Nasarre, E. (Ed.) (2022). Por una educación humanista. Un desafío contemporáneo [In favour of humanistic education. A contemporary challenge] (Clara Ramírez-Torres)
Nasarre, E. (Ed.) (2022).
Por una educación humani n desafío contemporáneo [In favour of humanistic education. A contemporary challenge].
Narcea. 212 pp.
I remember a phrase I heard once. It was something like: “in the sciences we build the world, whereas in the arts you just write about how we do it”. The truth is that it is a sign of great ignorance not only to lack knowledge of something but also to not even understand the influence (and therefore the power) that this knowledge can have. Maybe, if we alter it in the following way, the phrase above may be more truthful: “those in the arts state how the world is (or will be) and those in the sciences build it in accordance with these statements”1.
In the book reviewed here, we catch a glimpse of what humanistic education has to offer and the urgent need for it. As it makes clear, this type of education does not aim to save the humanities, but rather aims to save us. In this way, the book is structured in nine chapters, written by leading authors in the areas of education, psychology and Spanish-speaking culture.
The introduction, compiled by the editor of the book Eugenio Nasarre, explains, by citing Jacques Maritain, that the problem with modern education lies in the subordination of the ends to the means. Therefore, we should discover the purpose of education; because, if we do not, it could be used for other ends that infringe upon personal freedoms, as several sections of the book demonstrate. To paraphrase Píndaro, “there is nothing more important for each of us, and nothing more difficult, than to become a man” (p. 10). Therefore, the most noble purpose that education can pursue is to help us become more human.
Chapter one, written by Gregorio Luri, begins with a short anecdote that modern pedagogy would approve without a qualm, explaining that in this way the child is learning about the world around them (undoubtedly, a person outside this field would be able to determine that the child is amusing themself and would clearly say so). At present, and particularly in education, after the marks left by constructivism, society has retained an impression of ruthless criticism of schools and terms such as “authority”, “discipline” or “effort”, among other similar terms. Thus, in a gradual way and in the interest of equality, we have achieved an educational system based on rights that, in the words of Alessandro Baricco, “paralyses growth, enthusiasm, hope, any possibility of change” (p. 30); given that, when the criteria for progress at school cease to be one’s worth and effort, these are replaced by others, such as a family’s sociocultural or economic level. On the other hand, although school is an imperfect institution with defects, it is also a noble cause, as Maeztu said: “Human thought owes infinitely more to the institutions that force us to think than to the mere permission to think” (p. 45).
The following chapter, written by Miguel Herrero de Jáuregui, answers the question: why is humanistic education necessary in the twenty-first century? Humanities, despite the criticism they receive from the different political extremes — regarded as unproductive knowledge by the utilitarian right wing or as education for the élite by the left (p. 48) — are and always will be present in people’s lives. Therefore, the underlying question and raison d’être of this chapter is how to use the humanities to make ourselves freer. Because, although music, literature or philosophy may be maintained, in each of these fields there will be all manner of examples and those which have not been approved are the ones that are worth discovering. If schools do not undertake to teach the humanities — by presenting quality examples from different currents — these subjects will be left to the whims of fashion and even the influence of other institutions, with less transparent purposes than schools, which could be used to manipulate the humanities in a biased way.
Later, in the third chapter, the author, Carmen Guaita Fernández, raises the question of the teacher’s role in a world where machines are increasingly emerging in environments where they had been unthinkable until now, claiming to be more effective and precise. In contrast, the teacher-student relationship should offer that which is more human and which machines are not able to provide: dialogue, beliefs, expectations, sense and will. Out of all these, the author particularly emphasises dialogue, both between people and with oneself. On the other hand, in the face of the immediacy of technology — which conceals the processes and only shows the results — we find that everything that is human requires time, such as the cultivation of the virtues that, in Guaita’s words, are “the real and only progress made by humanity” (p. 76).
Chapter four addresses the teacher’s authority. Juan Antonio Gómez Trinidad, who writes this chapter, states that without authority there can be no education and, therefore, there is no sense in questioning it in the field of education. Nevertheless, the problem at present does not lie in the debate surrounding authority but rather in taking for granted that it should not exist. This crisis of authority is due to several causes: the weakness of modern society, which is demonstrated by the lack of exemplariness and by the excess granted to emotions — which, in contrast to reasons, with their hierarchy, are all equally valid; the concept of authority that the new pedagogy has attributed to it, as a threat to the child’s autonomy; and the abusive practices applied to it. Lastly, the chapter describes the course to take in recovering authority, as, when it is not exercised, “this hierarchy does not disappear, but rather is replaced by another, normally of a hegemonic and despotic nature” (p. 85).
In the following chapter, Agustín Dosil Maceira suggests a way, based on several disciplines, to “achieve the highest levels of personal growth and development — wisdom and happiness — and thereby contribute to building a more human future” (p. 99). Furthermore, he presents some of the current situations that represent an obstacle to personal growth, such as the blurring of the different roles that the various educational stakeholders should hold — by undertaking tasks that are not their responsibility or vice versa — and the utilitarian notion that causes variations in what is considered to be valuable: something is of value today but perhaps it will not be tomorrow. Finally, he explains the consequences for development of the use and abuse of technology.
Chapter six addresses the learning of virtue and is written by Agustín Domingo Moratalla. Here, he speaks about the importance of virtue and its indispensable role — despite the fact that it is not part of educational approaches — as, without it, moral education will fail. Throughout this chapter, he defends this concept as enabling the balance between nature and culture; it acts as a mediator between values — which is necessary in a pluricultural society; and, in contrast to rules, it is not bound by required minimums, but rather it offers maximums for a good life. In addition, and in line with input by MacIntyre, he presents several outlooks for virtue in modern society, reaching the understanding that it strengthens the resolve for good.
The seventh chapter, written by Xavier Pericay Hosta, begins with several anecdotes that portray the forced and frequently absurd use of language to avoid offending anybody. As will be shown further on, changing language effects a change in other, deeper realities. Furthermore, and by paraphrasing Hannah Arendt, the author explains that education requires authority and tradition, a transmission of the culture of our past. However, due to the terminology that the LOGSE (Spanish Education Law of 1990) began to enforce in the field of education — although hints of this could already be glimpsed in the 1970 education law — authority and tradition have decreased in value, to the detriment of education.
In chapter eight, José María Martínez- Val Pañalosa retraces the route taken by the development of scientific truth, from its beginnings as a concept in which only the tangible and that which was composed of penetrable material could be studied scientifically, to the contribution of quantum physics that enables us to understand without penetration. He ends the chapter by revealing that intelligence is that which causes us to identify scientific truth, although a greater intelligence is required to identify our own objectives, since knowledge brings with it great power that needs to be used well, as it can produce monsters such as the atomic bomb.
The last chapter, compiled by Gregorio Robles Martínez and Jesús Moreno León, presents the mutual adaptation of human beings and technology. As a metaphor, he uses the relationship that exists between the protagonists of the novel by Cervantes, which shows how Don Quixote acquires Sancho’s traits and at the same time Sancho becomes quixotised. Thus, we human beings undergo change as a result of our relationship with technology but we also try to give it human features. In order to humanise technology, we will certainly have to learn about everything involved in being human and in this, the study of humanities plays a significant role.
Whilst reading the book, one perceives a sense of thirsting to seek the truth that even questions some aspects of the dogmatism that surrounds political correctness, by offering a broader vision. Lastly, it is important to note that humanistic education has been explained by and for different areas: personal, social, scientific and pedagogical. The authors come from different fields of knowledge, ranging from philosophy to engineering, including teachers of several educational stages, which has provided a holistic conception of the contribution of the humanities. Thus, the very structure of this book demonstrates what it advocates: that humanness can mean broadness, greatness, diversity and harmony.
1. Note here the similarity of this idea with the Biblical story of creation in which the word was first, what God said, and, afterwards, it came into existence. “And God said, ‘Let there be light.’ And there was light.” (Gen. 1.3).
Clara Ramírez-Torres ■