Thinking about education with Kant

The news constantly brings back to us the vast and crucial question of the place that we should give to digital in education. Should we generalize its uses, as demanded these days by the Edteq organization ? Which ones, then? Or should we be wary of it as a threat and most often dismiss it?

These questions raise important economic and educational issues on which philosophy sometimes throws precious light. We will see it from an example of the thought of Emmanuel Kant (1724-1804) on education.

Let us begin by recalling some of these digital issues that current events force us to consider.

There is of course first of all this crucial question of distance schooling, which the crisis we are going through has forced us to practice. What lessons can be learned from it?

Steve Bissonnette and Christian Boyer reviewed research from eight countries on these questions. In their imposing work, we can read this: “What we observe is not exciting. The decline in learning seems to be demonstrated for all clienteles, and even more strongly for children in primary schools from less fortunate families, less educated and for those who have learning difficulties or who are fragile in their learning. This conclusion is consistent with what we observed about the virtual school before the pandemic and strongly suggests that, if there is no choice, as was the case with the pandemic, it can be. relevant. But if we have the choice …

Can one-off innovations be desirable and welcome? Without a doubt. For example, I recently had a lot of fun learning (in the scientific journal Physics Education September 2021) how, in physics class, we could, by different methods, measure the height of a building using only a cell phone and everyday objects. How many methods, you ask? 61! With what effects on learning? We’ll see… if we take the time to measure them.

However, we should not forget other harmful effects of the use of social networks in general and cell phones in particular, effects which are increasingly well documented. Credible researchers take seriously the hypothesis that these are very likely to play a role in the increase observed in Generation Z in feelings of loneliness, depression and even suicides. In the case of feelings of loneliness, PISA surveys indicate that this is indeed the case in 36 of the 37 countries studied, where this feeling has been increasing since 2012.

One of the recommended strategies by two of these researchers (Jonathan Haidt and Jean M. Twenge) is to ban cellphones in class, which would improve the quality of relationships between people. Kant would undoubtedly add that this would also facilitate learning and would say how.

Kant and the educational benefits of immobility

Kant is such an important name in so many areas of philosophy that one might forget that he was also interested in education. One of his ideas concerns the importance of keeping still for children.

He writes: “Children are first sent to school, not so that they can learn anything, but so that they get used to sitting quietly and observing punctually what they are ordered, so that in the room they will know how to make good use of all the ideas that will come to them. [et non suivre] all [leurs] whims ”. Let us translate: through this window created by immobility and listening, and by the attention it allows, ideas can come to their senses.

This idea obviously raises important questions and debates about the nature and role of authority in education. Discipline, as the first moment of culture, occupies a large place in Kant’s reflection on education – and he himself did not fail to point out its at first sight problematic, even paradoxical character. This is because the means (discipline) here seem to contradict the intended end (freedom and autonomy). It is therefore understandable that in Kant’s eyes, “one of the greatest problems of education [soit] to reconcile, under a legitimate constraint, submission with the ability to use one’s freedom ”.

But let us leave these questions aside and transpose what Kant said (in the XVIIIe century) in our time and to the infinite and so irresistible stimuli that cellphones and social networks constantly provoke.

One can easily see in this an immense danger for the very practice of transmitting and understanding ideas and knowledge, and for the formation of work habits. A danger so great that the ban on cellphones in the classroom, especially for the youngest, can be considered a good idea.

My fear is that we refuse to see these dangers even when they are documented. Or that, noting them, because we can no longer deny them, we suggest, in order to counter them, to further increase what causes them.

Let us give a random example: noting through exams the poor mastery of written French for many CEGEP students, we would suggest allowing future candidates to use correction software when taking the said exam.

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