“While the world is becoming more and more dynamic, the school is still training students for the static world of the 20th century! A Revolution is needed in today’s education! And for this, we can look to the past for inspiration…”
For some time now, I have been unhappy with education at the beginning of the 21st century. About two years ago, I wrote an article where I exposed my thoughts about it, and since then, I have been paying attention to this sector. I then created a hypothesis that demonstrates more clearly the problems of education for the present moment.
Actually, I think that the education of the 16th century in the Iberian Peninsula was more suitable for the 21st century than today’s education. I came to this conclusion when I went to study how Portugal and Spain managed to become leaders in the conquest of the New World (the Americas), and how two small and isolated countries in the Iberian peninsula, without the firepower to do battle with the great civilizations of the 15th century (Venetian Republic, Byzantine Empire, Genoa, London, Paris…) that surrounded them, became a great naval power.
I then had a fascinating conversation with the geographer and history scholar Rafael D’Angelo (aka my brother), where I found inspiration and explanation for these and other questions.
In summary, while the cities of Europe were being held hostage by Venice and the Turco-Ottomans, who dominated and exploited the trade between Europe and the East through the region of Istanbul (which is between Europe and Asia, at the time considered the East), Portugal and Spain chose to seek alternatives to reach the East and have access to the valuable spices.
And at the end of the 15th century, a significant change began to happen in the Old World’s Geopolitical scenario. In 1498 the Portuguese reached the East bypassing Africa, and in the sequence, Columbus reached Central America, and Cabral reached Brazil. Besides the open road to the spice trade, a great exploration and colonization of the Americas and Africa had begun. And from then on, Portugal and Spain left the role of supporting players and became protagonists of history for the next two centuries.
What instigates me is how Portugal and Spain, two countries without much representation in the European scenario, conquer the oceans before the others? How did Portugal and Spain venture into places where no other European people dared to go? Could education have been a decisive factor in this endeavor?
The answer lies in the Moors! The Moors lived in northwestern Africa and expanded their conquests across the Mediterranean Sea, dominating Portugal and Spain’s coastal region for 800 years. They represented the scientific vanguard of the planet at that time and left a vast trail of scientific knowledge in the region (sciences, astronomy, medicine, naval engineering, etc.).
I do not doubt that the big difference between the Portuguese and Spanish concerning the rest of Europe is related to the Moors’ cultural and intellectual heritage. Still, beyond that, Portugal and Spain faced the challenges, difficulties, and opportunities appearing. Simultaneously, other possible maritime powers such as Genoa, England, France, Holland, and so many others remained inert or focused on their short-sighted objectives set centuries ago by their predecessors.
Okay, but after all, what is the relationship between the 21st century and the 16th century?
Zygmunt Bauman, the philosopher who coined the term “Liquid Modernity,” said: “I chose to call liquid modernity the growing conviction that change is the only permanent thing and uncertainty the only certainty. Based on this statement, we can then draw several parallels between the 21st century and the 16th century:
- Just as the 21st century is beginning an era of transformations, the 16th century was also an era of radical transformations.
- In the 21st century, the great powers of the last century (large corporations, for the most part) are crumbling as this world becomes less and less solid. The same happened to the great powers of the 15th century during the 16th century.
- Companies and people capable of navigating this sea of uncertainty are standing out in this new world, as Portugal and Spain did in the 15th and 16th centuries, as they sought other ways to reach the Orient.
- Startups are reinventing work relations; the way products are developed, production processes, values and beliefs, and the way we live, among others. And traditional companies cannot keep up with these changes because they are stuck in old concepts that were the secret to success until a few years ago. The same happened to Venice, Genoa, Florence, and Istanbul in the past. On the other hand, England, France, and Holland realized the moment of change. It reinvented itself, copying and then developing naval fleets that were more efficient than the Portuguese and Spanish fleets.
But where does education come into all this?
While the Portuguese and Spanish drank from the Moors’ wisdom and chose to harness and evolve this knowledge through their expeditions, the other peoples of Europe chose to cling to the old, antiquated knowledge built centuries ago, as if the world had a static and finite truth.
Thinking about the 21st century, we are going through a phase exactly like the Great Navigations, where the people and companies that drink from the “wisdom of the Moors” hallucinate themselves and accept the opportunity to sail the unknown seas will survive.
Making a broader analysis, Portugal and Spain were willing to take risks, had resilience in the face of mistakes and failures, took advantage of and evolved the knowledge passed to them by the Moors, and launched themselves into the sea towards the unknown, towards the uncertain, towards new knowledge. The result? Portugal and Spain turned the tables and came to dominate a new era, with new rules and new realities where the old habits, behaviors, beliefs, and values no longer made sense.
And while Portugal and Spain were at the forefront due to their ability to “navigate” a more liquid world, the European powers of the 15th century succumbed by sticking to their old paradigms.
In my view, today’s School trains today’s students for the world lived in the 20th century, a world more solid than liquid, and is concerned with transmitting and perpetuating knowledge acquired generations ago without preparing students for the New World, which is more liquid, dynamic, uncertain, complex.
The tools that we learn in school, the way we learn, the knowledge passed on to us, and the behaviors required of us don’t make sense in our liquid modernity. We need to build new tools, new paradigms. And as educator Rubem Alves says: “the use of existing tools can be taught, but to build new tools, we have to know how to think.
This is the role of the 21st-century school! It is time to revolutionize education to form people capable of dealing with the uncertainties of this New World.
How can we do this? Perhaps the way can be found in the words of Edgar Morin:
“Humanity is a 7 million year old adventure… and education is the way we bring the acquired knowledge to new generations… but for evolution to take place, a balance between perpetuation and renewal of knowledge is necessary”Edgar Morin, contemporary philosopher creator of the Complex Thinking theory.