Debate: What if we made the school into a laboratory of ideas?


Thanks to COP26, calls to transform education to better respond to current challenges have multiplied. This is how the convivialists Renaud Hétier, François Prouteau and Nathanaël Wallenhorst remind us “how much education can be a political tool of choice for relearning to live together”, that François Taddei, director of the Interdisciplinary Research Center (CRI) in calls for making young people “the first citizens of the planet” and that a collective of teacher-researchers invites us to strengthen in the programs “scientific education in the functioning of the climate”.

A virtuous circle, therefore, which consists in transforming education so that it can, in turn, transform citizens and the world in which we live. A world grappling with the systemic challenges of climate change, rising inequalities, or even the health crisis. Many of us share these principles. The question is where to start.

Teaching in an uncertain world

However, if education and the transmission – of knowledge, values ​​and know-how – are undoubtedly privileged areas of experimentation to bring about a new world, they are also at the forefront of contemporary dead ends and misunderstandings.

We train future citizens with a view to making them good voters. However, many young people turn away from the polls and find other means of political investment , on social networks, or in movements such as “Youth for climate”. We expect them to build the future – as their anxiety about climate change only grows . We pride ourselves on forging their critical thinking – when cookie-cutter criticism advances in the public space. A newspaper like La Croixis forced to publish a manifesto to remind us of rules as fundamental as that of “listening to the other’s point of view until the end”. We claim to transmit to them the love of democracy – when more and more of us doubt the intermediary bodies. As we can see, education must be rethought in terms of its objectives, means, methods and content.

This is why we can no longer be satisfied with transmitting knowledge in a top-down manner, as if we knew everything, as if the world and the students had not changed. On the contrary, we must ask ourselves how to educate the new generations on moving questions that we ourselves have difficulty in conceiving and which are nevertheless the key to the political challenges to come.

What could be more beneficial, in this context, than to renew the modes of production and transmission of knowledge in schools through the practice of debate and consultation? Indeed, we have a lot to learn from collective discussion, any educator, philosopher or researcher that we are. Because questions of ethics in research, new technologies or bioethics constantly plunge us into uncertainty.

Learn to debate

The aim is to make the school a privileged experimentation ground for public debate and a laboratory of ideas. To have a successful debate, it is still necessary to take the students’ words seriously, to offer them a serene environment where everyone can express themselves freely. This implies framing the process using a structured methodology, clearly defining the objectives of the consultation, and making the results of their discussions public. And above all, we must offer them a concrete perspective: draw up a charter, design a cartography of controversies sent to official bodies, submit recommendations in the process of revising a law, etc.

This is what we are doing, for example, with the “Transmissions” program of the Île-de-France Ethical Space, by inviting high school students to participate since October in a consultation on genome editing techniques . This is based on a methodological charter, a documented documentary file and the meeting with experts. This work will lead to a report jointly developed with high school and college students and will be submitted to the Global Citizens Assembly on genome editing .

This methodology produces knowledge as much as it allows it to be transmitted: skills around the conduct and progress of a citizen consultation, but also citizen knowledge on what seems acceptable or unacceptable in contemporary technical developments. This knowledge will be invaluable for the

There are many other initiatives that go in this direction such as the day of reflection for high school students of the National Consultative Ethics Committee (CCNE), the modeling of the Council of the European Union at the French lycée in Madrid, or the participation of 170 children in the drafting of the Parisian Charter of the Rights of the Child .

Gain self-esteem

At a time when teachers are encouraged by National Education to talk about the vaccine to their students, this form of debate could be appropriate for considering complex scientific, health and political realities and resuming dialogue on very divisive themes.

According to Karine Demuth-Labouze, lecturer in biochemistry and bioethics at the University of Paris-Saclay, this educational method through the effective contribution of students to public debate has many advantages , from the gain of “intellectual maturity” “to” a gain self-esteem “:
“The high school students who followed the training mostly considered that it had influenced their way of thinking. […] 86% of them had ethical discussions with those around them (parents, siblings, close family and friends) on the sidelines of the training. Finally, 48% believe they have considered at least one situation or issue from the perspective of ethical questioning since the start of the training ”.
But to carry out this type of approach successfully, it is still necessary to be encouraged, to have the time to implement projects at the interface between schools and civil society actors, to redefine the position of the teacher. to raise questions. In short, create institutions and schools that are welcoming and open to the voice of students.

Author Bio: Sebastien Claeys is Associate Professor and Head of the Master in Editorial Consulting at Sorbonne University