Revitalizing the community spirit : a glimpse of the socializing role of the school in the next century (Roberto Carneiro)

The century now drawing to a close has opened deep wounds, but the dominant theme
of the coming century will be one of hope. In this new age, with its new social
demands, learning the art of living together will be seen as the means of healing the
many wounds inflicted by the hatred and intolerance that have prevailed throughout
so much of the twentieth century.
Humanity can hardly recognize itself in the distorting mirror in which the ills
affecting our societies take the form of marks and scars. The new direction in which
history has been moving since 1989, a direction determined by the triumph of an
implacable economic logic based on the law of the strongest and subjected to the
dictates of a soulless neo-liberalism, make it essential that there should be a
reawakening of consciences, a moral revival to tackle the fundamental social issue of
worsening inequality in the world. This is a complex equation, defined by a set of
variables chief amongst which are:
• Disturbing symptoms of poverty fatigue, stemming from situations of extreme
• A new, many-faceted form of destitution, reflecting the ever-wors e n i n g
impoverishment of cultural, material, spiritual and emotional life, and also civic life.
• The declining importance of social capital in a society that cultivates risk and
in which egoistic drives that completely undermine trust in inter-personal
relations predominate.
• The conflictual and vertical nature of social relationships, defined by a logic
comprising many different strands and representing the action of a variety of
interest groups, as well as the gradual replacement of the class struggle by
ethnic or religious and cultural conflicts, heralding the emergence of large-scale
widespread tribalism.
• The abandonment of the civic domain, which underpins civilization, to an
entrenched money-making philosophy that generates dualism and social exclusion.
The twenty-first century is thus faced with a major challenge, that of the
rebuilding of human communities. Signs of impatience abound; human societies
sense that a linear projection of the trends prevailing at the end of the present
century holds out no promise of better times to come. The mass society and
individualism that characterized the first generation of information and
communication technologies, raising the triumphant economic model to its zenith,
are now being superseded by a second technological generation in which the idea of
networking and the value of (virtual) neighbourhood relations are beginning to
reappear. The learning society, based on a code of knowledge-sharing and on learning
experiences created by the unrestricted interpersonal relations that globalization
makes possible, seems bound to encourage the emergence of post- materialistic values.
In this way, solidarity and the new community spirit can once again, quite
naturally, be seen as constituting a life-ordering organic principle, and as an
alternative to exclusion and the suicidal devitalization of the social fabric. In this
context, fundamental and stable socializing institutions such as the family and the
school have to reassume their role as the core around which a lasting basis for the
society of the future can be established.
Education has always been and is still a highly social exercise. The full
development of the individual’s personality is the outcome of the consolidation of
personal independence and, at one and the same time, of the cultivation of a concern
for others, in other words, of the process of discovering other people on the basis of
a moral outlook. Humanization, defined as the internal growth of the individual, finds
its fullest expression at that fixed point where the paths of freedom and responsibility
meet. Education systems are a source of human capital (Becker), cultural capital
(Bourdieu), and social capital (Putnam). Instead of being ‘a wolf to his fellow man’
(homo homini lupus), man may thus become ‘a friend to man’ (homo homini amicus)
through an education that has remained faithful to its community goals.
The task, though immense, cannot be postponed, since the construction of the
social order of the next century depends on it. Above all, however, only education
for justice will make it possible to reconstruct a core of moral education
presupposing a civic culture characterized by non-conformism and the rejection of
injustice, and preparing individuals for an active citizenship in which the
responsibility to participate in the life of the community replaces mere delegated
citizenship. Indeed, it is through the acquisition of a sense of abstract justice
(equity, equality of opportunity, responsible freedom, respect for others,
p rotection of the weak, and awareness of differences) that attitudes
predisposing people towards taking practical steps to promote social justice and
defend democratic values are created.
Thus, on the principle that education is, or comes close to being, a public good,
the school should be defined first and foremost as a social institution or, more
precisely, as an institution belonging to civil society; in other words, it must cease
to be a mere component of an economic juggernaut that crushes the tenuous links
of human solidarity.
According to Hannah Arendt, social life comprises three spheres, the public, the
market and the private. While the public sphere is expected to promote the values of
e q u i t y, Arendt believes that the market and the world of work genera t e
discrimination, whilst the private sphere is characterized by exclusion, the corollary of
individual choice.
On the basis of these fundamental concepts, the school, whatever its specific
status – private, co-operative or state – is defined as a sphere of public action , as an
environment and locus of socialization, which at the same time contributes to the
economic and private spheres by virtue of the accumulation of the qualifications and
human capital that it produces. In societies that are becoming increasingly complex
and diversified in cultural terms, the emergence of the school as a part of the public
sphere accentuates the indispensable role it plays in the promotion of social cohesion
and mobility, and in training for community life.
In the end, nothing that happens in the school is without significance for the
process of building stable societies.
Indeed, it is through the establishment of plural educational communities,
governed by rules of democratic participation, in which emphasis is placed on
dialogue between different points of view and in which the resolution of naturally
occurring conflicts by any form of coercion or authoritarianism is rejected, that
education for a fully fledged citizenship can be provided. In the context of this kind
of education, passive tolerance is replaced by positive discrimination in favour of
minorities, given that the primary purpose of democratic education is equal,
universal access to fundamental political rights.
Schools of this kind are of crucial importance to learning throughout life. It is
these schools that will provide the skills essential for lasting socialization, that is,
for the consolidation of cultures in such a way that they can resist the pro c e s s e s
of exclusion through pro-active attitudes that can fashion novel and stimulating
social roles at each stage of life. Education and socialization go hand in hand
t h roughout life.
A new century, by definition, means fresh prospects. These prospects,
specifically human-centred and humanizing, necessarily imply that priority be
given to education.


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