zambrano, Weil, and Arendt— and which, accordingly, do not question the patriarchal framework in which their thinking occurs, focussing their thinking on aspects which, in principle, could not be categorised as specifically feminine, and on the other hand, those —like Gilligan, Benhabib, and Butler— who question this framework and emphasise the consequences of the silencing of Diotima, which historically appeared in the view of the authors to be the result of certain masculine approaches, in terms of rejecting, undervaluing, and disregarding a way of approaching moral education which focusses all of its attention on the relational aspect of the human being. Its ultimate goal is to incorporate new forms of moral argument which, without any pretence of superiority, complement the Kantian-derived universalist perspective broadly developed by Lawrence Kohlberg and his colleagues.

One good example of pedagogical-moral reflection from inside the androcentric universe is the work of María Zambrano (1904-1991). In the account of the life and work of this thinker from Malaga given in the book, there is no place for reflecting on or questioning the values traditionally associated with masculine thinking. Not even for the countless omissions masculine thinking has frequently made of the virtues commonly linked to life and its care and maintenance. We do, however, find an apt appeal to the concept of poetic reason which Zambrano developed, a good outline of the direct rejection of dogmatisms which has its greatest expression in Horizon of liberalism, and a very timely presentation of the link Zambrano observed between civic conscience and humanity insofar as it is in the polis, in the social community to which the human being belongs, that the true human conscience is forged, in a bidirectional exercise from the civic to the human being and from the human being to the civic. It is in relation to this particular latter aspect that Zambrano’sgreat lesson in terms of moral education is presented. In her view, the ultimate aim of education is to develop a historical conscience which, by putting the individual in her social context, will enable her to develop a full conscience of who she is, in other words, it allows her to relate to the past in a way that transcends mere awareness of it, giving her the chance to invigorate her thinking, beliefs, and habits in order thus to transcend the past in the interest of a more human life. For this author, education means “giving language to all corners of the human soul” (p. 57).

The contrasting paradigm of an author who focusses on the careful silencing of Diotima throughout the history of thinking is very much apparent in Carol Gilligan (1936). This thinker, who was a disciple of Kohlberg, goes beyond him in calling into question the Harvard psychologist’s interpretations of the results of his experimental research into the development of moral judgement. The difference between men and women when reflecting on difficult moral situations, along with the absence of women in Kohlberg’s longitudinal study, led Gilligan to try to understand the specific way in which women weave the experiential and narrative text with which they confront their moral conflicts. And her approach, set out as is well-known in her famous In a Different Voice, offers us the possibility of reflecting on two different ways of understanding moral conflicts, as well as the paths leading to their resolution, one traditionally associated with the masculine and another with the feminine. While the former is marked by a search for universality and, therefore, entails a greater emphasis on the formal, the latter is strongly affected by the context in which the conflict emerges, prioritizing the needs, and the demands for help and responsibility that the participants might require. Attention and care will, for this psychologist, be moral principles as valid—and complementary— as justice and impartiality. And the truth is that what Carol Gilligan revealed to us —earning herself much criticism for it— is a different way of perceiving and confronting moral dilemmas which centres attention on relationships, as well as on the responsibility we have to all human beings. According to this Harvard psychologist, whatever one´s gender, education will be capable of awakening two ways of understanding and confronting moral conflicts which do not make moral universalism or human relationality their only banner.

Of course, we cannot end this review without emphasising two aspects which, in my opinion, are crucial. The first is the boldness of the editors and the authors in composing a work as ambitious as it is necessary, given the invisibility of feminine pedagogical-moral thinking in pedagogical anthologies, apart from a few exceptional cases, and also in view of the androcentrism that even today afflicts academia and which means that some fine collective efforts, such as the one represented by this work, are viewed with suspicion. The second is the elegance and skill with which the authors solve the complex task of summarizing the dissimilar work of thirteen necessary thinkers —although, continuing with the theme, not all of those who are necessary are here, but all of the ones hereare necessary— through an essentially structural connecting thread which gives coherence and continuity to the thinking set out, giving a fascinating sensation of development in the content, themes, and approaches exhibited.

Ultimately, this is a valuable edited work, destined to break through the walls enclosing the academy and where the patient and attentive reader will, between the feminine outlook and the admiration for the intellectual power unfolded by the thirteen women selected, find an almost unfailing source of genuine interest and inspiration.

 Eric Ortega González