Vol. LXXV (2017) - No. 267 Horizontes para los educadores. Las profesiones educativas y la promoción de la plenitud humana [Horizons for educators: Educational professions and the promotion of human plenitude].
Ibáñez-Martín, J. A. (2017).
Horizontes para los educadores. Las profesiones educativas y la promoción de la plenitud humana
[Horizons for educators: Educational professions and the promotion of human plenitude].
Madrid: Dykinson. 282 pp.
A review should start with an overview of the book, and then a more detailed analysis of its parts and chapters. This book considers the current educational sit- uation, describes it, analyses it in-depth, and makes a variety of interesting arguments. In other words, anyone who reads this book by Ibáñez-Martín, an Emeritus Professor at the Madrid Complutense University, will know what the author has done over the years: study.
This book, Horizontes para los educadores. Las profesiones educativas y la promoción de la plenitud humana, comprises four parts as well as a prologue and an introduction. While it will probably not be the author’s last work – it is to be hoped that he will continue writing so that we can learn from his writings – it could be described as monumental, a compendium of an entire academic life in 17 chapters, 271 pages, 413 notes, and, as if that were not enough, a 7-page index of names in two columns, some- thing that is always appreciated. In brief, this book is undoubtedly very important and will clearly continue to be so for a long time.
It is also worth noting some formal aspects of varying degrees of interest. Firstly, it does not employ the widely-used generic APA citation system. This means that the author provides the precise page, paragraph, or line of the reference, direct or otherwise. This level of intellectual honesty is rare nowadays. Furthermore, thanks to his lengthy career of serious accumulated scholarship, Ibáñez-Martín offers thorough scrutiny of each topic, including its international trajectories, how interest in it has risen and fallen, important milestones, monographs, influential conferences, and, most importantly, in all cases, the first authors to start working on the topics or the ideas under discussion. Here this honesty is combined with avoidance of the butterfly-like style often found in academic writings that constantly flitting from one trend to another, or, rather from one funding source to another.
This careful examination makes it possible to identify another very important common factor; the different topics covered in their different chapters combine to offer a national and international state of the question, sometimes through a flood of chronologically presented reading, or, more often, through a series of paragraphs, each of which expresses one of the dominant and most widely used arguments about the central topic of the chapter. The question of whether they are correct is settled later. It is important to note that a historiographic examination of the question under discussion is not the same as the discussion itself. Ultimately, what most frequently happens in academia is that the former is confused with the latter, as though, for example, the history of the university were the same as its ultimate meaning, or, turning our attention to the chapter that considers most arguments one after the other, as though the history of teaching Catholicism were the same as the educational objective of its transmission. That Ibáñez-Martín makes a deliberate effort in each chapter to differentiate between what things are and what happens to them, what remains and what changes, is of a high academic standard in my view.
Another characteristic that is very much present throughout the book and that the reader will find at the start of every chapter, is that each topic is a battlefield where, with the appropriate elegance, the author starts by describing all of the relevant arguments about the matter under discussion, including the most prevalent and widely held ones, wherever they might come from, for example, from the writings of others, from the ephemeral but highly infl opinions of social networks at a given time, or from the description of an event and the important lessons that can be drawn from it. Having done this – again allowing us to appreciate his intellectual honesty, this time represented by rigour– Ibáñez-Martín, as though setting out a chess board, positions the most widely accepted arguments, regardless of whether they are a pawn or a king, and starts using his own intellectual arsenal to try to ensure that we all win the struggle, giving more clarity to the problems presented and bringing us a bit closer to the best and truest argument. However, if we are all to be able to win, there sometimes must be a checkmate, and there is.
Finally, it is worth emphasising the author’s constant efforts to accentuate the pedagogical perspective of the problem under discussion. Some might regard this as another foolish epistemological game, but it is not. It has more substance that the classical dispute about the scientifi identity of pedagogy. I refer to what professor Ibáñez-Martín suggests is the peculiarity of the pedagogical question; what must educators as educators ask themselves about the situation and what answer must educators as educators provide. For those of us who see ourselves as pedagogues and wear this badge with pride, despite current times, it is very pleasing to read, among other examples, that «pedagogy is called upon to fi rational answers to key issues» (p. 63) or that «pedagogy… is a practical knowledge in the Aristotelian sense of the word, a prudential knowledge about what is good or bad for the human being as an individual and as a member of society, a knowledge that nowadays has a special diffi since the many requirements that currently affl education – diverse multicultural populations, people of very varied ages, ever more demanding social requirements – turn pedagogical knowledge into an undertaking that is fraught with difficulties» (p. 64) or, finally, that it is worth noting that «these theses are educationally irreproachable» (p. 190).
Moving on to other matters relating to the content, which is what matters most, he does not confuse the potential reader in the prologue. Indeed, from the start Ibáñez-Martín warns us that this book «is not intended for those who regard educational work simply as a way of making a living … but instead is for those who aspire to a degree of nobility in their profession, leading them to make the most of life and turning them into attractive people for those who are nearby, so that those surrounding them find in them someone who identifies lofty targets for existence and, with their example, they stimulate the desire to excel in order to meet these targets» (p. 12).
Reading the introduction, «Educar para vivir con dignidad» (Educating to live with dignity), is indispensable, not just for the usual ordered overview of the topics to be covered, but also to gain some essential ideas that make up the basic interpretative framework used in each chapter. For professor Ibáñez-Martín, in contrast with the bien-pensant proclamations of international bodies, principally UNESCO, the basic problem of western education is not a problem of schooling, but «a cultural problem» (p. 11). At various stages in the text he emphasises this idea, for example, when stating that we must «move the educational debate away from the quantitative level» (p. 144) or that «education is never achieved simply through mechanical means» (p. 150, author’s italics). «The cultural problem of our days is not a shortage of school places, nor that knowledge or skills are not taught. The central question is that in education we have side-lined the analysis of something complex but vital – discussion of the outlines of a dignified, examined, and accomplished life – restricting ourselves to encouraging submission to the contemporary mentality» (p. 19, author’s italics). Ibáñez-Martín believes that this happens «in two ways». The first involves «rejecting the idea of truth, especially truth about the concept of humanity, to replace it with the idea of authenticity or relativism» (p. 21), and «the second form comprises magnifying the importance for the human being of the social group of origin in which it develops» (p. 22).
The first part of the book is called «El marco básico del quehacer educativo» (The basic framework of the educational activity). It comprises five chapters of indepth reflection on the objectives of this activity in which, as the author reminds us, it is necessary to know how to combine the demands of the human condition with the current requirements of globalisation. According to Ibáñez-Martín’s argument, this involves recognising new responsibilities concerning the ethical commitment that is now required of teachers in their work and their relationship with the students. This in turn entails going beyond the figure of being a «skilled teacher» to instead become a true «mentor», as «education is not mere training but is the appropriate outcome of the discovery that the human being is not born in plenitude, but moves continuously towards it thanks to its capacity to commit itself to what it discovers to be true» (p. 40, author’s italics). For students to attain this plenitude, educators must adopt guiding principles for their activity that include promoting a pedagogy of desire (Ch. 4) and excellence in education (Ch. 3). This will require them, firstly, «to make an effort to awaken in their students the desire to stand up for themselves and help themselves, without allowing themselves to be influenced by appearances but instead seeking true wisdom» (p. 98, author’s italics) and, secondly, to endeavour to achieve the highest possible performance from every pupil, avoiding self-satisfied paralysis that provokes narcissism and overprotection.
Among the many and interesting suggestions made in this first section, I would like to emphasise, regarding the argument we are considering here, the need to reflect seriously «on the charac- teristics that must guide the exercise of freedom, promoting free development based on free acceptance of the condition that falls to the individual as a human being, and on the particular features of this condition for each person» (p. 65). Another interesting proposal, in my opinion, is that after analysing a variety of strategies for promoting excellence, all of them very interesting and very well argued, he concludes with the original idea that «full excellence is only achieved when in the school all of its members care for one another» (p. 86).
The second part of the book is entitled «Fanales para la tarea educativa» (Beacons for the educational task), with five chapters covering multiple themes: intellectual education, moral education, religious education, the teaching of Catholicism, the ethics and deontology of teaching, and the possibilities and limitations of the educational agreements. I believe that the common interpretative framework of these chapters is the public exercise of liberty and its impact on personal development when faced with the multiple pressures of the dominant mentality. The reader first encounters an analysis of the interesting case of Emily Brooker and its implications for understanding the profound scope of intellec- tual liberty. Furthermore, Ibáñez-Martín also warns us of another way liberty is limited, in this case by «Faustian politics». «Faustian politicians» are not content to care for the community by promoting the common good, but instead lose respect for the nature of things and seek to create a new man in accordance with their way of understanding the human being, for which end they employ different methods depending on the political system in which they operate» (p. 135, author’s italics). Faced with this situation, the author suggests that we consider that «as educators we are called upon to rally the people against Faustian politicians so that we may all enjoy the freedom to up-hold our own ideas in the public sphere, in the same way that we are obliged to eschew indoctrination in the classroom, avoiding the suppression of evidence or teaching something that is not based on relevant arguments, as this is a matter of empowering young people, not reducing their vigour» (p. 137).
Ibáñez-Martín also proposes another area for analysing liberty, emphasising the idea that «any educational action is intrinsically an agreement» (p. 146) and that, therefore, «pluralist democracy also demands a plurality of schools, that are the natural expression of the desires of the diverse groups to which they belong» (p. 145), although the author notes that this must not, from a pedagogical perspective, affect support for the need for these schools to be organised with educational aims independent of the style of each school.
While the first part of the book considered the «ethical turn in educational work», it now turns to a detailed analysis of the role of ethics and deontology in teaching, directly raising the underlying problem: «it is difficult to speak of the importance of the critical sense in education without being in a position to establish an ethical code, apart from the fact that the education of students cannot be limited to memorising what is good and bad, but instead must know the meaning of education for human growth and the best ways of transforming this meaning into the best pedagogical methodologies» (p. 164). Furthermore, he uses a very well chosen metaphor, describing teaching «as a cable with four strands in which the red wire (the moral dimension) is very important, but the green wire (the effectiveness of pedagogical initiatives), the blue wire (how opportune its interventions are), and the yellow wire, the depth and brilliance of its choices, are also important» (p. 165).
This second part concludes with a chapter called «Las formas de enseñanza escolar de la religión en una sociedad libre» (Ways of teaching religion in school in a free society), dedicated to analysing basic elements on which there might be agreement for the theoretical and practical development of an agreement on education. It is in this chapter that the reader perhaps finds the most extensive and frequent use of one of the distinctive features of Ibáñez-Martín’s thought that we mentioned at the start of this review; he argues and counterargues different positions and propositions to find the best one. The defence of broadening the limits of liberty when faced with the oppression by dominant mentalities that characterises all of this part of the book leads him to suggest, in this case, that «I also do not think it is very sound to argue that the current conflict about teaching a specific religion at school can only be overcome by completely eliminating it from the school. It seems to me that attitudes of greater tolerance, more imagination, and more respect for the Constitution and the identities and liberties of the citizens are required» (p. 186).
The third part of the book is called «Las metas de una universidad educadora» (The targets of an educating university) and comprises four chapters. The first, which is particularly interesting, covers «the study of the deeper characteristics by which any university must define itself, those that can never be absent, however different the aims each university aspires to attain» (p. 195). Ibáñez-Martín is against viewing the university as a «tertiary school» or a «school for professional studies». The main «aspirations» or «essential characteristics» that he identifies in the work of universities are «the search for an environment of liberty and the desire for universal truth» (p. 197).
The next chapter is truly surprising, owing to the specific scope of the practical proposals he analyses when emphasising the different levels of professional competence of university teachers regarding «Training for teaching», «The lecturer’s knowledge», «How the lecturer’s discourse is presented», «What interest is there in involving the student in the understanding of the discourse», «What attention is given to the characteristics of group teaching», «What special initiatives can be put in place to ensure that the discourse taken on board takes root with the students», «Checking what has been understood by the student», «Evaluation’s fitness to its aims», «Ways of driving the evaluation process», and «Measures for giving evaluation an educational effect». The reader will find more similar proposals regarding evaluation of the «Research competence of university teachers». Individuals are free to draw their own conclusions about why a particular way of comprehending theoretical research on education allows someone, in this case, as well as initial philosophical training, to ignore a certain technically-focused pedagogy.
The third chapter in this section is dedicated to «La específica contribución de la universidad a la paz» (The univer- sity’s specific contribution to peace). At this point I would like to draw particu- lar attention to the proposal regarding what specific contributions by teaching staff rather than institutions might be. This proposal is based on three main concerns: firstly «promoting social confidence through conversation and coexistence, secondly, encouraging solidarity and friendship between different people, and thirdly, maintaining a university dialogue that aims to find and provide the truth that feeds the soul, a dialogue that is an authentic gift, completely removed from any desire for dominance» (p. 231).
The last chapter in this section is called «La universidad: palabra y pens- amiento crítico en la ciudad» (The uni- versity: Word and critical thought in the city). In it the author analyses in detail various preconditions for encouraging critical thinking in university students, warning that «the imagination sometimes dazzles us with its attractive form, when what we must address are the lights of intelligence that try to penetrate the depths of the being of our knowledge» (p. 247). Given its intellectual honesty, to which we have referred on several occasions, this book of a life – an academic life – could not end without the content of its final part, entitled «Los compañeros de un educador» (The companions of an ed- ucator). This comprises three chapters, in which he gives thanks for the friendship, assistance, and example, of very varied types, received from the companion-expert, Professor Millán-Puelles, the companion-friend, Professor Eisner, and the companion-disciple, Professor Esteve.
Before finishing, I would like to draw attention to some ideas that professor Ibáñez-Martín mentions when analysing a given topic in its particular chapters that to my mind transcend specific problems and have a much broader perspective, and indeed have some impact on me as a reader owing to their breadth or general impact since there are, in reality, a way of looking at education. Consequently, the statement that «I am not obsessed with the idea of change, but I do believe that it is important to change whatever is nec- essary to respond to the challenges of the present» (p. 152) seems very significant to me. Likewise, but in much greater depth, it is necessary to emphasise the significant caveat that «if education must develop the humanity of the student, the teacher must have a reasonable and reasoned position on the meaning of human dignity and on the meaning of human existence, as well as a knowledge of the pedagogical actions that have proven to be most effective, taking those ideas as basic guidelines in their work and as criteria for its evaluation. These ideas will, therefore, be the ones that guide all educational decisions, ranging from how to structure the educational system and shape the curriculum to how to evaluate, and the decision to accept or reject home schooling» (p. 164).
Professor Ibáñez-Martín’s book is a reflective, well-documented, and well-argued text on important topics that might be of interest to educators nowadays. It is a brave text, one that does not conform with most of the positions of the current dominant mentality regarding education in the shaping of human beings. The reader will recognise the origin of some texts and also, in some cases, interesting updates to them. But, above all, when reading them as a whole and in the suggested order, one becomes aware of the difference between a book prepared throughout an academic life and writings driven by the urgency of the moment, fashions, or the curriculum. And this is a robust, solid, and compelling text, one that is to be studied, not just read. It is clearly ready to become a classic in the training of educators. For the postmodernists of theory-literature who want something more than ideas, I would say that it is very well written, it has a dazzling culture, numerous accounts, comments on news items, stories, and literary and cinematic references, all pervaded by an elegant sense of humour. Indeed, we hope that in future editions the author will reveal whether he sold Campbell’s book to Amazon and for how much.
Fernando Gil Cantero ■