Happy birthday to children’s rights?

How can we “celebrate” another year the anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child? Nine chilean teenage girls do it on stage on our behalf and denounce the violation of children rights in Chile … and all over the world.

“Lissette Villa was 11 years old when she died of suffocation because a 90-kg caregiver sat on her for minutes. Tania Águila died at age 14 when her boy friend crushed a stone on her head. Florencia Aguirre was 10 years old when her stepfather choked her with a bag, burned her and buried her in the woodshed of her house.”

These were some of the cases that prompted the La Re-Sentida Theater team to create Paisajes para no colorear (‘Non coloring landscapes’), a work in which a group of female adolescents tries to make visible the vulnerability to which they are exposed by being “women” under age in a male-dominated society.

Paisajes para no colorear © GAM – Centro Cultural Gabriela Mistral i Compañía de Teatro La Re-Sentida

Paisajes para no colorear
© GAM – Centro Cultural Gabriela Mistral i Compañía de Teatro La Re-Sentida

These girls force the spectators to listen to their experiences of daily violence in their school, in their homes, in their cities in Chile and South America. No one remains immune. When at the end of the play, the audience stands up and burst into applause, each of us  is also rethinking how they behave in their daily lives with children.

For years, we thought that UNICEF and all children NGOs were speaking for them. No one listened. Did anyone speak?

These girls – and all the girls – are changing the rules. They will speak for themselves and for all the girls. They will become – in their own words – ‘the stars of an unrivalled cultural revolution.’

And this revolution is already happening. Last October, Chilean children took the streets to protest the government’s announcement of an increase in the price of public transportation but also of all the other violation of human rights taking place in the country. At the same time petitioners – aged between 8 to 17 –  have filed a legal complaint against 5 countries, bringing the climate fight to court as it constitutes a violation of child rights.

And the others will follow. In Afghanistan where at least 546 boys from six schools have been abused by their teachers, in the US where 13 million children are living below poverty line, in Yemen where 2 million children are out of school.

Youth are no longer ready to wait “to be involved in the “governance” of  the settings of their everyday lives.”  They are standing for their rights.

Here and there and everywhere.

Happy birthday!


Jazz and samba will rock education

Learning is nowadays increasingly seen as a mix of formal and informal experiences. What we call “social learning” refers to the degree of interaction between learners of different levels of competence. Learning from the others, learning with the others are fundamental elements of the learning experience and essential for students to get full ownership of what they learn.

Samba and jazz tell us more about this new learning revolution.

An article by Seymourt Paper identified two innovative features in the learning process that takes place at a samba school: learning together and learning from the other.

“At a Samba School the dominant activity is dancing. But it has another purpose related to the Carnival at which each Samba School will take on a segment of the more than twenty-four hour long procession of street dancing. While people have come to dance, they are simultaneously participating in the choice, and elaboration of the theme of the next carnival; they are engaged in a common activity – dancing – at all levels of competence from beginning children to superstars. The fact of being together would in itself be “educational” for the beginners; but what is more deeply so is the degree of interaction between dancers of different levels of competence. What counts is the weaving of education into the larger, richer cultural-social experience of the Samba School.”

Another article by Joan Talbert and Milbrey Mclaughlin tells us how professional jazz musicians are committed to building communities through which young musicians learn to perform and through which their collective practice develops.”

As in the artisan communities of teachers we studied, communities of jazz musicians work together to develop their improvisational skills to create new compositions and arrangements, and to build and sustain commitment to jazz among musicians and the public.” A jazz ethnomusicologist describes musician communities : “Experts guide younger members in applying their technical knowledge by constantlt rehearsing and performing with them, thereby transmitting their deep sense of responsibility for the music… With time and experience, newcomers gradully accept greater responsibilities within bands, not only serving as soloists, but contributing original ideas for reperptory and musical arrangements”. (Berliner, 1994)

This makes me think of my nephew Guillaume, that just released his first jazz record – Sketches of sound – as a magnificent proof that talented learners can achieve incredible goals when they feel that learning is theirs!

© Guillaume Muller

© Guillaume Muller





The art of posing (the right) questions

Reading Martha C. Nussbaum’s Not for Profit gives us a new understanding of what education means. Nussbaum shows how the use of Socratic values produces a certain type of citizen: active, critical, curious, capable of resisting authority and peer pressure.

“Dewey’s socratism was not a sit-at-your-desk-and-argue technique; it was a form of life carried on with other children in the pursuit of an understanding of real-world issues and immediate practical projects, under the guidance of teachers, but without imposition of authority from without.” (Page 66)

“Tagore’s students were encouraged to deliberate about decisions that governed their daily life and to take the initiative in organizing meetings.” (Page 71) “Tagore’s school developed strategies to make students global citizens, able to think responsibly about the future of humanity as a whole.” (Page 84)

“The problems we need to solve – economic, environmental, religious and political – are global in their scope. They have no hope of being solved unless people once distant come together and cooperate in ways they have not before.” (Page 79)

Not for profit

Nussbaum and others help us understand the importance of posing the right questions. Gaston Bachelard wrote in The Formation of the Scientific Mind: “All knowledge is an answer to a question. Nothing is given. Everything is constructed.”

Having the ability to pose the right questions is fascinating. Listening to Stephen Hawking helps understand how the need to explore and settle on new planets is linked to fundamental questions about the origin of the universe and the future of the human race. Asking the right questions is also what economist and Nobel Prize Esther Duflo recommends to fight poverty, insisting on the need to come up with accessible solutions to concrete questions and problems.

Education is all about the art of posing the right questions. It requires a lot of factual knowledge and the ability to think critically: what Nussbaum calls “global citizenship”.

How do we learn to love reading?

Nancie Atwell teaches English as a writing-reading workshop in a rural school she created in Maine (USA). Some years ago she was awarded with the Global Teacher Prize. In her book “The Reading Zone”, she explains her lifetime mission. “The good teachers I know from every grade and subject are in the classroom because they want to influence kids for a lifetime, to make a difference over the long haul, to inspire students to become thoughtful, productive grown-ups.”

So everything that could constrain teacher’s inspiration and freedom –like the obligation to follow the Common Core curriculum and assess students’ performance with standardized tests – will go against teaching as an inspirational and aspirational profession.

the reading zone

Atwell defines reading instruction as a process that “brings knowledge, joy, purpose, skill, personal preference and a sense of community”. This is a powerful definition of reading that makes knowledge only one component of the reading experience. As she puts it: “No child ever grew to become a skilled, passionate, habitual, critical reader via a fat, bland textbook.” Questioning “fat, bland textbooks” is another way of highlighting the importance of the reading experience as both a unique personal experience and, at the same time, one that is shared with peers.

Atwell understands reading as a personal art and defines the key for learners’ engagement: “every day they engage with literature that enables them to know things, feel things, imagine things, hope for things, become people they never could have dreamed without the transforming power of books, books, books”.

No such thing as competition to read better and faster; as Atwell puts it: “the passions aroused by stories and characters are the prize”.

Teaching about climate change?

“We call France, the country of the Paris agreement, to launch a major project to make the fight against climate change a priority of national education and higher education, and make the school a laboratory of the transformation of society.”

This vibrant call made by Valérie Masson Delmotte, vice president of the IPCC workgroup 1 and Laurence Tubiana rightly questions our capacity to act upon climate change from an educational perspective.

Why should we believe in the overwhelming power of education to act upon climate change? Why would climate change education succeed in raising awareness and changing behaviours when environmental politics have been a dismal failure?

The New York Times asked a simple key question in one of its surveys:

Do you think schools should teach about climate change? Why or why not?

That is the first question we must answer!

Others follow: Should students learn about the natural and human causes of global warming? Should they learn about solutions? Should they learn about the politics related to it? Why do you think these topics should or should not be included in science curriculum?

Once the questions are raised about students, come the questions about teachers and their ability to teach climate change.

The NCSE/Penn State survey found a robust correlation between ignorance of the level of the scientific consensus on climate change and willingness to use pedagogical techniques:  10 percent of the teachers declared rejecting human responsibility over climate.

© Yale Climate Connections

© Yale Climate Connections

More dangerous, is the tendency to use fallacious pedagogical arguments such as encouraging students to “debate the likely causes of global warming” or “come to their own conclusions” on the topic to foster doubt or denial about climate change.

The following question was raised on a debate platform (see here): Should climate change be taught in schools?

We can read answers from climate deniers such as: “Climate change is a myth. God is the great and merciful and we have to act accordingly to his emotions. Acid rain is simply God crying angry tears at the reduction in the burning of forests.”, Much more worrying is the following answer: “All theories, whether they be evolution, climate change, or any other kind of theory should be taught in school. As long as they are backed up with facts and great minds behind them, I do not see why climate change would be any different. Of course, there should be a counterpoint to any theory which should also be taught.”

The pedagogical argument for debate in the classroom is in that case the starting point of climate change denial. And denial is at work on many more issues that we now consider as part of what must be taught in school. It happens with climate change and also with evolution, sexual abuse, gender, antisemitism…

Even if we rightly believe that education is part of the answer on climate change, we may question the efficiency of teaching in this matter. Ivan Illich criticized the “illusion on which the school system rests (assuming) that most learning is the result of teaching”. For him, “most learning happens casually”.

Margaret Mead argued that fighting back the dangers facing our planet should begin by understanding “the immense and long-term consequences of what appear to be small immediate choices”. Is it the responsibility of schools and teachers?

Protecting nature can’t be reduced to an educative challenge. French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss, once argued that “protecting nature is a right of the environment in regard to man”. Enforcing this right is maybe first a matter for lawyers and not for teachers.


Why should I learn?

Children’s participation on environmental issues has been at the core of innovative pedagogies. Roger Hart in his book “Children’s participation” argued that sustainable development will need to be achieved locally by thinking citizens and that children will need to help us go beyond the environmental dictum and  “think globally, act locally”. Martha Nussbaum in her book “Not for profit” reminded us of John Dewey and Tagore pedagogies to support children in the pursuit of an understanding of real-world issues and immediate practical projects. Practical results remain debatable.

These pedagogies aimed at shaping a certain type of citizen: active, critical, curious, capable of resisting authority and peer pressure. Though environmental education has been a priority for years, it is however ironic that the more children gained a greater understanding of global environmental issues in the classrooms, the less they were able to influence decisions to be taken on these issues in real life.

Resisting authority is however exactly what 16-year-old Greta Thunberg decided to do with her #schoolstrike movement to protest against politicians unwilling to sustain their commitments to fight climate change as agreed to under the Paris climate accord.

Greta tells us that the problems we need to solve require much more than a traditional approach where children learn in schools about the environment and wait for adults to take decisions in line with what they are told to learn. In a period of social urgency, there is no time left for learning in a traditional way. We must all engage in a new type of learning against the clock. Getting together is the first step and the streets are a starting point.


© A. Papillault & J.F. Dars

© A. Papillault & J.F. Dars


She echoes Nussbaum that think that the problems we need to solve – economic, environmental, religious and political –have no hope of being solved unless people once distant come together and cooperate in ways they have not before.

But Greta goes one step further and asks: “What am I going to learn in school? Facts don’t matter any more, politicians aren’t listening to the scientists, so why should I learn?”

She is not only questioning our collective capacity to act against climate change. She is not only questioning the “what should I learn” but also the “why should I learn”, and the “where should I learn”.

Learning in school or deserting the school? Which option will guarantee social change?

Greta’s dilemma challenges our understanding of education.


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