A new age of education
From the events handed down to us by history, we learn that the tension for education grows as phenomena that upset the routine come to light. In times marked by one or more innovations that transform the economic and social landscape, new schools are opening up: those that the Bohemian John Amos Comenius, visionary reformer of education, had in mind in the thirties of the seventeenth century. Professor David Smith, researcher and teacher trainer, argues that Comenius believed that learning should resemble gardening and proposed that joy, piety and harmony were central to the education of children.
Entrepreneurialism contributes a great deal to ushering in a new era of education that moves away from the top-down educational system with the teaching chair at the top. It is a multifaceted cultural movement and the polar star to navigate the sea of new-model enterprise creation at the intersection of science and the humanities. Renaissance learning is re-invigorated by tracing revolutionary paths for human and relational capital that change the student’s mindset. The school leaves the shore of teaching, with its boundaries restricted by knowledge accrued over time, to reach the far shores of experiential and experimental learning, where passions supported by strong motivation can produce outstanding results. Its characteristics date back to the Renaissance, which ushered in a new narrative that altered the state of the world, preparing for the age of experimentation, in the footsteps of Francis Bacon.
Renaissance Man emerged from the medieval wellspring of the desire for received knowledge. The medieval schools headed by scholars (in effect, philosophers and theologians acting as ‘schoolteachers’) were involved in systematizing that knowledge rather than developing a new one. Out of that well Renaissance Man set the imagination in motion to journey everywhere, dismissing purely practical ideas (i.e., tried and true) in favour of creative ones – innovations which arouse feelings of uncertainty. Later, in the age of inventions and discoveries between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Marie Curie revisited the thread of Renaissance man with these words, as reported by her daughter Ève Curie (Madame Curie: A Biography, Doubleday, Doran and Co., Garden City, N.Y., 1938):
Humanity certainly needs practical men, who get the most out of their work, and, without forgetting the general good, safeguard their own interests. But humanity also needs dreamers, for whom the disinterested development of an enterprise is so captivating that it becomes impossible for them to devote their care to their own material profit. Without the slightest doubt, these dreamers do not deserve wealth, because they do not desire it. Even so, a well-organised society should assure to such workers the efficient means of accomplishing their task, in a life freed from material care and freely consecrated to research.
The fears of Einstein and Skinner
Around 1946, Albert Einstein seems to have expressed his concern for humanity, which was not keeping pace with technological progress. The question we have to answer today is whether we are even further behind than technology. In short, are we regressing towards mediocrity while the revolution of social media, cloud computing and data science is underway and, again, is the era of mobile technologies, of the Internet of things, of the blockchain and of artificial intelligence making its way? A revolution can present itself simultaneously as a season of light and of darkness, an age of wisdom and madness, the best and worst time to live. So Charles Dickens expressed himself, going with his mind to the time of the French Revolution. To turn the tide in our favour, we need to hold hands to solve the real problem that, according to the behaviour psychologist Burrhus Frederic Skinner, “is not whether machines think, but whether men do”.
The positive school
The Global Happiness Council, an international group of independent experts that publishes an annual report on happiness in the world (the Global Happiness Policy Report), argues that to expand the spaces of freedom we need schools that activate ‘positive education interventions’ – that is, a range of educational programs that train primary school children and secondary school students “to engage in a variety of activities and exercises”. “These include acknowledging what went well today; writing letters of gratitude; learning how to respond constructively; identifying and developing character strengths; and training in meditation, mindfulness, empathy, coping with emotions, decision-making, problem-solving, and critical thinking”.
By investing today in positive schools and teachers, tomorrow we will be able to rely on citizens who are committed to developing family, social and public relations. Lucius Annaeus Seneca said that men confuse happiness with the means to achieve it. Economic growth is just a tool whose good use depends on social innovation whose name is ‘positive school’, the one that conveys optimism, confidence and a sense of hope for the future.