Valdemar W. Setzer
Dept. of Computer Science
Institute of Mathematics and Statistics
University of São Paulo

(Translation of the text of a short course given at the 9th Brazilian Simposium on Informatics in Education, Brazilian Computing Society, Fortaleza, Nov. 1998.
Version 1.2, Sept. 15, 2000; reformated with minor corrections and additions on Sept. 3, 2014)

1. Introduction

On Feb 2, 1998 a colleague sent an e-mail to all faculty members of my department, calling the attention to the fact that nowadays students want to use the computer and the Internet instead of attending school classes. He attributed this fact to the obsolescence of education, implying that this is due to schools not having accompanied the technological development of this century. I am completely in agreement with his diagnosis: schools are obsolete. But I diverge totally as far as the cause is concerned: I think this obsolescence is not technological, but human.

This essay is organized as follows. In section 2, I show that the human being underwent drastic changes in his constitution, leading to true discontinuities in history. Having in mind those historical changes, in section 3 I cover some results of recent changes in the human being, which happened in the 20th century, leading to what I call a "new consciousness". In section 4 I show that today's education has negative characteristics, inherited of old ways of teaching. In section 5 I show how those negative characteristics don't fit anymore the "new consciousness", justifying the statement that education didn't follow the human evolution, and therefore it is obsolete. In section 6 I present some characteristics of an ideal education, which would be in agreement with the human evolution of the 20th century. Finally, in section 7 I make a general synthesis, as well as a reference to an educational method that, in spite of being relatively old, already pointed to all those changes. Therefore it may be considered as a method adapted to our days. I also show briefly why the problem is not technological.

2. Examples of historical changes in the human constitution

If we examine history, we may see that the human being kept losing certain capacities, but on the other hand gained others.

As a small child today, in ancient times we were much more "intuitive", and our senses were quite dull. There was a sharp intelligence, but it was not as conscious and logical as the one we have nowadays. We lived in a dream state, which is manifested clearly in the old myths, from the one of Gilgamesh, passing by the Baghavad Gita, the prophets, Nordic mythology (Thor, Wotan, etc.) until the brothers Grimm's fairy tales. It was not possible to express in clear concepts what was observed, thought, felt and wanted. I will mention here some historical indications of the appearance of new capacities for the observance of the world, of thinking and feeling.

The difference between Plato and Aristotle is fantastic. This is clearly shown in the famous picture "The School of Athens" by Rafael, one of the most inspired painters, where he depicts Plato and Aristotle going down the steps of the Academy of Athens. The former holds a book with the name Timaios (one of the most esotheric dialogues, where he describes Solon telling about Atlantis); with the other hand he points with an extended finger to the sky, his individuality pointing to the divine reality. The latter holds a book titled Ethikon and is depicted with the other arm extended to the front, the hand turned down with open fingers, as if he understood and dominated the Earth.

In fact, reading those two philosophers, it is possible to notice that Plato was still immersed in the old intuition, and doesn't speak very clearly; in many dialogues he directs himself to simple people as in the case of wanting to show that a slave could learn how to demonstrate geometry theorems. He is more interested on spiritual matters than in earthly ones. The opposite happens with Aristotle, who develops what I will call "Earthly Logics". An example is the following: he affirms that the "soul" is composed of two components, a perishable one, containing our emotions and instincts and an eternal one. He deduces the necessary existence of that second component by means of a pure logical reasoning: as we are capable of entering in contact with concepts that don't depend on us, are not material and are eternal (as the mathematical ones – the one of circle, for example) we must have something in us of the same eternal nature. For Plato, the existence of something eternal in the human spirit was obvious, and didn't need to be deduced – after all, he had been an initiate in the old Mysteries and had observed that reality.

Another historical example that I would like to mention is of the Christ Jesus. In some parts of the Gospels (e.g. in the Parable of the Sower in Mark 4 and Mathew 13) his disciples ask for the meaning of his parables. There he says: "It is given to unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven" (that is, of the non-physical world) and then he explains conceptually what he wanted to transmit to the people through images. Rudolf Steiner, in a lecture of 9/18/1912, gave a quite plausible interpretation for that phrase. Common people were not yet prepared to absorb and understand concepts, intellectual explanations; for them, it was necessary to use images that, indirectly (as the Buddha had done with his disciples), would produce the examples and the moral development that he wanted. Under his guidance, his disciples were undergoing an enormous personal development, not only moral but in their cognitive capacity. So, they were already able to understand concepts (as Socrates did, but with earthly subjects) – which today practically any person with a minimum of intellectual development is capable of doing.

Another decisive human development was the loss of inner impulses and visions, and the consequent investigation of the external world to fill up the resulting inner emptiness. This resulted in the historical discontinuity of the 15th century where there appeared, among others, modern scientific investigation, discoveries of new lands, perspective in painting and individualism. In fact, in relation to the last aspect, one cannot conceive in a theater play before that time the individualism of a Hamlet, and painters didn't sign their works as Dürer (1471-1528) insisted on doing with his famous logotype (in fact, Dürer invented an apparatus to investigate the recently-developed perspective, an unimaginable thing before the 15th century).

Those examples show how the human being kept changing, acquiring new capacities to observe, to feel, to think and to act. Obviously, behavioral historians will say that the changes were in fact cultural, and that the human being has always been the same. I prefer the hypothesis that he really changed his psychological characteristics. This hypothesis explains why certain parallel changes occurred in distant parts of the globe, for example with Buddha and Lao Tse (the founder of Taoism) at the same time as Greek philosophy or the biblical prophets; the manifestations of these changes varied with the region.

3. Changes in the human constitution on the 20th century

Having in mind the hypothesis of changes in psychological capacities of human beings in certain periods of history, it may be conjectured that great changes during the 20th century were also due to changes in the human inner constitution. Let us see four of those changes, which I will call changes of consciousness.

Those changes of consciousness are, in my understanding, extremely positive evolutions occurred during this century, which seems so negative that I like to call it the "century of barbarism." In fact, I don't think human tragedies that occurred during this period have any parallel in previous history. Examples are the genocide of the Armenians by the Turks, the horrors of the Nazism, the sacrifice of dozens of millions eliminated by communism, and the present tragedies of various sorts of nationalism, fundamentalism and terrorism. The positive evolutions of the human consciousness are the consciousness of human rights, of world peace, of ecology and of universalism.

3.1 The consciousness of human rights

I think that the modern movement of human rights began decisively on the 19th century, with the abolition of slavery, but it was during on the 20th century that it began to appear in several social areas. Darwin, in his passage in 1832 by Rio de Janeiro on board the "Beagle," was deeply outraged by the slavery he found there. I think that he would not have had that reaction had he lived some decades before. For example, I am not certain that Goethe (1749-1832), one of the greatest humanists of all times, has manifested himself against slavery. Another humanist that considered slavery as a "natural" part of society was Plato (see his "Republic").

But it has been in the last decades that the sensitivity for and personal consciousness of human rights has developed extraordinarily, as one may see through the campaigns against racism, sexism, discrimination due to socioeconomic conditions, and more recently for the non-smokers' rights of not being disturbed and harmed by poor smokers.

3.2 The world peace consciousness

The movement for world peace also reveals, I think, an enormous development of individual sensitivity towards the social. Perhaps nowadays, at least unconsciously, each person cares for all other people. Everyone is horrified when populations are decimated by wars and social conflicts – see the case of Bosnia, which lead to UN action for purely humanitarian reasons (I don't think that it represented a political or economic problem to other countries) and, more recently, Algeria, Rwanda, Kosovo, etc. Let us also remember the end of the war of Vietnam, caused by the indignation of Americans and the recognition of its lack of sense. In fact, the creation of the old League of Nations and of the UN were already an indication of that development of the human being in the sense of expressing a deep desire to end all wars and conflicts.

I think that the root of that human development is a new social perception that wars and armed conflicts don't correspond to our current human nature – the divergences should be solved in negotiations, and not through weapons.

3.3 The ecological consciousness

The third indication of a change in human consciousness, especially during the 20th century, is the ecological movement. I think that its origin lies in the development of an intuitive sensitivity to nature that has not existed in "civilized" nations for a long time.

I emphasize my expression "sensitivity", in opposition to other underlying reasons which, in my opinion, are not so important, such as long-term economic, and health ones. Probably this lead to the recent news that the American Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) started to officially recommend the consumption of organically grown produce, that is, without fertilizers and chemical pesticides.

I remember well the beginning of the ecological movement: it happened with Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring, at the end of the 60's. Carson's motivation was her verification that birds were progressively disappearing from her garden – which finally lead to the interdiction of DDT (it produced thinning of the eggs' shells). One sees here that this origin had no utilitarian purpose, but it was due to a love to nature. This same new love to nature is, I think, the only explanation for the movement for the protection of whales: how is it possible to scientifically justify the fight for their preservation, against great economic interests, if they are at the end of the food chain? How is it possible to explain the concern of not letting any animal species disappear, anywhere? This new consciousness and love for nature appeared accompanied by what comes with any altruistic love: a feeling of respect and reverence. An example of this is the growing respect for trees. They don't produce during their life more oxygen than they consume when they are burned or decompose – unless their carbon is fixed forever in form of furniture, parquets, houses, etc. Thus, excluded fruit trees, no usefulness may justify their protection – for example, in the city of São Paulo, where I live, it is prohibited to knock down any tree without proper justification and official authorization.

As a matter of fact, why does everybody prefer nowadays to live in a street full of trees? I think that this is due to the fact that each tree is felt instinctively as a rich work of natural art. Plato, in "The Sophist", made a distinction between human art and nature ("divine", as he called it) art. In this sense nature is not a scientist, but an artist – see e.g. leaves that look like paintings and not like geometrical or engineering works. Investigation of living beings from the current scientific point of view reveals only a facet of their reality. I think this view should be complemented by an artistic attitude if we wish to reach a deep understanding of what they really are. I conjecture that scientifically – at least with the current materialistic approach – we will never understand nature. In this respect, see the seemingly insurmountable difficulties of scientifically explaining morphogenesis (the origin of the forms of living beings), and the growth and regeneration of organs and tissues, as for example described by R.Sheldrake [19]. Observe that the recent statements that those forms and functions are engraved in the DNA are pure speculations. For instance, one does not know if a certain cell is going to remain as it is, in order to contribute to tissue differentiation, if it is going to subdivide (mitosis, preceded by a DNA replication) and thus contribute to regeneration or growth, or is going to die (apoptosis) in order to permit new cells to take its place. Many scientists are stating that DNA contain the "instructions" which lead to the formation of the proper molecules in the organism, but nobody has explained what these instructions really are and what or who interprets them, leading to the expected results. To me, this undue wave of attributing those functions to the DNA or to the genes is an attempt to impose the view that humans are in fact machines. This is even more tragic than the view Darwinism tried (and to a large extent succeeded) to impose: that human beings are animals. It may produce terrible consequences, due to the fact that we may have some ethics regarding animals, because they suffer, in many senses as we do. But there is no sense in having ethics towards machines (I am not referring to their use): having pity in disconnecting a machine is certainly considered an aberration – but the idea that humans are machines will eventually make this aberration seem reasonable. But the contrary is what frightens me: as there is no ethics involved in disconnecting machines, the view that humans are machines will make people not feel any discomfort in "disconnecting" them – or making them suffer.

3.4 The universalistic consciousness

The development of the human being acquired in the 20th century another characteristic: the feeling of universality. People feel themselves more and more as citizens of the world, and less and less as citizens of their homeland. Nationalism seems to be nowadays an aberration and fanaticism. One of the external symptoms of this consciousness is, for example, the European Union. Unfortunately, it began with economic, and not cultural unification. But it was followed by the elimination of borders, barriers that impeded people's movements, by the acquisition of the right of living, studying or working in any country in the community, etc.

It is interesting to notice that the current wave of production globalization is a consequence of the new universalistic characteristics of the human being. However, I think that it is a caricature of real universalism, dedicated to the satisfaction of selfish and non-altruistic interests. It benefits a few ones in detriment of many others, and as any result of selfishness, it leads to disasters from a global point of view.

3.5 Synthesis

I think that the universalistic movement is intimately linked to the human rights movement, mainly in respect to sexual, racial, religious and nationalistic discrimination. It seems that people developed the intuitive perception that the unique essence of every human being has basically the same nature: it doesn't have sex, race, religion or nationality. I think it was the development of this essence, of this individual superior "I", different in each one but of the same non-physical nature, that lead to the four mentioned types of consciousness. Thus, contrarily to materialistic, behavioral sociologists I am supposing by hypothesis that those four developments are not purely cultural, that is, due to the evolution of habits, customs and accumulated knowledge, and therefore solely due to the environment. Contrary to socio-evolutionists, I also don't think that those changes are genetic.

My spiritual conception of the universe leads me to consider that the whole individual human being is the outcome of three acting factors: heredity, influence of the environment, but also of the acting spiritual self, of the superior "I" in each one. (The materialistic conception stops in the first two – in fact, there is a modern tendency of considering only the first one.) Identical twins may have very similar physical appearances, even close inclinations and tastes, but the destiny of each one, the individuality that manifests itself through creativity and the particular path of each one through life is totally different. These peculiarities are neither due to heredity nor to the influences of the environment. These distinctions between them come from each one's higher self, from their individual superior "I" which, according to my working hypothesis, is non-physical: the origin of the real individuality, of self-consciousness and of freedom. These three capacities don't exist in animals, and this makes humans true non-animals. In this sense, each human individual corresponds to a whole animal species, so if some people are concerned with the disappearance of some animal species, they should also be concerned with the disappearance – death – of each human individual.

I think that it is due to the evolution of this superior "I" and of its connection with our inferior constitution – a mere support for it, allowing for its physical manifestation –, that occurred the four mentioned changes of consciousness.

4. The obsolescence of education

With those considerations, I may arrive at my thesis: education is obsolete because during the 20th century it didn't follow the development of the human essence. The development of the four mentioned consciousnesses shows that humans changed, for better, in several areas. Unfortunately, education in general continued fundamentally the same.

It is a tragedy that there is a general intuition that something is deeply wrong with education, but instead of verifying that it didn't accompany the evolution of the deep human entity, considers that it didn't follow or absorb technological development.

I will mention here some of the characteristics of education that didn't follow that evolution; I will call them retrograde characteristics of education.

4.1 Forced study

The first retrograde characteristic that education in general preserved was the common fact of forcing students to study, instead of motivating their study due to interest, curiosity, thirst of knowledge and enthusiasm that should be instilled in them. Readers should excuse me, I made a mistake: I should have said "that we killed in them". Every small child is super-curious, wants to learn and know everything – in spite of her knowledge being an intuitive, non-conscious and non-intellectual one –, as for instance the capacity to jump rope, to seize a thrown ball in the air or to recognize animals and people.

This forcing to study assumes two facets: the grading system and flunking. Due to the development of the consciousness of human rights, nowadays everybody is against physical aggressions to students. Those aggressions were relatively common up to the first half of the 20th century. I myself witnessed perhaps in my third grade (in 1948) a teacher slapping the face of my undisciplined classmates without anybody protesting against it (by the way, that teacher had a number of a Nazi concentration camp tattooed on his arm). However, few, very few people notice that low grades and flunking are much worse punishments than the physical ones, because they are moral punishments. A physical pain and the resulting inner revolt may be forgotten, because their cause is momentary, but the frustration of getting a low grade or having flunked stays for a long time, perhaps forever in some cases, because it will be part of the school transcripts. A physical aggression may be compensated by an act of affection, perhaps even by a request for forgiveness. How is it possible to compensate a low grade or flunking that are physically registered forever and, in the case of the latter, affecting the unfolding of an entire life? Furthermore, some person receives a slap from another one; someone who got a low grade in general received a moral slap done in large part by himself.

Grades quantify the un-quantifiable: knowledge, maturity, capacity, creativity. Students know, at least in their subconscious, that those grades are ridiculous. What does it mean to get a grade 5 (In Brazil, the grading system uses grades 0 to 10, and 5 is the minimum to pass): the knowledge of half of the subjects of the test, half of each subject, or even a combination of pondered parts of those two situations? How many low grades are due to a state of depression, to a frustration with the lack of interest in a not well-presented subject, to an abnormal mental state during a test, etc.? Should the student be punished for all this? (For further considerations on grading systems, see my essay [16].)

Furthermore, grades are impersonal, reducing the students to enumerated objects. They "massify," treating everybody in the same way. If they are the outcome of multiple choice tests, knowledge is reduced to a pale shade of what it should be. If the questions are discursive, grading also reflects the teacher's subjectivity not based upon the whole student, but a shadow of what he is, knows and is able to express in a written way. As a matter of fact, when correcting questions or an essay the teacher should try to be as objective as possible, that is, we don't have two human individuals interacting with each other anymore: both were reduced to machines. It is interesting to observe that when I was a school student oral, individual tests were mandatory all over Brazil for every subject matter. That is, at that time (at least up to 1958, when I graduated from high school) in my country subjective interactions between teacher and student were considered fundamental for a good evaluation. Meanwhile, oral examinations disappeared: people have become more worried with objectiveness than with subjectiveness.

Regarding flunking, there could be no worse thing in educational terms than a student repeating some grade. He becomes frustrated, not producing in the following academic year as much as he could. This way, a blockade is created for learning. He is displaced in relation to his new classmates, who don't have his physical and psychological maturity, and perhaps may do them some harm.

It is interesting to notice that, in terms of notes and flunking, all the students of a class are forced to know the same things in the same way, thus hindering the development of each individuality. A student who doesn't have inclination for history may excell in sciences or arts. The law "every child or young person has the right to education" was turned into "every child or young person has the duty of having the same education." It is a known fact that a student may for a long time have no interest in some subject matter, and seemingly be a bad student in it. Suddenly, she wakes up to it, becoming an excellent student. In many cases the academic situation would lead to flunking that could hinder this awakening forever.

I applaud the Brazilian government’s initiative of eliminating flunking in the first school grades. What does it mean flunking a 9 year-old child? This corresponds to punishing her for lack of tenacity, of concentration, of objectivity. But those are adults' characteristics, not children's. However, that elimination should had been accompanied by general changes in mentality in the whole school, mainly in teachers. They would have to learn to wake up the students' interest and enthusiasm, that is, they should become good teachers. Basically, grades and flunking are tools used by bad teachers as a means of forcing their students to study. Forced learning should end, but at the same time it has to be substituted by an education based upon love and respect, making students interested in studying – when necessary: why should a 9 year-old child receive homework? I will return to the subject of tests in section 4.3.

Therefore, we may characterize the system of tests, examinations, grading and flunking as a punitive inhuman system which forces children and young people to behave like adults, losing their necessary childhood and youth. The result is a constant tension, the fear of flunking. Take into account 11-12 years of elementary and high school full of those tensions and pressures, and it becomes clear why in general students dislike their school so much, and why they generally arrive in college so unmotivated. This is particular true in the case of good Brazilian universities, because their admission examinations (the only criterion for admission) are very hard due to the excessive number of candidates for each vacancy (sometimes reaching 70:1).

4.2 Abstract teaching

Another point for schools being obsolete is the fact that teaching is excessively abstract. Usually, how is the concept of island taught (at least in Brazil)? "A piece of land surrounded with water on all sides". This is a typical example of schools being so far from a child's nature. This abstract definition doesn't correspond at all to the characteristics of the age in which it is taught (about age 8). In this period the child is still too tied up to her surroundings, to the reality of things, and an abstraction as that one doesn't make any sense to her. She seeks something interesting, curious, alive and artistic, with aesthetic contrasts. What does she receive? A dead definition, without life, without art and, as a matter of fact, wrong (there is no water in the top and bottom sides). Fortunately teachers don't give her the definition of a tree ("a stick stuck at 90 degrees into the soil, with ramifications blah blah"). This doesn't prevent children from creating a correct concept of tree through their own experience (seeing, touching and climbing them, picking their fruits, etc.). In the case of the island personal live experiences should also be created. If it is not possible to visit some island, perhaps the teacher could make demonstrations using basins with water and sand. Or telling a story of someone whose boat sunk and swam to an island. Describing his drama of not being able to return home, and all his efforts to survive, would incite imagination, creating indirectly the concept of an island full of life, with trees, animals, beaches, stones, etc.

Every elementary and high school teaching should be based upon reality or artistic fantasy. Purely intellectual abstractions should be slowly introduced only in high school. In elementary school (up to grade 8), students should just learn how to observe and describe phenomena. Theoretical explanations on why they behave the way they do should be left for high school. Take, for example, a thrown ball doing a curve through the air; the corresponding mathematical model should only be given in high school, obviously accompanied by an explanation on why the model is not perfect (air resistance, wind, etc.) It doesn't make sense to teach theorem proving before high school. I was forced to prove theorems – at least they were geometry ones – in grade 5. I used to look at the drawings in the textbook, observing two similar triangles (with proportional sides) illustrating the hypotheses (for instance, prove that two triangles with two proportional sides and one equal angle are similar) and thought: "but I can see that they are similar, why do I have to prove it"? For children, reality is what matters, not abstractions.

A terrible example of the excess of abstraction in teaching was Modern Math. Children learned how to do intersections of sets of apples and oranges (whatever the outcome of such a silly operation could be) but they didn't learn how to figure out how much they would have to pay for them in a market. For an incisive criticism of Modern Math, see Morris Kline's excellent book [7], where he shows that it was a consequence of the application, to teaching, of research tendencies in Mathematics in the 20th century (before that, Mathematics was always motivated by practical applications). Modern Math was a demonstration of a total lack of sensitivity and knowledge of children and teaching. But I think that it was also an implementation of the point of view "the more abstract, the better."

Fortunately, it seems that there is an increasing interest in developing educational methods that are based upon examples of and direct experience with reality. But we still find exercises such as "Uncle John's age plus aunt Mary's age give a total of 111 years, and their difference is 5 years; what are their ages?" Has anybody ever seen someone telling someone else the age of two people this way? Or "let an ideal particle be in a uniformly accelerated movement..." Has anybody ever seen an ideal particle? And in a uniformly accelerated movement?

Excessively abstract teaching handles students as mobile brains, instead as whole human beings. In fact, it doesn't even take into account that in terms of thinking we may exercise other types of it other than intellectual, abstract. For example, recalling observed things; imaginative and poetic thinking – which associates images, metaphors, to facts or ideas, as "the clouds are sailing the blue sky"; artistic thinking, which leads to artistic intuitions; social thinking, leading to intuitive social attitudes and initiatives. In the last two cases, I am referring to thoughts that do not unfold rationally, in a sequence of associations of causes and effects.

It is worthwhile to mention recent efforts in the sense of giving importance to other types of thinking and sensitivity, such a as those of Goleman [6] and Gardner [5]. Goleman emphasizes emotions, and social sensitivity and actions. Gardner calls the attention to the fact that traditional school education has been trying to develop what he denominates "Logical-mathematical" and "Linguistic" intelligences, not developing other 5: "Musical ", "Corporal-cinestesic", "Space", "Interpersonal" and "Intrapersonal" intelligences. He proposes changes in teaching to motivate the harmonic development of the 7 types.

I think that not even "Linguistic Intelligence" is being developed as in former times. TV has brutalized language. In this respect, I strongly recommend the study of Neil Postman's extraordinary book on the influence of telecommunications on public discourse [13].

4.3 The information accumulator

In general, schools consider learning as the accumulation of information, and not as a process leading to the youth's global formation – education at large. After all, practically the only thing that is asked for in tests and examinations is the memorization of information. But that is not an exclusiveness of schools. A former graduate student of mine took in 1998 a course on the most popular integrated administrative (enterprise resource planning) software in the world, provided by its producer. He told me that the final exam demanded a lot of memorization of details, such as in what part of the screen was displayed a certain icon. In this case, being a course for professionals, the consequences are not as tragic as in the case of young people, who are in the process of forming their personality. However the example is ridiculous because details of the use of software may always be consulted in the manuals or through the "on-line help" (which in general is still very poor and frustrating, but tends to improve).

This obsession with memorization is well-represented in tests: it is demanded that the student should know certain facts and techniques in the moment she is taking them. However, all this will be practically forgotten. I would like to put two questions to the reader: What do you remember of all the stuff you had to study for the hundreds of tests and examinations you took in your life? If you took some admission examination for a very competitive course, would you pass it today? Certainly we remember almost nothing of what we had to learn to do tests during our school and college life. But, in that case, what was the usefulness of our having to study intensively for those tests? The most important thing that should remain out of learning is a general and basic knowledge on the covered matter and maturation in relation to it, and of intellectual, emotional and willing capacities, as well as social, artistic and handicraft abilities. I think that tests don't help in that sense, on the contrary, they are harmful. Therefore, instead of constantly verifying if each student is undergoing that maturation, one expects the test to verify an insignificant part of it. Moreover, students get used only to study for tests. Would it not be much more efficient and humane giving the student incentive to learn and to demand her effort under the form of practical works and exercises? On the other hand, tests could be different than what they generally are: instead of demanding memorization, they could present certain concepts and request the resolution of questions and problems around those concepts, in such a way that, if the student doesn't have a basic knowledge and mastering of techniques essential to the subject, she won’t be able to solve them. In this case, it is necessary to have a deep knowledge of each student to decide what to do for him to acquire that knowledge and the basic techniques, or even to conclude that he matured enough and doesn't need to have precisely that knowledge and dominate those techniques.

Above all, in any evaluation it is necessary to understand the meaning of a certain knowledge for the student's global maturation. For this, it is necessary to have a model of the child's and young person's global development, and what is wished for an adult. I know two of those models: the one of Piaget, which is very partial, because he was just worried about formal and structural cognitive aspects. The other was introduced by Rudolf Steiner, employed since 1919 in more than 700 Waldorf schools in the whole world (25 in Brazil, many with high school, the oldest dating back to 1956). Steiner's model is much more comprehensive than the one of Piaget, because it takes into account every aspect of development, physical, physiologic, psychological or psychic, as well as the student's temperament and what he denominated "soul" capacities (and there are no scientific proofs that they are physical): volition, feeling and thinking [9].

Based upon the latter model I may state that what is missing in schools is a clear notion of that development, a clear concept of what a human being really is and what the objectives of a wide education should be. Due to this absence, learning has been interpreted as the acquisition of information, and the student is partially treated as a machine for storing it, partially as an animal which has to be conditioned to react as trained.

Summarizing, I think that in general schools err by being much more informative than formative.

4.4 Immediatism

Connected to the lack of a conceptual and practical framework on what it means to be a balanced adult, with all the developed potentialities – which should involve intellectual, artistic and social capacities –, the school is generally just preoccupied with bringing the students up to the end of the course. The basic thought is the following: by definition, students should learn the subject matters of the curriculum, period. Formerly, there was a certain intuition on the importance of certain subjects which were considered to be essential, but had almost nothing to do with immediatism. A story is told about one of the famous foreign French and Italian mathematicians who introduced Mathematics research and teaching at the University of São Paulo. Asked about what should be taught in high school so that he would later receive good university Mathematics students, he said: "Please, don't teach them Mathematics, teach them Latin"! What a deep, long-range vision! Latin is a natural language with such a grammatical structure that its study develops logic and formal thinking, and deductive capacity (when doing translations). In my school time, 4 years of Latin were obligatory (in every school in my country, Brazil!) from grade 5 to 8. Those students that went to what was then called "Classic" high school (preparing for a university humanities study, in opposition to the "Scientific" high school) had 3 more years of it. The same lack of immediatism made 4 years of Choir singing and music theory obligatory (where I learned the musical theory I know, and lead me to become later a musician), as well as 4 years of handicrafts – besides 6 years of French, 5 of English and 1 of Spanish, Philosophy, etc.

Unfortunately, the vision that the human being has nowadays of himself has become vastly impoverished. Today immediatism reigns: "Latin? What for? It's a dead language, it will never be used!" It was not this way that one approached education in former times of greater wisdom. This wisdom was intuitive, waiting for a concepualizaton – in the lack of it, the loss of that intuitive wisdom meant the fall into superficiality, triviality and immediatism.

It is interesting to notice that the goal of college education was formerly considered not as graduating a full, ready-to-work professional, but as a basic formation. It provided basic knowledge and intellectual and humanistic development so that the young graduate could afterwards learn in a couple of years during effective professional work the necessary details for her profession. This continues to be so, for example, with the course of Civil Engineering (in Brazil, with the lack of humanistic studies). It is not expected from a young graduate the capacity of designing a tall building or of controlling the progress of a big civil engineering project. For this, one expects the acquisition of experience through working in a design or construction office. Another case is that of graduates in Medicine. One expects, after graduation, some years of guided internship, for the young doctor to become a good and experienced one. Nowadays in a lot of areas it is expected that fresh college graduates should be full professionals, able to produce in industry as soon as they leave college. It is like the student getting trained to screw a certain screw type, instead of learning what a screw is, and of studying and examining many real ones to illustrate the concepts, allowing that in later professional work the particular characteristics of any screw is studied and mastered. The worst thing about our standard specialized teaching is that when screws are finished, graduates from such courses start screwing nails. I think this is the case of many courses on computing.

4.5 Boring teaching

Discussing those ideas with my senior Computer Science students in March 1998, many surprised me saying that they had not considered their elementary and high schools to have forced studying (see 4.1). This is probably due to the fact that they were exceptionally bright students from an intellectual point of view. But they considered the college course they were taking as being exaggeratedly demanding. Nonetheless, everybody agreed that the school had been boring. I think that this is due to several factors. Among them, the fact that students are treated as things and not as people. There is no cultivation of personal relationships between teachers and students (I am not referring here to a friendship). Thus, the teacher's person in front of the class is an uninteresting stranger; she also becomes a "thing," somebody that should be endured by obligation. Another reason is, as already mentioned, that teaching is excessively abstract, directed just to the intellect. As students are much more than simple mobile intellects, worse, they don't even have yet a full developed intellect – the latter will be available just by the end of high school, perhaps only in college –, they don't manage to identify themselves with the contents of the classes, which seem extremely boring. In particular, imagine a child or youth having to sit and stay still during hours, with a drive to go running and jumping outside in the patio, with a drive to talk and socially interact with classmates (whose experiences and ideas are infinitely more interesting than the abstract subject being taught by that person who is ignoring the personalities of those she has in front of her). At the peak of their "educational" action, students write something in their notebook – in general, just copying what the teacher wrote at the blackboard, even without the need of understanding what it means. They will only need to learn the subject through memorization just before the next test... Thus, they go through hours of passivity, without any creative activity, without any enthusiasm and personal involvement – is there anything more boring and hateful? In Waldorf Education, each class is organized consciously in a rhythm of inspiration (absorption) and of expiration (doing something) [9]. Observe students leaving a common school at the end of classes: they act like they are exploding with relief; they leave the school running, jumping, beating each other. On the other hand, in Waldorf schools students leave calmly: they have not been accumulating all that drive to do something, of pouring something to the outside – this has already been done during classes.

Teaching would be less boring if each subject matter tried to relate its content to the student or her environment. When my 2nd daughter was in grade 6 of the Rudolf Steiner Waldorf School of São Paulo, the study of old Rome was part of the history curriculum. In Waldorf education, a teacher takes the class at first grade and teaches its main subjects up to grade 8 (see the interesting book by Finser telling his experience as a Waldorf "class teacher" [4]). Imagine the knowledge that she develops on each child and on the class as a whole. The objection that conflicts may arise and it would be very bad for the class to endure a problematic teacher for a long time is in general non-valid, because those conflicts happen very rarely, as both teacher and class grow together. Moreover, the other teachers should be in permanent surveillance to detect any serious problem. Back to my story, my daughter's class teacher had the brilliant idea of putting the students to plan a coming field trip on biology; the class was organized as a Roman Senate. Students, dressed with bed sheets in form of Roman gowns, assumed the several standard roles of the Roman Senate. Imagine the lived experience that such a class transmits! Another case that happened in that school was of a 3rd grade boy who met a friend of another school. The latter said: "Today the teacher told us how bread is made!" The former replied: "What a coincidence, we are also studying that, but we prepared the dough and baked the breads!" (By the way, in that school each 3rd grade class builds a clay oven to bake its breads; later on, together with their parents they bake breads and sell them during the Christmas Bazaar.)

Here is a clear indication of a school not being boring, on the contrary, being very rich and interesting: in the latter case, students would be happy that vacations are ending, and not sad as it usually happens.

4.6 Passiveness-inducing teaching

As I've already mentioned, in general students sit for hours at their school desks, just hearing the teacher, who doesn't direct herself to them considering that they are global human beings and not just mobile intellects. Once in a while they write down what they have just heard or what is written on the blackboard. This leads to an extremely passive and conformist attitude. The impulses of participating, of making's own observations and of having one's own ideas are not cultivated; on the contrary, they are impaired.

In particular, I have been calling the attention to a serious educational problem at my Faculty of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science. In those formal areas, everything that the instructors say is true; there is almost nothing to be discussed or doubted. Practically nothing is subjected to different interpretations. This way, students become more and more passive and apathetic. At my university, our students are considered the most passive of the whole university. This lead me to suggest to my colleagues that once in a while, in each class, they should commit errors, so that students could notice the mistakes and protest, leaving their passive state of mind...

4.7 Competitiveness

To make the school a little less boring and passiveness-inducing, certain teachers or schools promote competitions, for example of scores or in sport. However, they don't notice that if somebody wins a competition, this is done at the cost of other persons that have lost it. The former becomes happy, but because somebody else got sad. So competitions are antisocial per se. They don't give incentive to social attitudes, on the contrary, they incite selfishness and personal pride.

I could never understand what goes on religious people who are teachers in schools maintained by so-called Christian confessions, who promote competitions: the happiness of a person at the cost of suffering of others is at least an anti-Christic attitude. I used "Christic" exactly to differentiate it from what is commonly called "Christian" and which was responsible for several anti-Christic barbarisms in history – fortunately recognized today by "Christians" as having been awful and inhuman. Unfortunately the latter still use competitions...

Promoting competitiveness does not mean just promoting the development of selfishness and to massacre the ones that are less capable in the subject of the competition: it means also appealing to and developing low animal instincts. Nature is a constant fight, with each living being trying to conquer and maintain its place under the sun, in general at the cost of others. For example, a tree that grows taller, covering the light of other plants, an animal that reserves its domain or kills the animal of the same species, having some handicap. Only humans may have compassion and yield their place by an act of unselfish love. This is one of the reasons why I consider that humans are not merely natural – they transcend nature. Actually, I think that they have never been totally natural.

The argument that our society is competitive and therefore we need to teach to compete is never accompanied by the question "but starting at what age?" In my point of view and through the experience of raising my 4 children, and also of Waldorf Education, there is no need of early learning how to compete. Professional life will unfortunately teach this anyhow.

4.8 Social discrimination

In Brazil, good schools are nowadays clearly discriminating from a socioeconomic point of view. The most economically favored classes maintain good private schools, and preparatory courses to admission examinations to universities, egotistically protecting their children in detriment of children with less economic capacity. (By the way, economy is a field where Darwinism surely reigns among human beings – and it is not the euphemistic "survival of the fittest", but clearly "of the most powerful.") I say "in detriment" because there is no concern of economically privileged classes with improving good education of other classes. This way, tax money is funneled to other applications of interest of the privileged classes (for example, in safety, in tax incentives, etc.).

The result of this discrimination is a social injustice, and the condemnation of the less favored classes to remaining in this condition forever, because the access to a good education is a fundamental condition for them to leave their situation of economic and cultural poverty.

5. Reasons for the obsolescence of education

I have just exposed certain typical negative characteristics of general education in our times. Let us now see the reason why the mentioned faults don't correspond to our current human constitution, as represented by the characteristics covered in section 2.

5.1 Forced learning

I think that forced learning is in disagreement with our current characteristics, because it collides directly with the consciousness of human rights and of world peace. In fact, those two indicate, as I pointed out in the section 2, that people developed a sensitivity to the fact we all have a superior "I", the real "self", that is our inner essence. This "I" is of the same nature in everyone, but assumes individual characteristics in each person. As I mentioned in 3.5, this "I" doesn't have race, sex, religion or nationality and it was its development that lead to anti-racism, anti-sexism, anti-fundamentalism, etc. Altruistic love, when practiced out of an act of freedom (and not as a habit of the community), is a manifestation of that superior "I". (I am not in agreement with Darwin when he speaks about natural selection of groups, and that individual altruism is naturally developed for the survival of the group, much less with Richard Dawkins' "selfish genes" [3].)

Forced learning doesn't take into account that each student has a unique human "I" that is unfolding and therefore has to be respected and revered. This type of teaching treats students as animals, which don't have an "I," and who should be trained and disciplined in a way which nowadays is considered outmoded even with animal training: using pressure and punishment. As we saw, this pressure is not anymore the one of the punishing rod (at least up to this point the consciousness of human rights has already reached), but of grading and flunking. Instead of transmitting enthusiasm and motivating students, they are forced to study under pressure. I consider grading (scoring) systems and flunking sorts of moral punishing rods. They are worst than physical punishments, not just for being moral, but because they stay engraved forever (in the student's transcript, or their influence in life in the case of flunking). The same human characteristics that were developed during the 20th century up to the point of considering that everybody should be respected, and that the massacre produced by wars is not correct, generate in students a feeling of being massacred and subjected to injustice. This feeling becomes particularly strong after puberty, when young people begin to develop their capacity of judgement (unfortunately this capacity is being unduly accelerated, mainly through the use of TV, video games and computers).

5.2 Abstract teaching

In this case I think that the new human characteristics that lead to the ecological movement, evidencing a sharp sense regarding reality, subtelness and respect towards nature, show that we don't want anymore to remain in the realm of abstract ideas that have nothing to do with the reality that surrounds us or with our inner reality.

Students should feel, at least unconsciously, a big frustration with the fact that they learn mainly things, theories, that basically don't have anything to do with the real world in which they live.

5.3 The information accumulator

In the same way as we developed the senses for human rights and for world peace, and the ecological and universalistic consciousnesses, we developed the consciousness that we are much more than a repository of information. Howard Gardner's already mentioned (4.2) "multiple intelligences" [5] are an indication of the awareness that there are other essential abilities in a human being essential for pursuing a full life, besides knowledge acquired by means of information. In particular, Gardner shows that traditional schooling, centered around Logical-Mahematical and Linguistic intelligences, it is what matters less to professional success – an essential point of Goleman's book [6].

Students must feel a deep frustration for being treated as simple accumulators of information, and not as human beings with creativity, with emotions and sensitivity both socially and towards nature.

There is also another important aspect in this section: the information that we want our students to store are practically only the ones with a "scientific" character, reflecting a prevalent mentality: what is not "scientific" has little or no value and it should not be the object of study and research. Thus, artistic and social personal experiences, which complement a "scientific" vision of the world and cannot be comprised by the latter, are excluded. In particular, the "scientific" vision of the world is nowadays essentially quantitative, because mathematical modeling, introduced mainly by Galileo, gave origin to the result of scientific knowledge that is considered of the highest valued today: machines. To me, qualitative aspects exist in nature and in every human being, and are impossible of being expressed quantitatively. I consider them to be much more important than quantitative aspects. Moreover, this "scientific" vision still leads to a reduccionist approach, a result of Descartes' analytic method: to solve a problem, break it into separate parts ("divide and conquer"). This method works very well with machines, but it is totally inappropriate for a deep understanding of living beings. As Richard Lewontin says, "In biology we cannot escape from the dialectical relation between parts and whole. … The hand is the appropriate unit of investigation if we are concerned with the physical act of holding, but the hand and eye together are an irreducible unit for understanding how we come to seize the object that is held" [10]. As already observed by Goethe, living beings have a unity that can never be reached through the study of their separated parts [20].

5.4 Immediatism

I think that the ecological consciousness shows that the human being stopped being just an immediatist. We are now worried with long-term consequences, as the greenhouse effect, the disappearance of vegetable and animal species, etc. Immediatism in education is in this sense a nonsense. It reveals a superficiality that, I think, is unconsciously perceived by students. An example of immediatism is ignoring that learning proceeds by metamorphose, so that what is learned in a certain point in life appears later as a capacity in another area. For example, it is not by giving freedom to children (who expect to be guided and oriented) that free adults are created. Freedom given at the wrong time may, for example, produce insecure adults.

5.5 Boring teaching

As I showed, to me the consciousnesses of human rights, of peace and of universalism are due to the development of a global, intuitive vision of the human being. It is not by chance that only recently the expression "holistic" became popular, perhaps as a reaction to excess of reductionism. I also showed that teaching is boring for not being directed to students as global humans, but only as mobile intellects or information accumulators. The shock is obvious.

5.6 Passiveness-inducing teaching

The new consciounesses were marked by intense movements, which involved actions of millions of people, such as the movements against sexist discrimination, in favor of human rights, of world peace, in Brazil even the one for the impeachment of former president F.Collor, etc. Those actions indicate that the tendency is not anymore that of remaining passive, waiting for the world to improve by itself. It is not considered anymore that a hermit in a cave may improve the world – for this one should be socially active. The passive attitude imposed in general by our teaching collides directly with the attitude of action which characterizes the modern human being.

5.7 Competitiveness

The consciousnesses of human rights, of peace and of universalism show that people don't assign value to particular appearances and capacities (such as physical or intellectual). Promoting competitions in education means returning to remote times where our individual and social consciousness still did not exist.

I think that in our days what is most important is to educate for the development of social sensitivity, of compassion and of social responsibility. We are not in need of more scientists; perhaps having more real artists would be very good. But what is urgently needed is to educate young adults with positive social impulses and with energy to try changing the social destruction that we are witnessing. The world is tragically accelerating towards "the fight of everybody against everybody," as mentioned in John's Apocalypse. Only education for the social may revert this trend. As I showed, competitiveness is selfish and antisocial. The school that promotes it is in my opinion absolutely retrograde, because it doesn't recognize the new human being of present days and doesn't perceive what is needed for the next and distant futures.

5.8 Social discrimination

The social-economic discrimination made by good and expensive private schools directly collides with the consciousness of human rights. Both students of privileged schools as well as students of less favored ones must be at least unconsciously aware of the injustice which it is committed when favoring some people, in spite of everybody having the same rights. The great problems here are the confusion between the concepts of public schools (non-profit institutions managed by the community) and State schools (managed by the State, and therefore condemned to suffer political influences as well as imposition of textbooks, curriculum, principals, etc.), as well as the other side of the coin, the absurd commercial exploitation of education (education and health are not goods that should be commercialized).

6. The ideal school

I've tried to show how in general schools didn't follow the evolution of the human consciousness during the 20th century, as evidenced through the 4 aspects advanced in section 3. I would like to give here some general indications on what could be a school for the present days and the next future, in agreement with the new human characteristics developed during that century.

6.1 How to regard students and teaching

Teachers, of any level, should regard students as developing human beings, that is, having a complete but not yet unfolded essence. Using the vague idea of a superior "I" presented in section 3.5, childhood and youth phases may be characterized as the preparation and development of a progressive manifestation of that "I". The ideal is that the "I" reaches a full capacity of manifestation, through individuality, self-consciousness, freedom, social responsibility, the capacity of feeling compassion and thinking objectively, the capacity of exercising altruistic love, etc. It is interesting that in Brazil the full legal age, that is, the age of full responsibility for one's own acts, is 21 years. An old tradition due to a deep intuitive and holistic vision of the human being established that age as a decisive mark in each person's life. I think that it well represents the end of that phase of blossoming and unfolding referred to above.

Thus, each student should be respected as a potential full person. In this context, the teacher would assume the role of simple assistant to the individuality that is developing its "inferior" members so that her "I" can act in this world. This help is indispensable. The German emperor Frederick II (1194-1250) made a tragic but interesting experience. Wanting to test if the human being is already born with the adult's full potentialities, he isolated 3 newly born, who had from then on no social contact, other than receiving food and perhaps personal hygiene. None of them learned how to walk, to speak or to think – and everyone died before reaching 14 years. This shows that the human being is not simply genetic: s/he needs the social conviviality for her development. But I think that, besides being genetic and social, a human is also an individual being, that is, possessor of that "I" that is not inherited and is not molded by the environment. But this "I" needs a decisive help in the sense of developing the "inferior" members of the human entity to be able to fully manifest itself and be a social being at adult age, capable of establishing and fulfilling its own objectives in life. Therefore, here lies the great mission of education: helping the harmonious development of the human entity in a global way, as well as providing for the knowledge, experience, and development of abilities so that the future adult may locate herself in the world, understand it and act positively upon it. This harmonious and global development means providing not just an intellectual teaching (as exemplified in the early definition of island, in section 4.2) but also artistic and social. In fact, abstract intellectual development should be deferred until high school. Until approximately 9 years I think it indispensable to create an atmosphere of religiosity – every small child is religious by nature (I remember that around 10 years of age I still thought the noises I heard at home during the night produced by cracking wooden stairs were due to angels climbing it – what an impoverishment of poor children nowadays, modern, intellectualized, who lost religiosity and fantasy, up to the point of thinking that angels, Santa Claus and the Eastern Bunny are nonsensical...).

This feeling of religiosity can be cultivated through a reverence towards nature's marvels, telling biographies of great personalities who sacrificed themselves for humanity, and through other actions and attitudes that I won't describe here, because I must have already collided too much with concepts of materialistic readers (who in general start trembling when they hear or read anything having to do with religiosity). In particular, only a person that has sometime in her life really experienced a felling of religiosity may consciously – and intellectually – choose to be an atheist, or more properly, a materialist, i.e., denying the existence of any non-physical process.

A teacher should constantly ask herself: "What can I do to help each student in this class, guiding him in the blossoming of his individual impulses that he brings to this world? What can I make to balance the student's eventual one-sidedness, contributing in such a way that he becomes able to develop all his possible abilities and doesn't precociously concentrate on those capacities in which he is excellent by nature, in detriment of a global formation?" In this sense, teaching should be faced as an act of sacrifice: the teacher should not teach what she knows or likes best, but what each student in her class needs in every moment of his life. If the teacher doesn't know something essential to her students, she should learn it to transmit it to them. Another sacrifice is overcoming her eventual prejudices and antipathy towards this or that student, seeking what is positive in each one.

The ideal teaching can be synthesized as an act of unselfish love. Obviously, the teacher should daily exercise a love to her students. A feeling of unselfish love for the students leads automatically to an attitude of respect and reverence to them. I think that this will irradiate to the whole class, which will intuitively feel that the teacher is there mainly to help each student. As a consequence, students will tend to treat the teacher also with respect and reverence. I cannot sufficiently emphasize how much I consider those last two feelings as being of fundamental importance in education. This would compensate a little bit the disrespect and the cynicism that is more and more prevalent in the world, and which unfortunately students in general already bring from home. (I would greatly appreciate to know in which college course on pedagogy the students, future teachers, hear something so human as I have inserted into this paragraph...)

6.2 The teacher's life experience

Teaching should also be regarded as a transmission of the teacher's life experience. Obviously, she is not perfect, and should not be the only model. If, from high school on, when students should start developing their capacity for exercising criticism, every teacher tried in each class to transmit her personal positions regarding the problems of the world, students would not be subjected to the influence of just one of them. The study of biographies can also contribute to enlarge life examples. Imagine how extraordinary could be the study of the biography of persons like Hellen Keller or Ghandi, for example.

I would like to emphasize the first point, because it comes from my personal experience of dozens of years of university teaching. My students always manifested an extraordinary interest for my ideas regarding general themes, to the point that once one of them asked if it would not be possible that we just concentrate on those themes and forget the technical subject I was supposed to cover. Obviously, the latter has to be transmitted, but I think that the instructor should dedicate about 1/4 of each class to transmit her personal opinions on recent and past facts of the world, as well as books, recently attended concerts, theater plays, exhibitions, etc.

At the end of each class, I ask for a "low-tech" evaluation that was seemingly developed at Harvard, the "One-minute Paper": each student should write a few lines on 1) what he found most important during the class and 2) what is the biggest doubt that remained. I verified that in technical subjects, almost the totality of "one-minute papers" covered problems that I had approached outside the technical contents of the class. This shows how much students are thirsty for hearing themes that are important for their daily life, and find that technical matters, as interesting as they may be (in my case, mainly compilers and databases), are less important than their existential and philosophical doubts. Imagine the wealth of worldviews high school or college students would get to know if each teacher would discuss in every class something of general interest!

I am touching here a fundamental point: I think that the transmission of life experience and personal viewpoints should be one of the fundamental issues in education. Up to grade 8 the student should admire his teachers for their personality, as people who are going to show him what the world looks like. Starting at high school, when judgement and criticism capacities begin to appear (they should not be aroused before, because this would mean an improper acceleration of development), what a student should admire in his teacher is her knowledge. It has always been thought that academic knowledge should be the main thing being taught; I am here advocating that knowledge of life is as much or even more important. Up to grade 8, the teacher should be a generalist and an example of virtue; from high school onwards students will know how to distinguish between her weaknesses and qualities, as far as she – now a specialist – can introduce them good ideas and concepts about the world. This way, the teacher's moral qualities acquire an enormous importance. Unfortunately, in general schools and faculties are exclusively worried about the aspect of technical knowledge or, worse still – as it is common in schools in my country –, a new teacher's formal degrees.

Thus, the relationship between teacher and students should be that of an expert on the subject being taught and on life. Many teachers try to establish a special relationship with their students by means of attempting to appear young, speaking and acting as the latter. I think that this is a mistake; the teacher shouldn't regress to her students' childish of youth ideas and behavior, but should be an ideal of how they could behave when they will become adults or professionals. Does this mean demanding too much from teachers? May be, but nobody can deny that if they could be examples for the students, and expound them their opinions on everything, teaching will acquire a much broader and better educational aspect. Above all, teachers should stop acting like simple repositories and communicators of information.

6.3 Guided education

Nowadays there are several trends in education which give emphasis to learning, and not to teaching. They discard the teacher's traditional role, and she becomes what is denominated a "facilitator". She should at most guide her students in an autonomous learning process; some currents advise that not even this should be done: the teacher should give her students some material and wait for questions.

The ideal of those trends is to give freedom to the student, and to end with traditional classes. I agree, as I said in 4.6, that traditional teaching is highly passivity inducing and it should be changed. But I think that the other extreme, what I am going to call libertarian education, represents another tragic mistake in education. Students should be permanently guided, and this is what they expect from their teachers. Not even in college students have the capacity to decide what is better for them – since in general they don't know in advance the contents of the subjects and the future professional requisites from a broad and deep perspective. This ignorance is much higher in elementary or high school. Furthermore, I have the impression that libertarian education is a confession of ignorance on the part of teachers: they don't know what it is better for their students, and thus are afraid of guiding them mistakenly. Therefore, they leave to each student his own guidance and the responsibility for the failure of education. In this sense, I don't consider the American tradition of letting high school students choose elective subjects as being correct, mainly if they involve basic knowledge such as sciences, history, geography, foreign languages, etc.

Another aspect of libertarian education is that it is adapted to an adult learning by herself, but it is an aberration with children and young people, because it demands from them decisions which are proper of adults. This means once more an improper acceleration of development. A recent example of this libertarian education is to give elementary and junior high school students the access to the Internet. Traditionally, education has always been highly contextual. Parents choose appropriate books for their children ideally taking into account the latter’s maturity, environment, temperament, etc. Teachers always teach something taking into account what they have been teaching during the last classes, maybe even during months and the year before. In schools with integrated teaching, as in Waldorf Education [9], teachers take into consideration what their colleagues are covering in that class. The Internet represents a learning environment without any context: the child or youth has a world of good and bad information at his disposal, and has to choose alone what should be fetched and read. This choice demands knowledge, capacity for exercising criticism and a high degree of self-control, to avoid "surfing the net" indiscriminately and with lack of discipline. These characteristics are typical of adults, and not of children or young people. Again we have here an acceleration of development, that I consider quite harmful: the child or youth is forced to behave as an adult. In the worst case, he will behave precisely as a child or an adolescent and will read whatever is not adapted for his context and maturity. This will also be harmful for his development. I recommend parents that (wrongly, in my opinion) think that the use of the Internet is very useful and essential to their children, to remain at their children's side guiding them in searches and readings.

6.4 Age-conformed teaching

I think that an obvious principle is the fact that a certain subject should not be introduced in the same way to students of different ages. The opposite means turning teaching into a mass-product.

To teach each age in an appropriate way, it is necessary to use a developmental model, that is, having concepts and experience on how children and youth develop as they mature. This model should be comprehensive, that is, not taking into account just some restricted aspects of development, e.g. as was done by Piaget, as already mentioned in 4.3. A typical example could be the adequate age for learning the heliocentric planetary model. Humanity took thousands of years to acquire enough capacity of abstraction to discard the strong, true sensorial perception of the Sun, Moon and stars moving along the visible sky, and to imagine that they are fixed and we move with the Earth's rotation. Obviously, it is necessary to wait until children develop this abstraction before covering heliocentrism. Small children are highly opened to their outside; in fact, until they are 9-years old in general they don't notice that they are isolated from the world, that is, they feel like being a unity with their environment. Every small child is an animist, that is, for her everything has life, so that it is not incorrect for a father to admonish a chair that "made little John stumble." If small children were not so open to the external world, they would not learn how to walk and to speak, which is done through imitation; never again they will undergo in their life such an intense development as in this period. On the other hand, they are learning how to trust their senses, which are incredibly faithful. Imagine how schizophrenic we would all be if we couldn't trust what we see, and if we see something without clearness we would not be sure of this fact! I insist, in a clear day everyone sees the Sun moving along the sky. To think that it remains still, we should not use our sensorial perception, but our judgement. Unfortunately, the mass-communication media can't respect the maturity of each listener or viewer, so that parents that regrettably allow their children to watch TV or access the Internet create a great development problem – an acceleration of the capacity of judgement, and of knowledge acquisition. Another example is the fact that only around puberty youths should get interested in sexual matters. TV, video games and the Internet distort this healthy development, with disastrous psychological consequences.

6.5 Respect to each student's individuality

The example on sexual education leads us to our next point. The ideal school should respect each student's individuality.

Today it is considered quite appropriate that schools give sexual education to students – and the sooner the better. There are two aspects here that should be considered: firstly, the sexual question should normally be something very intimate, mainly in adolescents. Secondly, sexual maturation is not uniform in all the youths of a class.

When a young person discovers in him/herself an interest for sex and experiences physiologic transformations, he/she feels a tendency of isolating him/herself. This may represent a danger from the psychological and social points of view. A lot of social sensitiveness is necessary to approach the sexual subject with a young person, and I think that this should not be made in public – much less through mass communication media! When this subject is covered in a class during elementary school, students who have not yet wakened up for the subject may get a shock. This shock may provoke a development acceleration which would not be following the natural maturation, or cause a closing in him/herself. On the other hand, in a class there is no possibility of following the reactions of each youth to the words being spoken. In a personal chat, if this reaction is negative, one may detect it and correct the course of the conversation.

During high school, the sexual subject should be approached strictly from biological and physiological points of view. At the end of high school, perhaps it would be interesting to approach it from the moral point of view (associating the sexual act with the love for the partner, and not as a satisfaction of physiologic needs – mainly when dealing with boys).

These ideas are applied to young people with "normal" development. Unfortunately, it is nowadays quite rare to find adolescents whose childhood and youth were preserved, because almost everyone suffered in the sexual field highly pernicious influences of TV – when not through one's own parents and friends. Perhaps this situation indicates even more the need to handle the subject in a personal way, balancing a little bit the ill effects of what has not been properly done. If one observes that a young person manifests precocious interests for sex, one should promote the personal chats mentioned above, always trying to adapt them to the child's global maturation. It is very important to verify if those interests are genuine, or just the outcome of mere imitation or the drive for self-assurance regarding friends and classmates.

Transposing to other areas, what I mean is that there is a need to handle each student as an unfolding unique individuality, and not as an impersonal part of a class. In this sense, for example, I always insisted on learning my students' names. I think that this knowledge establishes a personal contact with each student.

6.5 Balanced education

I have criticized several times the fact that teaching is nowadays too abstract, that is, primarily directed to the intellect. A balanced school would also cover artistic and social education, through activities in those areas. However, I think that there is a proper timing for each one of the three.

In Kindergarten there should be no formal teaching, not even the widespread teaching of how to read. Thus, intellectual teaching should be out of question. It is also too early for teaching art, other than some very simple activities, such as simple handicrafts. So social learning is essentially what remains during this period. This is done through activities such as hearing stories, singing, etc. and doing activities and playing in groups.

In elementary school (up to grade 8), emphasis should be in teaching through arts, even in Mathematics (Geometry is particularly useful for the introduction of concepts with some aesthetics). Obviously, teaching arts should be as much or even more intense than formal, intellectual teaching, covering music, theater, painting (without computers! [17]), drawing, clay modeling, weaving, besides various types of handicrafts with wood, metal, etc. Scientific teaching should be limited to careful observation and description of natural and laboratory phenomena. Explanations of those phenomena should be restricted just to what may be understood in an intuitive way and not, for example, through mathematical modeling. Special careful should be given to the development of social abilities. I have already covered at length the question on the socially negative aspects of competition (4.7 and 5.7). I may suggest as teaching social abilities the organization of the help that endowed students may give less endowed ones, and group activities (choir, orchestra, trips with division of work, and particularly theater, which develops enormous social sensitivity).

In high school, the emphasis should be given to teaching science, but without neglecting teaching arts (without computers! [17]), humanities and social abilities. It is at that age that formalisms should be introduced, such as theorem proving and mathematical modeling in Physics. Education on arts should be slowly directed to expressionism, which can reveal the development of the youth's almost unfolded individuality, a process which should attain a fair maturity ideally around age 17-18.

If in the beginning of elementary school mythical images are absolutely appropriate and a necessity, such as fairy tales and the biblical creation, in high school the student should enter in contact with the theories that try to explain the world through concepts, such as the theory of evolution or Newton's theory of colors. However, I find it absolutely essential that attention be called for the fact that these and other ones are just theories, and not truths. It is extremely important that limitations of those theories, and the fact that they are unilateral be shown and discussed. The two mentioned examples are particularly suitable for that. In the second case, it would be interesting to criticize the fact that Newton developed his theory starting from an extremely particular case, a 1/3-inch hole in the "window shut" to form a sunbeam that, passing through a prism, created the 7 colors of the rainbow, including the green [12, Book I, Part I, Exper. 3 – in fact, there one finds one of Newton's mistakes, because he affirms that there was no difference between the result of the color dispersion using a glass or water prism]. Another opening would not have produced the same effect. If the opening had been very small, he would have just obtained 3 colors, red, green and violet, in fact the ones that are used in color TV or video screen using a cathode-ray tube. If he had used a larger opening, he would have on one side red, orange and yellow and on the other light blue, dark blue and violet and no green. The latter is obviously obtained through the superposition of the two closest to clarity (yellow and light blue), through the decrease of the diameter of the hole. Moreover, if he had been a biologist using a microscope and not an astronomer using a telescope, he would have had an interest in beams of darkness and not of light, arriving to a theory of colors exactly complementary to his [1]. Then the 3 basic colors would be yellow, purple and blue as one can see in printers: contrary to a light beam in the dark environment of a video screen, they use the complementary background of a relatively dark ink on a white sheet of paper. This may serve as a criticism to the typical scientific activity of starting from particular cases (in this case, a beam of light of a certain diameter passing through a prism), and proceeding to general ones (which, in general, are never reached – we have no idea what light really is!). The other approach would be to start from the general cases and proceed to the particular ones, as in Goethe's scientific method. In fact, his method is not reduccionist, because there one seeks primordial phenomena, the "Urphenomäne", which are irreducible by hypothesis. Another important issue to be discussed is Descartes' analytical method and the fact that, in living organisms, it is not possible to separate some part out of the whole without loss of function (see 5.3).

In high school, social education should involve some activities outside the school, such as helping in hospitals, nurseries, slums, etc. In particular, I think that in Brazil the contact with economic, social and educational misery of poor people is of fundamental importance. Thus, in one year one could for example program the participation in ecological movements, in another helping people in the slums, in another helping sick or old people, etc. according to the maturity and what one wishes to educate.

7. Conclusions

I have tried to show that education is obsolete in relation to the development of the human being in the 20th century. I expounded in general lines how it could be changed in order to fit the new human being. In synthesis, education didn't follow the changes which happened with the human being during that century. It doesn't matter if the hypothesis is that those changes are merely cultural (mine is that they are partly constitutional); the important point is to recognize that there were drastic changes in the realms of acting, feeling and thinking. I exposed several facts that demonstrate these changes and tried to show that a more modern and humane teaching should in the first place adapt itself to those changes.

My ideas regarding a more modern and human education, exposed in section 6, are inspired in a pedagogy that has existed since 1919, Waldorf Education, already mentioned in 4.3, 4.5 and 6.3. In particular, the developmental model of the human being introduced by Waldorf Education's founder, Rudolf Steiner, which is the foundation for that pedagogy, establishes a conceptual and practical base on what should be taught, and how, at each age (6.4), taking into account a much more holistic view than other educational methods and principles.

Examining my considerations, one may see that I have tried to propose a more humane education, considering the student as a global being in a process of unfolding and forming herself. The reflexive of those last two verbs is fundamental: the teacher should help the child and the youth in those processes in an attitude of guidance, based upon acts of unselfish love (6.1).

Due to the fact that my concern is centered on deep human aspects, I did not cover the use of technology, that is, machines in education. Contrary to a large part of the educational wave of the moment, I am against the use of machines in education, except in special cases and occasions. One of these cases is the teaching that should lead to a basic understanding of the functioning of machines, done during high school. How many people know the working principles of combustion motors or of wings of an airplane? One of the serious problems related with this ignorance is that it produces a type of "mental" paralysis: people lose the curiosity of conceptually knowing how machines work, because they think this is something very difficult to understand, if not impossible. I think that this loss tends to be extrapolated to other areas, making people less humane, because the search for conceptual explanations is a strictly human characteristic. Unfortunately it would take too long to expound these points – I would have to enter into considerations of what cognition is. Another problem is a consequence of the previous one: the general inability of criticizing the proposals done by believers in technological solutions for environmental problems, both social and individual (a good current example is the relatively little objection to the production and consumption of transgenic foods in spite of the fact that we don't have an idea of their possible long-term pernicious effects). Another one is the inability of criticizing the use of machines, with their consequent misplacement. A gross example of that is the terrible impact of automobiles on cities and on society. For example, nowadays all the cities of the world look roughly the same. They became mostly directed to vehicle traffic, which has no local culture, and not directed to the citizens who live there. Another gross example is TV, which among other negative effects destroyed a good part of family life and the capacity of imagination. An understanding of the automobile, of TV and computers and their effects could lead people to use them in a less harmful way, or only on special occasions [18].

Therefore, I am absolutely in favor of using machines in education to show what they are, and to develop a critical sense of their use. But this only makes sense after puberty, during high school, because it demands intellectual maturity.

As for the use of machines to teach other subjects, I would just admit a very restricted use. For example, as has already been shown that TV induces in the viewer a semi-hypnotic, sleepiness state of consciousness [8, 11], my recommendation is that it should only be used with a video recorder as a means of illustration (for example, in biology or geography classes), for very brief periods (3-5 minutes). The teacher should show an illustration, discuss it, exhibit it and discuss it again, avoiding that images be recorded exclusively in the subconscious, as it usually happens with TV and movies. Images are watched by the millions, but just a few remain at the conscious level, all other remaining in the subconscious, because humans record everything they experience. Thus, TV has very little educational effects – it has a conditioning effect. By the way, it is due to this conditioning effect that the largest expenses with advertisement in big companies are made on TV. In 1999, the total expenditure for advertising in Brazil was 11 billion dollars; two thirds of it went to TV. In particular, the conditioning of TV to violence has already been sufficiently a proven [2, 18].

In the case of the computer, it is important to recognize that, being an abstract, logical-symbolic machine, it necessarily imposes upon the user logical-symbolic, algorithmic reasoning, even when using software for artistic purposes [17]. In fact, it is impossible to use some software without emitting commands of a textual or iconic language which is absolutely formal, and which activates mathematical functions in the machine. For example, exactly this happens when the icon for justifying a paragraph is activated. Another problem is the fact that the computer takes education out of context. As we saw in 6.3, the case of the Internet is the grossest example in that sense: a child using this net has the possibility to access what is appropriate to her age and knowledge, and also to what is not. I think that only after age 17-18 should the youth be given some freedom of choice on what she should learn, since the lack of maturity cannot provide a reasonable vision of what is important to be studied.

With those and many other considerations, I reached the conclusion that a young person should never use a computer before puberty; due the necessary self-contgrol, the ideal age being around 17 [15].

I think that one of the main reasons for people advocating the use of computers in education (besides surrendering to the intense propaganda of hardware and software producers) is the fact that they are extremely attractive. In a certain way, this fact should be used as a warning: a machine attracting more than a human being is an aberration. This is due, as I exposed, mainly to teachers not considering the changes which occurred in the human being during the 20th century, and continue to teach in obsolete ways in relation to those changes. Thus, classes are boring, excessively abstract, learning is enforced, etc. What is happening is that, instead of correcting these mistakes at their origin, that is, changing the teachers' mentality, the computer is introduced as a kind of crutch. It is believed that this way education is modernized. Basically, this is a deceit, because the computer attracts through its "cosmetic" or electronic game effects and not through the contents or personal relationships. In my opinion, the result will be catastrophic. For example, the fact that computers enforce logical-symbolic reasoning means that children or youths are forced to think as adults. This means contributing to the prevalent effort of finishing with childhood and youth. Neil Postman has already called the attention for this fact in relation to communication media [14].

My underlying effort in this article was dedicated to showing that obsolescence in teaching does not lie in lack of technology in the classroom or at home. On the contrary, I think that the use of technology will worsen the situation. What is lacking is, basically, a change on how the human being is regarded. If somebody considers humans as being machines, which is not scientifically justified (on the contrary, a thorough and unprejudiced examination of current scientific knowledge provides several indications that we are not machines), then for that person the use of machines in education certainly doesn't present great problems. If another person regards humans as not being machines, but as animals (with some greater complexities than other animal species), then our considerations won't also make much sense. After all, if TV conditions and animals cannot be educated, but conditioned, let us continue with traditional methods, perhaps increased with the use of technologies that help in conditioning, storing information, etc. Finally, somebody, like me, may consider that the human being is not a machine or an animal, that is, contains components in his constitution that are not physical and that are not found in animals. This is justified by the fact that animals don't have, as we do, freedom, individuality and self-consciousness. The latter person will think that education has to take into consideration the human being in a holistic way, that is, as a physical, psychological and spiritual being. It was inspired by such a model that all considerations and recommendations above were formulated.


[1] Bjerke, A. Neue Beiträge zu Goethes Farbenlehre. Stuttgart: Freies Geistesleben, 1961.
[2] Centerwall, S.C. Television and violence – the scale of the problem and where to go from here. Journal of the American Medical Association. Vol. 267, No. 22, June 10, 1992, pp. 3059-3063.
[3] Dawkins, R. The Selfish Gene. New York: Oxford University Press, 1976.
[4] Finser, T.M. School as a Journey – the Eight-year Odyssey of a Waldorf Teacher and His Class. Hudson: Anthroposophic Press, 1994.
[5] Gardner, H. Multiple Intelligences – The Theory in Practice. Basic Books, 1993.
[6] Goleman, D. Emotional Intelligence. Bantam Books, 1997.
[7] Kline, M. Why Johnny Can’t Add: the Failure of the New Math. ?:? 1973.
[8] Krugman, H.E. Brain wave measures of media involvement. Journal of Advertising Research, Feb. 1971, pp. 3-9.
[9] Lanz, R. Waldorf Education – A Path for a More Humane Education (in Portuguese). São Paulo: Editora Antroposófica, 1998.
[10] Lewontin, R. The Triple Helix – Gene, Organism and Environment. Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 2000.
[11] Mander, J. Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television. New York: W. Morrow, 1978.
[12] Newton, I. Opticks – or a Treatise of the Reflections, Refractions, Inflections & Colours of Light. New York: Dover Publications 1979.
[13] Postman, N. Amusing Ourselves to Death – Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. New York: Penguin, 1986.
[14] Postman, N. The Disappearance of Childhood. New York: Vintage Books, 1994.
[15] Setzer, V.W and L.Monke. An alternative view on computers in education: why, when, how. In print as a chapter of a book edited by R.Mufolleto. See original on my web site.
[16] Setzer, V.W e S.A.L.Setzer. Considerations about students evaluation. Essay on my web site.
[17] Setzer, V.W. The computer as an instrument of counter-art. Available on my web site.
[18] Setzer, V.W. TV and violence: a perfect marriage. Available on my web site.
[19] Sheldrake, R. A New Science of Life, Los Angeles: J.P.Tarcher, Inc. 1987.
[20] Steiner, R. Goethes Naturwissenschaftliche Schriften (GA 1). Stuttgart: Freies Geistesleben, 1962.

I am grateful to Claire de Campos Salles for having revised the worst English mistakes up to section 4.5.