Esteban Bara, F. (2018). Ética del profesorado [Ethics of teaching staff]. (Juan García Gutiérrez)

Esteban Bara, F. (2018).

Ética del profesorado [Ethics of teaching staff].

Barcelona: Herder. 152 pp.

It is sometimes said that writing has a therapeutic dimension. This claim can also sometimes be made for music or, as in this case, reading. One of the many good things that could be said about this work is that it is a therapeutic book. One that rebuilds the identity and vocation of the educator, which has become so fragmented and attacked in this hyper-technological era. It is, undoubtedly, a healing and reconciling read, but not an easy one. It is not superficially written, neither does it use easy or kind words to gladden the heart of those who carry out this profession. It reminds us that education is a risk. And so a reading develops that puts in a place of safety the pedagogical vocation and hope (Day) and, above all, the identity, often fragmented, of those who dare to undertake this adventure. Because teachers also need rescuing sometimes (as Pennac told us of his experience as a pupil).

It should also be noted that this is not a book for influencers (or youtubers or instagrammers). Indeed, education is also a type of influence, but this book goes into other types of influence in greater depth. It is also not recommended for people with a superficial view of educational action. Nonetheless, people who take education seriously will find something of a panacea in its pages, which can restore their vocation and identity as educators.

In a time of claims for and recognition of rights, it is vital, as Esteban notes, to recognise people’s right to become better than they are, especially young people (p. 31). Facilitating this right is a moral duty and is the job of all educators. And this is precisely what this work is about, analysing in depth how teachers cooperate irreplaceably with other educational agents on this task, this “endeavour of convictions” (as Ibáñez-Martín would say). As a good pedagogue, Esteban has written a very visual book on the moral nature of the teaching profession. His reflections are illustrated with examples, quotes, extracts from films, and so on (it is almost a real transmedia narrative), which help the reader consider and contemplate the act of education in a variety of ways.

But this book does not just describe and make us look carefully at the act of education. It also calls on us to do this in a critical way, not to settle or be conformist but instead to seek excellence. The quality, quantity, and opportuneness of the questions spread throughout the text make the reader reflect and consider, obliging her to ponder different educational situations. Not to take anything for granted, as every moment and every student are unique and need an original, creative, and personal response: how do teachers who make people fall in love with things experience love? (p. 33); how can something be taught without committing to anything?; how can someone be inspired to fall in love with a subject if the teacher is not in love with it? (p. 104); why do some people feel trapped by education? (p. 22); is [education’s] purpose just that people who access it obtain an external commodity called a qualification (p. 58)?; what should be done in morally plural communities like many of our educational centres? (p. 65); how can we say things that appeal and astonish, things that stir up the pupil’s morality and are not easily forgotten? (p. 124).

The book has five major chapters, or five reflections. In the first chapter, education is presented as a life experience, an act that “humanises” not only the pupil but also the teacher (or the educator in general). In this first step, the author asks himself about the reason, what it is that motivates these teachers to want to influence the lives of their pupils. In the second chapter, two different route maps for educating are presented: two focuses which are hard to reconcile because of the prominence the first of them has now acquired. Namely, “the one that extols the autonomy and moral freedom of the pupil and neglects the fact that this pupil is also a member of a moral community” (p. 40). A community that also creates connection in terms of duties, because “in [it] alone the free and full development of his personality is possible” (the often forgotten art. 29.1, of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights). And as teachers we know that education, in particular, is linked to the development of this personal fulfilment.

Chapters three and four can be read as two sides of the same page. On the one hand, some of the problems, distortions, and noises that create a certain type of influence are presented. The obstacles (for the humanizing mission, as this is what the chapter is called) facing those who nowadays really do want to educate (themselves). On the other hand, those tasks that teachers can undertake to counteract these depersonalizing influences are also set out: “welcoming the student” (p. 109); “creating a petit paradis” (p. 116), a pedagogical oasis away from routine; and transmit “the best of the best” (p. 123). The final chapter, “invitations for teacher training” is perhaps, given its multiplying effect, the most important of all. As Esteban Bara notes, educating is not just a profession, hence the importance of adding a good dose of “pedagogical intangibles” (García Amilburu & García-Gutiérrez) to training which make the teacher an “artisan of education” (p. 134), and making universities and colleges places for fostering creative encounters.

Parents, grandparents, teachers at all educational levels, and other formal (and informal) educational agents will agree that the educational act has never before presented as many challenges, facets, and difficulties as it does today. Hence the need for people with this educational experience which the book exudes (and, why not say it, erudition too) to be able to share it. Furthermore, one of the book’s successes is, precisely, its firm support for a “practical” idea of ethical education. The author presents us with a concept of engaged human fulfilment; a fulfilment intimately connected to others (“the human cannot develop other than through cooperation” as Humboldt said), with what we do, and with the virtues we are capable of using in our life project.

Ultimately, and to end this invitation to read this work by Esteban Bara, how can we fulfil this task that forms part of the humanising adventure? In these roughly 140 pages (not characters), you will find sufficient material to discern an answer.

Juan García Gutiérrez