Education: “Having to struggle with so many know-it-alls!”

Monday, October 8, 2012

I have thought of this so many times! Olegario, the good caretaker of the building where I lived in Granada when I was appointed Rector in 1968 was so right! Everyone congratulated me… except Olegario who looked at me and said dolefully, “Oh, Mr. Mayor, I feel so sorry for you!”. And when I asked him “Why, why, Olegario?”, he responded: “No way! Having to struggle with so many know-it-alls!”

Yes, in education everyone offers an opinion, but rarely do they listen to the opinions of others. In the debates in Parliament, and even in the Council of Ministers… everyone intervenes when discussing any aspect of the educational process. They are all “know-it-alls” and they all maintain their own arguments. When the discussion centers on foreign policy or internal affairs, the economy, defense… they fall silent. But when the floodgates of education are opened, there are waves of interventions…

I have often recounted an anecdote about the principal of a school near Ouagadogou, the capital of Burkina Fasso, that occurred in 1989 when I visited that beautiful Central African country as Director General of UNESCO with the President and Ministers. At that school the President and I were discussing “Education in Africa”. The principal observed our conversation with a smile on her face… which turned out not to be an expression of satisfaction, but rather of irony: “Mr. Director General: I liked what you said, but why is it that UNESCO, UNICEF and NGOs all come here to give us advice rather than listening to ours? I have devoted 26 years of my life to teaching,… and I am sure that we African teachers are those who should be the first to design our educational system”.

I was so impressed with her words that when I returned to UNESCO headquarters I decided that from then on all of our educational programs would be conducted with the teachers, after ascertaining how and in what way we could collaborate with them. From that day forward, UNESCO programs were entitled “Listening to Africa” or Asia…

Listening. Let’s listen to our teachers who generally show exemplary devotion to teaching, transmitting knowledge, but above all, educating, that is, helping to create “free and responsible” human beings, according to UNESCO’s superb definition.

Yes, Olegario, the “know-it-alls” are very dangerous. Especially when they hold high office and don’t seek the advice of anyone else but themselves.

Changes That Can’t Be Delayed

1)    At the global level
.Put an end to the last throes of the systemic crisis prompted by the Republicans in the United States, who replaced democratic principles (justice, equality, liberty, solidarity) with the laws of the markets, and multilateralism with groups of plutocrats whose resounding failure in their attempt to displace the United Nations is there for everyone to see;
.Rapidly reduce the points of no return in damages to the environment due to human activity (anthropocene), adopting throughout the world, without exceptions or delay, the measures that intergenerational responsibility demands;
.Moderate the growth and predominance of China, which given the communist/capitalist incongruence promoted by the wealthiest nations that ignore the social inequalities and conditions of work and life in that great colossus, is beginning to provoke tension and confrontation with other “Asian giants” and, logically, seek to change it from the world’s factory to a factory for the world;
.Take prompt and effective action in Syria, correcting many errors that have resulted in horror and suffering for the civilian population for lack of clear and efficient global leadership;
.Likewise take action, with the authority of unanimous support, against anti-Iran “tension”, to prevent a repeat of the negligently shameful invasion of Iraq in 2003, with an eye on Iran’s immense oil reserves;
.Facilitate peace processes in the “Arab Spring” countries, demanding respect for the exercise of pluralism and public freedoms;
.Make it quite clear that in certain countries great wealth can no longer continue to hide or justify dictatorial practices, intolerable discrimination against women, and the absence of popular representation;
.Rapidly devise a world plan against drug trafficking, one of the greatest challenges of the world today, which cannot and should not be resolved by force, but rather by appealing to the individual responsibility of consumers, as is the case with other addictions.
.Mediate promptly and firmly in both intrareligious conflicts (particularly those among Sunnites, Shiites, Salafists…) and interreligious ones…

Ø Main actions on all above summarized,
.Elimination of the groups of plutocrats, with an extraordinary meeting of the United Nations General Assembly to adopt urgent measures with respect to the most urgent problems and to initiate a process to re-found the UN with the participation of civil society –“We, the Peoples…”, as set forth in the Charter– equal to the representation of the Member States and –in any case without veto, but with weighted votes- two additional security councils: a Socio-economic Security Council and an Environmental Security Council, ensuring the proper operation of all the institutions of the System;
.Remodeling of economic systems, establishing the necessary mechanisms for global regulation, the immediate elimination of tax havens (without exception), and the transition from an economy of speculation, delocalization of production and war (present military spending is inadmissible and ethically unacceptable) to an economy of sustainable global development capable of ending the exploitation, social inequality, extreme poverty and starvation… that today threaten the dignity of humankind as a whole.
.Promote adequate and agile operations of “regional associations”, such as the European Union, CELAC or the OUA… to facilitate in this way of world governance.

These important decisions require leadership that at present could only be assumed by President Obama, whose reelection is at this time an essential requisite.

2)    At the European level
.Urgent reconstruction of the European Union, whose building was commenced by the roof –monetary union- without having laid the foundation –political union- and the pillars –economic union. The result is an ethical debacle, disorder, impoverishment, political discontent, a dictatorship of “investors", “Euro-pessimism”… in which the hounding of the “markets” (the “great military, financial, energy and media domain”) has appointed governments without elections in Greece, the cradle of democracy, and in Italy. The only measuring sticks are money, the risk premium, the deficit…

Ø Thus it is urgent to achieve:
An agreement to immediately amend the Treaties with the main objectives of:
-Political, economic and fiscal federation.
-Autonomy in security matters, replacing NATO, which is no longer justified after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and costs Europe excessive amounts of money;
-Reposition of democratic principles to guide the EU’s attitudes, fomenting cultural, ethnic, ideological and religious pluralism as a basis for harmonious coexistence, placing social justice at the very heart of Community policy, likewise safeguarding the requisite means for providing education, knowledge and healthcare, and through the necessary incentives, work for all, being fully aware of its new nature as a consequence of delocalization, automatization, robotization and the new information and communications technologies.

In that regard, we are proposing to the Council of Europe a Universal Declaration of Democracy, which after due debate could be presented for adoption by the United Nations. It constitutes a necessary complement of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, since the sole context in which those rights can be fully exercised is in a genuine democracy.

3)    At the national level
.The current uncertainty, lack of transparency, dependency on the “markets”, failure to fulfill political programs, incoherency and contradictions, the precarious democratic rigor of the parliamentary majority, imposing legislation and thus discrediting the Parliament; the outrageous budget cuts in education, science and healthcare, while refinancing the banking system with no explanation as to the origin of the “holes” or the deficits accumulated by the Autonomous Communities, that must be filled with public funds and efforts in neither case appearing any interest in ascertaining who is responsible or revealing with total transparency not only how much they’ve spent, but who spent it and on what; the parsimony of the courts in cases –such as the famous Gürtel- that particularly affect a given political party, and the surprising speed with which the courts work when they affect others; prompting citizens to begin to loathe the Constitution –that cost so much to achieve!- because it is perceived as an immovable corset instead of a meeting point for all Spaniards, to be obtained through the corresponding calm and well-conceived reforms; demonstrating great shock toward the “separatist” actions of certain Autonomous Communities, when the “separators” forget that they have never accepted agreed to negotiate and that at one time they even gathered signatures against Catalonia (they claim there were four million) or against the increase in VAT tax; change in the essential educational system, especially in key subjects such as Education for Citizenship, and in evaluations and the segregation of boys and girls in schools, without any substantial discussion with persons knowledgeable in these fields, that is, educators and teachers, and not OECD experts…

Ø For all of the above:

.Presentation in Europe of a Spanish economic plan, setting forth in detail the how much and when of our pledge to make financial adjustments as well as the indispensable requisites for economic development and work creation, immediately reestablishing budgets that have been cut in education, science and healthcare, and implementing a fair tax system with heavy penalties for tax evasion and lack of solidarity in wealth distribution;
.Reform of the Spanish Constitution, particularly Chapter VII, establishing a federal system and providing for wider autonomy;
.Implementation of mechanisms to ensure the role of minorities and civil society in the face of parliamentary majorities, with impeccable observance of democratic precepts;
.Demand the urgent implementation of the abovementioned changes in the EU and at the global level.

I’m sure I’ve left out many things (and perhaps some could have been excluded). But let there be no mistake: if these radical changes are not implemented on the three levels indicated, we will never achieve the “new beginning” that we all desire and that the majority of the world’s inhabitants deserve.