by Jan Masschelein & Maarten Simons — 2010
Background/Context: The article reflects on the public role of education on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the publication of Hannah Arendt’s essay, “The Crisis in Education” and in facing the current transformation of public policy into “new public management.”
Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: Based on Arendt’s essay, “The Crisis in Education,” the article explores that peculiar setting and architecture between family and world that is called school. The leading concern for this investigation is the school’s public meaning. The point of departure is that today, the public role of education is an urgent concern, that is, the school’s public role is questioned in view of the current processes of privatization, and what is critically described as the “capitalization of life.” In this contribution, based on a reading of Arendt’s essay and relying on the analysis of a specific school design by the architect Wim Cuyvers, two different ways of thinking the public meaning of school education are explored. One way of thinking takes the school as an infrastructure of “intro-duction,” while the other way of thinking regards the school as an infrastructure of “e-duc(a)tion.”
Research Design: This article is an analytic essay.
Conclusions/Recommendations: The article shows that it is impossible to think “a new beginning in our world” without thinking the school as public space. Drawing on some thoughts of Agamben and the school architecture of Cuyvers, the article offers an outline for elaborating the Arendtian thinking of the “perfect school.” This school is conceived of as a space where people are exposed to things, and being exposed could be regarded as being drawn outside (or as e-ducation), that is, into public space. Public space is a “free space” or the space of “free time.” This free time is precisely the sense that the Greek “scholé” seemed to indicate—a space where (economic, social, cultural, political, private . . .) time is suspended and where people have time at their disposal for “a new beginning.” Whereas the museum is the setting that accumulates time, the school could be seen as the setting for suspending time. The school as “public architecture,” then, is not a space/time of “intro-duction” and “in-between,” but a space/time of “suspension” and “e-ducation.”
In “The Crisis in Education,” Hannah Arendt relates education to the protection of both the child against the world and the world against the child. This beautiful, short description captures for her the “essence” of education, an essence that reveals itself only in a crisis when we have lost our sense of what education is and how to conduct it. The crisis Arendt has in mind is that of the erosion of authority and the disappearance of tradition in the 1950s. But we are also facing a crisis today, a crisis over the public role of education. Thus, the aim of our article is twofold: it is both a comment on Arendt’s short essay and an attempt to grasp today, facing the current crisis of the public role of education, the essence of education, and particularly of the school. Indeed, we want to stick to Arendt’s approach, and elaborating on her ideas, we will indicate that today, another aspect of the essence of education is laid bare. We are well aware that in current educational theory and philosophy, the term “essence” is highly questionable, if not downright taboo. Yet, in line with Arendt , we do think it makes sense to describe the essence of education today—especially today. To outline the scope of the article in more detail, we need a few words more on Arendt’s description.
According to Arendt, the protection of the child against the world is the task of the family “whose adult members daily return back from the outside world and withdraw within the security of private life within four walls.”1 These four walls, she contends, “constitute a shield against the world and specifically against the public aspect of the world” (186). The home constitutes a secure, private place, protecting children against the need “to expose themselves to the light of a public existence” (187).
However, regarding young people instead of children, the situation, according to Arendt, is “entirely different.” The young person is “the newcomer and stranger, who has been born into an already existing world which he does not know” (188). The place for these young people is the school; it is the place where teaching and learning are at stake. It is “the institution that we interpose between the private domain of home and the world in order to make the transition from the family to the world possible at all” (188–89). The school is a mediating space that certainly also continues to shelter, to a certain extent, the young person from the full glare of the public world, but its meaning is clearly related to that world. According to Arendt, school attendance is required “by the state, that is the public world” (189). The school thus re-presents the public world; through this representation, it functions as a kind of protection of the world (and what is worthwhile in the existing world) against young people as strangers. At the same time, the school is, according to Arendt, exactly the place where “the uniqueness that distinguishes every human being from every other” (189). (through which one is not only a stranger but also a new one) can start to flourish and develop and where a new beginning of the world can take shape (189). Arendt sees young people as strangers who “must be gradually introduced” to the world, warning that “care must be taken that this new thing comes to fruition in relation to the world as it is” (189). The teacher, thus, while being part of that place called school (located between the family and the world), is, on the one hand, someone taking up responsibility for the world (in re-presenting the world in her teaching), a responsibility that is founded on being an (adult) representative of that world. On the other hand, the teacher “once more assume[s] responsibility for the child,” that is, for the chance for a new beginning (189). Arendt refers to the teacher as someone who “loves the world” as well as the young people: allowing them to enter the world she re-presents is, at the same time, allowing them to be newcomers and strangers (196).
In line now with this description of the school between family and world, we can look at the school as exactly that place where what Arendt calls “the fact of natality” is being addressed (196). School, thus, is an organized place and time to deal with newcomers and strangers. In other words, the school is a social architecture that we (as representatives of the world) build and organize specifically for “strangers and newcomers.” Using the term architecture, which we will use throughout the text, we want to stress that it is both a building (creating an inner space) and an institution or regime (deploying particular technologies and discourses). Both the building and regime create the particular space/time setting called school.
Based on this at first sight straightforward depiction of the school in Arendt’s essay, we want to explore in further detail that peculiar setting and architecture, between family and world, called school. The leading concern for our further investigation is its public meaning. Indeed, for Arendt, school education definitely is a public concern, yet in the essay, the term public remains somewhat ambiguous. Furthermore, the point of departure is that the public role of education is an urgent concern today—that is, in view of the current processes of privatization, and what is critically described as the “capitalisation of life.”2 In this contribution, we will explore two different ways of thinking about the public meaning of school education. Both can be derived from Arendt’s text, although neither can be found there in its pure form. However, instead of regarding that ambivalence as a shortcoming from Arendt’s side, we take it as a point of departure for further elaboration. In other words—and perhaps this is what proves the greatness of Arendt’s text—facing our contemporary crisis, it gives food for further thought even beyond the text’s own limits. Let us briefly outline these two ways of thinking about the public role of schools.
In the first line of thinking, the school has a public meaning because the school is regarded as the architecture to enable people to live in the world referred to as the public sphere. Here, the world is a public space, and in order to live there or to inhabit that sphere, people have to learn or specific appropriate things (for instance, a particular language and basic competencies). Hence, the school in this line of thinking is conceived of as the “intro-duction” to, or way into, the world as public space (and out of the family as private place). In other words, the school here is regarded as that “passage” between the private and the public and as having a public role in the sense of providing access to the public sphere. In the second way of thinking, the school is not an intro-duction (or passage between family and world, private life and public life), but is by itself a public space, a space of what we want to call “exposition” and “e-duc(a)tion.” The school here, being an architecture for newcomers and strangers, is a public space and public time where things are put at (free) disposal as “common things” and students are allowed to be newcomers and strangers. In the second line of thinking, the school is thus not defined in relation to something outside itself (that is, in relation to the public space to which it is an introduction or for which it would prepare), but positively (that is, by having a public value of its own). Before elaborating both lines of thinking, three preliminary remarks have to be made.
First, and most important, Arendt’s essay is partly ambiguous, and given that the dominant interpretation focuses on the public role of the school (following the first line), the second line of thinking remains rather implicit and is therefore in danger of going unnoticed. These lines of thinking are not contradictory, but perhaps they should be regarded in terms of a Gestalt switch, reading the text in terms of either the school having a public role or the school as being a public space itself. It is the latterGestalt that we want to bring to the foreground here, and we think the current crisis helps to make this switch. What we want to argue is that Arendt’s idea of educational responsibility also requires what we refer to as the second line of thinking. Indeed, Arendt indicates how this responsibility implies that as educators, and in order to preserve both the world (through renewal) and the new beginning, teachers (at schools) have to be conservative, that is, to accept (love) the world. Being conservative here implies that we have to refrain from wanting “to prepare a new generation for a new world” because that “can only mean that one wishes to strike from the newcomers’ hands their own chance at the new.”3 As Arendt puts it, our hope to continue the world but also to alter it
hangs on the new which every generation brings; but precisely because we can base our hope only on this, we destroy everything if we so try to control the new that we, the old, can dictate how it will look. Exactly for the sake of what is new and revolutionary in every child, education must be conservative; it must preserve this newness.4
The fact of natality, then, constitutes the chance for a new beginning of the world. The newcomers are offering the chance for a future to the world. But that does not mean that this future is entirely in the hands of children and that we should leave them to their own devices (which seems to have been the program of antiauthoritarian education projects and part of the new schools that Arendt criticizes in her essay). Renewing the common world is a task of both the new and the old generations. This common world is not pre-given; it is not something that the old and the new generation share (have in common in that sense), but it precisely finds (its common) place between them, requiring that the old generation put, so to speak, her world at disposal. Continuing and renewing the world asks for conservation, but this means also putting at disposal (i.e., exposing the world). Offering or re-presenting the world to the new generation means indeed to suspend the actual operations of the world (or something in the world). We want to suggest, thus, that conservation, which Arendt calls the essence of the educational activity in the sense of “to cherish and protect something—the child against the world, the world against the child, the new against the old, the old against the new,” implies to “accept the world as it is.”5 But to accept the world implies radically that one must also accept the child as becoming part of the common world, and this means to put the world at the child’s disposal, to expose the world, to deliver it. And this exposition or delivery includes a public dimension that is not related to the public pluralism of the old world. This delivery of the world means that the world and things from the world are set free (from their actual use and economic usefulness within the old world, where they have been appropriated). Being free (for use) exactly means that things are made public; that is, they are common, or in between. In this line of thinking, the school, then, is precisely and literally this public finding place, or the common taking shape. Again, we are well aware that we introduce here a meaning of “public” that is assumed by Arendt and often not focused on by most readings. Most readings, indeed, relate the public to visibility and appearance (coming into the light) and regard the school as the passage for students to start to live a visible, public life. In our reading, instead, we conceive of the public in relation to setting free, to dis-appropriation, de-privatization, and to common things, that is, things free from regular, “adult” use and thus free for use.
So, and here we move to our second remark, distinguishing both lines of thinking and particularly elaborating the Gestalt of the public in the second could be regarded indeed as an attempt to elaborate the ideas of Arendt, but perhaps also to move beyond them. Yet, from another perspective, this attempt to move beyond Arendt is a way to stay loyal to her way of thinking. We have to keep in mind that what she aims at in the essay is to think about the “essence” of education. This essence, however, is not to be thought of as the product of our thinking or imagination; it is not the ideal (of) education. The essence in Arendt’s thinking is not something that we find out, not something that we think up or invent, but what shows or reveals itself precisely in and through a crisis. Indeed, “conservation,” as the essence of education, presents itself clearly in the crisis of authority that Arendt notices at the end of the 1950s. For the term essence of education, we want to suggest the notion of “the perfect school” (referring to the French “par-fait,” literally “by-fact”). The essential school or perfect school has to be distinguished very clearly and strongly from the “ideal” school. An ideal school is a school that we imagine or think up, that we conceive of, that we desire or long for, that we want to build, construct, or promote because of perceived needs or on the basis of educational or social ideals. As we will explain, the perfect school is a school that we (can) find, that is given and thus, in a certain way, already there (by fact), appearing to us.
Arendt aims to think the essence of education at the very moment (1950s) that this institution, particularly in the U.S. context, faces a deep crisis that she relates to the erosion of authority and tradition. The essence, for her, is thus related to “conservation.” The elaboration of the second line of thinking that regards the school itself as a public place in this text should be regarded as our own attempt to think today of the essence of school or to describe the perfect school. In our view, and we elaborate this next, the perfect school is a unique public architecture for the new and the future to be possible. In other words, the essence of education is its “public” character. For sure, the ideas of “conservation” and “public” are clearly related, but it is the problematic of the public that presents and manifests itself, in all its clarity, in relation to the crisis that we are facing today. Indeed, it is our assumption that the crisis today is no longer, in the first place, related to challenges posed in a time of loss of authority and tradition, but is related to challenges in our time of “privatization” and “capitalization” (even if clearly inaugurated by the loss of tradition indeed).
Before we briefly clarify this challenge, it is perhaps useful to mention that Arendt wrote her essay in 1958, the same year that the Human Condition was published. It is clear that her analysis of the crisis of education is directly related to her analysis of the world alienation and of the victory of Animal Laborans(implying the development of an all-pervasive social sphere and a growing commodification), which, according to her, characterizes the Modern Age. However, in the introduction to the Human Condition, she clearly states that the Modern Age is not to be confused with the modern world, which she does not discuss in the book at all.6 Although we could perhaps argue with Arendt at this point, it seems to be faithful to her own attitude and diagnosis to assume that our present is different. Indeed, even if one could say that the crisis in 1958 was a crisis not only of authority and tradition but also of the absorption of the public in the social, we think that today, we can diagnose a different erosion of the public.
We cannot go into detail here, but it seems to us that what are still called “public authorities” today are no longer operating in the name of “the state” or of “the community” (limited and instituted by laws and norms). Instead, public authority today refers to an authority that is based on individual citizens and their private interests7 (in the same way that the religious authorities are no longer operating in the name of the kingdom of God, but in the name of the individual right to, and need for, religion). The transformation of “public policy’” into “new public management” could be regarded as an articulation of this shift. Public policy (and state welfare policies, clearly also regarded as an answer to the crisis of traditional authority) acts in the name of something beyond individual (economic) freedom. In contrast, public management, relying on public choice theories and the idea of market democracy, acts exactly in the name of individual freedoms and choices. The public, if it is still discussed or mentioned today at all, seems to refer to what enables individual preferences. In other words, the public domain is a kind of formal infrastructure that allows for individual trajectories and individual private choices. Schools, then, are no longer seen as public institutions, public referring to something that transcends individual preferences and choices. The term public in public schools now mainly refers to issues related to access (or funding) and thus basically refers to the accessibility of the school as infrastructure for individuals. In other words, there is no longer something “in” citizens, neither in students nor in academics, that refers to something (public) outside themselves or beyond their own individual choices, ambitions, and preferences. They, like everyone else, are defined primarily in terms of their private individuality, that is, in terms of their own needs, preferences, life choices, and how they succeed in making their lives a successful enterprise. As Gordon reminds us, “the idea of one’s life as the enterprise of oneself implies that there is a sense in which one remains always continuously employed in (at least) that one enterprise, and that is part of the continuous business of living to make adequate provision for the preservation, reproduction and reconstruction of one’s own human capital.”8 Thus, the term public, if used at all, refers to all spaces and procedures that enable or facilitate the ongoing “capitalization of life” as one’s own private business.9 Education and lifelong learning, which is currently organized as the “accumulation of human capital” in particular, has become one of the most important life businesses today.10 To phrase this in a paradoxical way, being private or being a capitalist of one’s own life is the way to live a public life today. Thus, today, facing privatization and capitalization at all levels and in all spheres, it seems that the public poses a challenge and refers to an Arendtian crisis in need of critical reflection.
Finally, and coming to our third remark, we intend to enrich the juxtaposition of both lines of thinking and our elaboration of the idea of the “perfect school as public school,” with a brief discussion of the building architecture of such a perfect school. Indeed, we regard the school not merely as a regime but as a particular space-time organization. A presentation of the school project of the Belgian (former) architect Wim Cuyvers will support our attempt to outline the idea of the perfect school.11
In one sense, Arendt’s essay seems to support the common and widespread idea that the school embodies a space of transition and initiation—a space that is located between the home and the public world, an intermediate or mediating space, carefully shaped and organized as a space of (gradual) intro-duction (or “leading-in”). Reading Arendt this way, her ideas are in line with those who conceive of the school as a kind of “entrance gate” into the public world or as a kind of place where the young can preparethemselves for adult life and for taking part (as a unique person) in the public world.12 This conception of the school relies on something outside the school to define its public meaning in terms of its public role: as far as the school introduces young people into the public world (or society), the school institution is a public institution (hence, implying, of course, that the school can also be not public). Both as regime and architecture, the school becomes the way for young people to have access to the public world, to prepare themselves for public, adult life. In other words, it is the public world, represented by agencies such as “the state” or just (any other) (a) “we,”13 that establishes and builds for itself an architecture to organize its entrance and access. The school is a public architecture that organizes access to the world and in that way watches and controls public life.
This perspective on the public role of education entails a particular way of looking at what is going on in schools. Even in today’s so-called plural, postmodern societies, often regarded as lacking a shared idea of values, the school seems to function as a kind of entrance gate, organizing access for young people. Schools today are indeed becoming very flexible, and learning trajectories are individualized (serving the individual needs of pupils), yet the school seems to keep on functioning as an architecture of entrance and as a gatekeeping institution. Hence, this suggests that the public world, even in its postmodern stage or pluralist form, has gates and that young people are in need of the appropriate equipment to gain access. To reformulate this at a more general level and in abstract terms: the assumption is that young people are in need of learning the “appropriate” language(s) or Logos in order to become part of the world.14 At this abstract level, the term Logos refers to a shared and common “tool” or “set of rules” to live one’s life as a human being, and its meaning indeed differs over time (for instance, the Logos as reason, divine law, national language, and so on). At a general level, we will use the term language to refer to the concept Logos. To become part of the world, so the argument goes, people have to (be able to) speak the “language of that world.” What is assumed here is that to say something and to have one’s own personal voice, one has to (be able to) speak, and hence, one must have learned or appropriated the language. In short, one has to pass through the regime and architecture that teaches students to speak the ruling Logos and is representing what is public or common in a world.
In this respect, the first message of the school to the strangers and newcomers seems to be: “Here we speak Dutch” or “Here we speak English.” And to be sure, this message states, “We are here, and if you want to be part of that here and of that we, then only on the condition of learning our language.”15 That is what the school as public institution (and organized in view of being an entrance gate) seems to say to young people. And indeed, Arendt seems to refer to exactly that message when she says that especially in America, the land of immigration, the (first) task of schools is to teach the immigrants English. As a consequence, all people who have authority in the school (such as teachers) seem to have authority insofar as they represent that world and the appropriate language of that world (i.e., that Logos). And the other way round, in view of that Logos and in view of those people with authority, pupils appear as those who do not yet possess the language and who have to appropriate it. These pupils are regarded asin-fants, that is, literally referring to those who are not (yet) able to speak and thus are in need of a school architecture to learn to speak. In that sense, the space/time of the school is that of the development or transition from being a stranger to being an inhabitant who has appropriated the common language. And the status of students in a school-as-passage is the status of the “not-yet but potentially” (for instance, not yet speaking the language but addressed as able to). It is in view of the world (as a public space where a particular language is spoken) that the young are regarded as “not yet” and therefore, at the same time, as future inhabitants. Indeed, the general structure of educational or pedagogic reasoning in the first line of thinking seems to be, on the one hand, to define a group of people in terms of “not yet,” and on the other hand, and at the same time, to offer a “pedagogic treatment.” The act accompanying this structure could be defined in terms of “pedagogic baptism.”16 What happens in schools is that the youngsters are “baptized” as those who fall under the (law of the) Logos and who are in need of this Logos (in order to be able to orient themselves in future adult life), yet do not have it. Structurally similar to, for instance, the Catholic practice of baptism (and making children part of the religious community), it is the school or teacher who baptizes young people in name of the public “light” of the Logos, offering them a framework to orient their life (or offering them a language to speak for themselves). They are baptized as “not yet” (inhabitants of the world) but at the same time as “being able” to become inhabitants as long as they are prepared to appropriate the Logos, to enter the gate and to appear fully in its light—that is, to become “visible” as a (public) person. Part of the attitude of pedagogic baptism is the (at least implicit) message toward the new generation: “Without us (and our pedagogic guidance and entrance gates), you do not have access to the world, and you will get lost.”
Relying on this structure of pedagogic baptism, activated in the pedagogic attitude of teachers, for instance, the school appears as a guardian in a double sense: it protects the world against newcomers (by representing to them the language of the world that they need to obtain), but it also protects newcomers against dangers—that is, it keeps young people away from those places where the light of theLogos does not shine, where the Logos is not operating.17 Indeed, the absence of Logos is regarded from a school perspective as what pleas for even more schooling. In other words, by baptizing young people as pupils and students (i.e., as being able [to learn] to speak), the school also creates its own dark side (“the dangerous and dark streets,” or, in a more general way, the not civilized or the profane),18justifying once more why it is important “to keep children off the streets” and to guard and protect them. By turning youngsters into pupils and students—that is, those in the status of “not yet” and “potentially able”—the act of pedagogic baptism “saves” children. Hence, a reference to street children is used all over again to prove how necessary schools are: “Look, it is proved once again that children are lost without our pedagogic guidance and without the entrance gate we offer you.”
In short, in this view, the school as architecture for strangers and newcomers is an architecture for strangers who are baptized as future inhabitants of our world—that is, they are transformed into being “not yet able, but potentially able.”
However, it is possible to approach the notion of public space in a different way and to conceive of the public meaning of the school from another perspective. In the alternative perspective, the public meaning is not derived from its relation to the public world but is related to the school itself. The school itself could be regarded as a public space where “unbaptized people” have unappropriate(d) language(s) at their disposal.
In our view, it is possible to read in the work of Arendt a concern for another meaning of the concept of public. This meaning is related to what seems to be beyond the world-as-public-space and/or beyond the official sphere related to the state and is assumed in her idea of a new beginning. Here, the school is a public space (and defined as such in its relation to the family and the world or the state). Public space in this regard is a no one’s place or space and a no one’s time, and hence a place and time for no one in particular. In the second conception, the school is seen neither as a place/time colonized by the world and its attitude of pedagogic baptism (in the name of a Logos), nor as one organized according to the comforting principles of the family and the safe home. Indeed, the school here is literally a place ofscholè, that is, the space of free time. What we have in mind is the school as a place and time of profanation, a place/time where words are not part of a (shared) language, where things are not (one’s) property and to be used according to (familiar) guidelines, where acts and movements are not yet habits (of a culture), where thinking is not yet (a system of) thought, and where students are not conceived of as “not yet but potentially able.”19
The idea of profanation is present in Arendt’s work in the sense that it is assumed in her idea about the old and new meeting each other, and for the terms old and new, and teacher and student having meaning at all. What is assumed is an architecture where things are of “free use” and thus disconnected from the usages of the old generation in society but not yet appropriated by students as representatives of the new generation. What is assumed is the idea of a kind of common place where nothing is shared but everything can be shared. Staying close to the Arendtian vocabulary, the school could be regarded here as a table. Someone becomes a teacher by sitting in front of someone else, putting something on “the table,” and thus transforming something into a common matter, transforming herself into a teacher and the other person into a student. What the person does when putting something on the table and what is transforming her into a teacher is that she says, “That’s how we do it” or “That’s how it is done today.” To put this in more straightforward terms, putting a book on the table accompanied by (even a minimal sentence such as) “This is interesting” transforms that person into a teacher (or representative of the world in which the book circulated and was used), and laying it on the table disconnects the book from its usage in society. And exactly something being of free use at once transforms others in students (that is, people who can renew its use, someone who can make new use of it).
Clearly, what often happens is that someone puts something on the table and says that it is interesting, and immediately starts to explain why it is interesting and how students should look at it, how they should use it, what they have to do with it, and so on. In this case, the teacher controls access to the world and offers students what we called pedagogic baptism. Contrary to this attitude, the profane school offers a time and place where things are put on the table, transforming them into things that are at everyone’s disposal for “free use.” The school-as-public-place or the public table allows us to think the status of the teacher and the student, to think oldness and newness—and not the other way around. The school-as-public-space we have in mind is the time and space that opens up an experience of new beginning. In this sense, the school is an architecture beyond socialization or pedagogic baptism.
To explore the field beyond pedagogic baptism (and the school as entrance gate), we will take some inspiring ideas of Agamben on the idea of baptism as point of departure.20 Again, we do not reflect on baptism as a social practice, nor in view of discussing its (religious) assumptions. In line with Agamben’s philosophy, and perhaps close to Arendt’s philosophical ethos, baptism and related (religious) discourses are discussed here to illuminate the ways of reasoning and schemes of argumentation that are still present in our “secular” societies.
Agamben reminds us of the special status or condition, in Christian theology, of children who died before they were baptized.21 These children remain forever in the limbo of heaven (the limbo of the Logos and its light, you could say), deprived of the gaze of God, of the light that he makes shine. In contrast to the damned, however, these unbaptized children do not know about God (since they have not yet been baptized), and so they do not suffer from his absence and from the fact that they are abandoned. Instead of a negative or sorrowful condition, according to Agamben, this condition of being unbaptized and abandoned can also be seen as a state of joy. In fact, and more precisely, the status of these children is the status “before” being abandoned since being abandoned (by God) already presupposes that one first is taken care of, that one is baptized (and thus receives a particular status). It is the unbaptized children who, Agamben explains, have already forgotten God in an absolute way (and hence, being forgotten by God has no effect on them). Agamben beautifully describes that they are neither blessed (as the chosen are) nor without hope (as the damned), but that they enjoy having hopes without (imposed) destination.22
The condition of the limbo could be regarded as the condition of people “outside” or “before” a school architecture. Clearly, from the viewpoint of the first line of thinking, people in this condition are often regarded as proving the necessity of the entrance gate: “Look, without our guidance and entrance gate, people are lost.” However, from the viewpoint of the school as public space, this profane condition is the condition of the person at the other side of the table, looking at the book “for free use” lying on the table. Putting something on the table, as an act of deprivatization, creates another condition for the student. Or, more precisely, the status of someone confronted with things that are for free use is different. It is the status of the child as someone who is born in the world without destination and thus in a position to give it a destination. The status of being “unbaptized” is the status of a beginning that is not (yet) captivated by a baptizing attitude and the related guidance and judgments in view of some conception of the public world.23 The school as public space is the space of beginning.
The condition of being unbaptized and of experiencing a lack of destination may sound radical. However, there are different and rather common examples of what it means to be without destination and without baptism: the playing child who is imperturbably, and to a certain extent disconnectedly, given over to the play, absorbed by it, and the student who is completely absorbed in his or her study—also without destination at the very moment of reading and writing. This status or condition of being unbaptized can be regarded as the status or condition of an unexpected and radical beginning—a kind of “statusless status” where people experience that they have something at their disposal (like words, texts, pictures, and gestures) that they can freely use. It is the moment at which these things are no longer (or not yet) appropriated, but become (are) common goods. “Goods” and “common” are not to be understood here in a socialist or economic sense, for this always implies the idea of property, be it individual or collective. Perhaps common goods, in the context of the school as public space, first of all have a communist meaning. The experience of the transformation of something into common goods is at once the experience of being-able-to (in a strong sense, and not in terms of “not yet able”)—the unique and joyful experience of potentiality.
If we try to rethink public space in this way and look at being unbaptized as a way of living a public life (or being public), then the situation that Kafka described in his parable Before the Law becomes illuminating.24 The fable tells the story of a man who wants to get access to the Law but is denied access by the gatekeeper, notwithstanding that the gate is open and that, strictly speaking, the gatekeeper cannot prevent him from entering. The man sits down with the gatekeeper and tries to convince him, without success. At the end of the story, when the man is dying, the gatekeeper closes the gate. This story is often read as the failing of the man, but as Agamben suggests, maybe we should look at the attitude of the man in a much more positive way, leading to a kind of victory.25 Maybe the attitude of negotiation “teaches” that it is possible to relate to or to behave in front of the Law and its gatekeeper in such a way that the Law suspends itself, and something else can begin. The man then is seeking a condition of being unbaptized, that is, a condition not defined by the Law (neither positively or negatively), and hence a condition of being before the Law (as before the entrance gate).
The conception of the public world in line with this reading of the parable—the space before the Law and before the Gate—refers to the idea of the public world “having no entrance gate” and hence questioning the “school as entrance gate.” What is interesting is this attempt to think of the public world as a world beyond baptism where tradition and authority are not at stake.26 Moreover, precisely such a public world could be understood as the time and space of “school.” As a consequence, the school is not the infrastructure between the family and the world, between the private and the public world, but is in itself a public space—the latter being the school’s essence, in the Arendtian sense of the word. The school is a space and time without property and baptism, a “communist infrastructure” allowing experiences of new beginning to emerge. The school, then, is seen as the unbaptized, and in this sense, pure, architecture where people are exposed to things for free use. In front of those things, people can experience that mankind has no (biological or trans-historical) destination, and exactly this experience is the experience that fills them with joy and an openness to look for a destiny. In the school as public space, one is not a pupil or student (at least not in the sense of being baptized as “not yet, although being able”) but an “e-ducandus.” The e-ducandus is someone who is being led out (which is the meaning of the Latin e-ducere), and, as a consequence, someone who is “exposed to things.” Similarly, the teacher in the school as public place is not a gatekeeper (speaking in the name of the Logos, baptizing accordingly and repeating over and over that without his or her guidance, pupils are lost). The teacher instead is an e-ducator, that is, someone who puts something on the table (and thus re-presenting the world in the Arendtian sense) and transforming the world into “things for free use.” In line with this perspective on the school, perhaps we could rethink the (meaning of the) family and the world or the state, taking the school as a point of departure and not the other way around. In sum, in this line of thinking, the perfect school is a public school. Being public is the school’s essence.
It is interesting to have a look at a particular architectural project of the Belgian (former) architect Wim Cuyvers to concretize the conception of the school as public space. Indeed, perhaps we could say that Wim Cuyvers designed the plans for a perfect school, a school that would be true to its essence, and this essence is, in line with Arendt, the place where natality is addressed as new beginning. Before going into the architecture of Cuyvers, we will elaborate in more detail the Arendtian conception of natality and beginning.
The reason for Arendt, being no educationalist, to be concerned about the school is “the opportunity, provided by the very fact of the crisis . . . to explore and inquire into whatever has been laid bare of the essence of the matter.” 27 What manifests itself in all clarity in the crisis that she describes in the 1950s, that is, in the critical situation to think of schools in absence of authority and tradition, is the “perfect school.” At the end of her essay “What Is Authority?” Arendt states that today we are “confronted anew, without the religious trust in a sacred beginning and without the protection of traditional and therefore self-evident standards of behavior, by the elementary problems of human living-together.”28 Arendt recalls this in her essay on education, where she states that now, education “must proceed in a world that is neither structured by authority nor held together by tradition.”29 One could read her text on education—as is often the case today—as if she would maintain that we, in face of this situation, nevertheless have to keep to authority and tradition in relation to our children. But what would that be like? That is, how could we possibly keep to what has disappeared unless authority and tradition would begin to mean something totally different? Thus, in our view, it is much more interesting to take a closer look at how Arendt actually relates to the crisis and its problems. In view of these problems, Arendt does not propose once more, and in line with all those reformers, a new school or ideal school to finally solve all problems. Instead, she suggests detecting the “true school” in the school, that is, the school’s essence or the perfect school. And it is in line with this thinking of the “essence” that we want to reflect on Cuyvers’s school architecture, the public architecture of the school, or the architecture of the perfect public school.
Cuyvers designed, or attempted to design, the perfect school or the school in its essence because he too does not want to design a “new school” or “the newest school.” He does not want to create a school for supporting reformers’ conceptions, and hence, it is not an architecture in view of a new, ideal, public space, or a new home (for example, by putting parents’ or children’s needs in the center). Instead, Cuyvers accepts the basic structure of the school as it has crystallized through the ages—essentially classrooms put side by side, which everyone will know and recognize. Accepting this structure, he tries to perfect it, to abstract it, so to speak, to purify it, to find the truth in it, as if it were one of the “pearls” of tradition, as Benjamin, and Arendt after him, called the “treasures of the past.”30 Again, what should be accepted, in line with Arendt, is that the loss of tradition is a fact: “What has been lost is the continuity of the past as it seemed to be handed down from generation to generation, developing in the process its own consistency.” 31 However, and thus in line with Arendt and clearly articulated in the architecture of Cuyvers, we should not look at this in a negative way, and we should not be mourning about what is lost. Instead, what we have, and what we should learn to see or learn to experience, are fragments of that past that are “rich and strange,” like “coral” and “pearls.”32 These fragments indeed are the “common things” we mentioned earlier and what the perfect public school puts at people’s disposal. The school and its classrooms, in line with Cuyvers, thus could also become one of those “common things.”33
We want to refer here to Cuyvers’s competition design of a primary school for the municipal district of Ypres (in Belgium). Van Den Driessche describes it as follows: “The building consists of a U-shaped structure enclosing a rectilinear playground. Cuyvers situated the common areas (toilets, a multiuse room and the teacher’s lounge) at the head of the building, while the two long classroom wings are constructed in a strict rhythm of enclosed inner classrooms and covered alcove-shaped outer classrooms.” The teachers’ lounge is fully glassed, offering teachers a look out at the playground but also to be clearly looked at themselves. Moreover, “the school can never be fully monitored. The outer classes serve as backstage areas in relation to the view from the teachers’ lounge. . . . the school is not enclosed, but open to places and events that fall outside its material or institutional context.”34 (See Figure 1.)
Figure 1. Design of the primary school in Ieper (Flanders) 2003: General plan
Cuyvers realizes the school as public space in many different ways and uses a dismantled classroom as the main building bloc for these realizations.35 He dismantles the regime of pedagogic baptism in the classroom, first by excluding mechanism of panoptical and synoptical control (where everyone is able to observe and control everything at any time), as well as principles from the safe home environment (i.e., the comfort of inner spaces and guidelines in view of preparing for the outside world). Second, and mainly, the dismantling happens through creating a kind of pure inside (or infrastructure without outside functions) and by designing it that way so that the only function of the inside (or classroom) is to be no outside. The classroom no longer receives a meaning from, or function in relation to, expectations or demands from outside (see Figure 2).
Figure 2. Design of the primary school in Ieper (Flanders) 2003: Classroom, inside view
Cuyvers thus takes the classroom as point of departure. Every room has a standard size: the 6 x 9-meter rectangles that seem to have become the optimal size since the 19th century.36 Yet, he leaves out the corridor and creates a direct connection between inside and outside. The classroom appears as an autonomous room or “box,” with only a window in the roof. Such a window is not opening to a particular outside (such as a corridor, the play field, the street. . . ), but opening to what could be called a pure outside (the empty sky above). The walls are blank walls, and in that sense, they are really “dead” walls. As dead walls, they can be used to represent (fragments of) the world or to bring the world inside the classroom, and it is not possible to position students as being in need of guidance in relation to teachers. The classroom or box that Cuyvers designs is not giving a central position to the student (that is, it is not a student-centred architecture), but neither is it strengthening the authority of the teacher (that is, it is not a baptism-oriented architecture). Teacher and children are both being mutually delivered. The pure, closed box is putting both the teacher and student into an uncomfortable position. In this condition, all control is away, the space is disconnected, the time is freed, and something can be put “on the table.” One could look at this condition as a condition similar to a play, where play exactly refers to the condition where things are disconnected from their common use.37 It is like students and teachers are in a play; they are in a time and place or box filled with “common goods” and thus exposed to an experience of “free use.” The space designed by Cuyvers, then, can be called unappropriated space or just, formulated in a straightforward way, public space. The profane and public classrooms are provisional rooms beyond the safe space of the home and the space of the world and state (commonly referred to as public). Instead of being intermediate rooms of introduction, these provisional rooms could be seen as “public architectures.”
The main point we want to make in this article is that it is impossible to think of such a thing as “a new beginning in our world” without thinking the school as public space. The idea of the school as public space is what is fascinating to us in Arendt’s writings, and clearly it is in need of further elaboration and exploration that we cannot offer here. Drawing on Agamben and Cuyvers, we have attempted to sketch some lines for elaborating the Arendtian thinking of the “perfect school.” In view of our crisis today, the school’s essence appearing for us is related to its public character. The school as public place is a concrete and real space with its own organization in which, however, as in a limbo, one has no status, areal space that threatens and challenges the everyday, because everything is “for free.” However, such a place is boring for the utopianist—and the reforms she has in mind. The school as public space is a space that is not interior, for that would assume an outside, and neither is it an intimate space, for that would assume an exterior world. The school instead is a space where we are exposed to things, and being exposed could be regarded as being drawn outside (or as e-ducation). Public space is a “free space,” which is not the space of “leisure” (assuming “real work”), but the space of study as being exposed to things. Thus, this is “free time,” precisely in the sense that the Greek scholé seemed to indicate—a space where (economic, social, cultural, political, private. . . ) time is suspended and where we have time at our disposal for “a new beginning.” Where the museum, according to Foucault, is accumulating time, maybe one could say that the school is suspending time.38 The school as “public architecture,” then, is not a space/time of “intro-duction” and “in-between,” but a space/time of suspension and e-ducation. As public space, the school is an “architecture for strangers and newcomers” where things are put on the table, and where they can be used, where they can get a new meaning, a positive meaning. The school is a place where things simply can find (their common) place and can happen.
We thank Chris Higgins and the anonymous reviewer for their very valuable comments and suggestions.
1. Hannah Arendt, “The Crisis in Education” (1958), in Between Past and Future: Eight Exercises in Political Thought (New York: Penguin, 1977), 186.
2. See Nikolas Rose, The Powers of Freedom: Reframing Political Thought (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999); Jan Masschelein, “The Discourse of the Learning Society and the Loss of Childhood,” Journal of Philosophy of Education 35, no.1 (2001): 1–20; Jan Masschelein and Maarten Simons, “An Adequate Education for a Globalized World? A Note on the Immunization of Being-Together,” Journal of Philosophy of Education 36, no. 4 (2002): 565–84.
3. Arendt, “Crisis,” 177.
4. Ibid., 192–93.
5. Ibid., 192.
6. Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (London/Chicago: University of Chicago, 1958/1989), 6.
7. See Marcel Gauchet, La Démocratie contre elle-même (Paris: Gallimard, 2002).
8. Colin Gordon, “Governmental Rationality: An Introduction,” in The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality, ed. Graham Burchell, Colin Gordon, and Peter Miller (London: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1991), 44.
9. Rose, The Powers of Freedom, 162.
10. See Maarten Simons and Jan Masschelein, “Our ‘Will to Learn’ and the Assemblage of a Learning Apparatus,” in Foucault and Adult Education, ed. Andreas Fejes and Kathy Nicoll (London: Routledge, 2008), 48–60.
11. Wim Cuyvers, Exhibition Catalogue (Antwerp, Belgium: de Singel, 1975); Wim Cuyvers, Text about Text(The Hague, The Netherlands: Stroom/Voorkamer, 2005); see also the presentation of his work in Maarten Van Den Driessche, “The Journey of the Children,” Oase: Journal for Architecture 72 (2007):72–96, and Maarten Van Den Driessche and Bart Verschaffel, eds., De school als ontwerpopgave. Schoolarchitectuur in Vlaanderen 1995-2005 [The School as Design Project. School Architecure in Flanders 1995–2005] (Brussels, Belgium: A&TS Books, 2006).
12. Jan Masschelein and Maarten Simons, eds., Europa 2006. E-ducatieve berichten uit niemandsland[Europa 2006. E-ducational Reports from No-Man’s Land] (Leuven, Belgium: ACCO, 2006).
13. Arendt, “Crisis,” 189.
14. This Logos, of course, can be thought of in different ways as culture, (communicative) reason, law, social order, learning competency. . .
15. It is important to stress that this “Here we speak Dutch or English” is not be confused with this other sentence that, according to Arendt, reveals the responsibility of the teacher: “This is our world” (Arendt, “Crisis,” 189). The latter implies that the teacher assumes responsibility for the world and accepts it as it is (and Arendt states presumptuously that the one who refuses this responsibility “should not have children and must not be allowed to take part in educating them” (189), making it present and presenting it to the newcomers (i.e., making it public), allowing, thus, that it become truly common (i.e., also possibly altered). Therefore, in our idea, “This is our world” is related rather to the second line of thought—and in fact points at it—which we will discuss further on.
16. See Maarten Simons, “The school in de ban van het leven: een cartografie van het moderne en actuele onderwijsdispositief” [The School in the “Ban” of Life: A Cartography of the Modern and Current School Apparatus] (Ph.D. dissertation, K. University Leuven, 2004).
17. Here again, we are not claiming that this is exactly the position of Arendt (since she is, for example, in favor of a certain “darkness,” that is, absence of the public glare, in order to allow for development), but we are trying to elaborate one particular line of thinking about the public meaning of the school—a line of thinking that is, according to us, also present in Arendt’s essay.
18. Ivan Illich indicated years ago how schools divide any society into two realms that could be characterized in different ways: civilized and noncivilized, academic/pedagogic and not academic/pedagogic. He claimed, relying on Durkheim, that this divide is in essence a religious operation subdividing the world “into things and times and persons that are sacred and others that as a consequence are profane”; Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society (Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1971), 31.
19. See Giorgio Agamben, Profanations (Paris: Payot & Rivages, 2005). English translation: Giorgio Agamben,Profanations, trans. Jeff Fort (New York: Zone Books, 2007).
20. We take up these ideas of Agamben in a different way than the one exposed by Lewis in his analysis of the school as exceptional space (that is, as camp); Tyson Lewis, “The School as an Exceptional Space: Rethinking Education from the Perspective of the Biopedagogical,” Educational Theory 56, no. 2 (2006) 159–76. Here we are not so much interested in the analysis of actual school functioning as we are in exploring (not the ideal but) the perfect school architecture, which probably could be seen as an exceptional space in a different way: not as a camp, but as a sanctuary (see further).
21. See Simons, “De school in de ban van het leven” and Giorgio Agamben, Idée de la prose (Paris: Christian Bourgeois, 1998), 59–61; English translation: Giorgio Agamben, Idea of Prose, trans. Michael Sullivan and Sam Whitsitt (Albany: SUNY Press, 1995).
22. Agamben, Idée de la prose, 61.
23. Simons, “De school in de ban van het leven,” 124–25; Masschelein and Simons, eds., Europa 2006, 10–12.
24. Franz Kafka, “Voor de wet,” in Franz Kafka: Verzameld Werk (Amsterdam: Polak & Van Gennep, 2002), 785–87. See also Masschelein and Simons, eds., Europa 2006, 10–12; Simons, “De school in de ban van het leven,” 378, 288.
25. Giorgio Agamben, De souvereine macht en het naakte leven (Amsterdam: Boom/Parrèsia, 2002), 63–64.
26. Although this might sound in one way un-Arendtian, in another way, it takes up her strong and repeated statement that education “must proceed in a world that is neither structured by authority nor held together by tradition” (Arendt, “Crisis,” 195). Precisely this last sentence is very often forgotten or too easily overlooked in many comments.
27. Arendt, “Crisis,” 174.
28. Hannah Arendt, “What Is Authority?” (1958), in Between Past and Future: Eight Exercises in Political Thought (New York: Penguin, 1977), 141.
29. Arendt, “Crisis,” 195.
30. See Walter Benjamin, Illuminations, ed. and intro. Hannah Arendt, trans. Harry Zohn (London: Collins/Fontana Books, 1973), and especially Arendt’s introduction.
31. Hannah Arendt, The Life of the Mind (San Diego/New York/London: Harcourt Brace, 1978), 212.
33. Arendt, introduction to Benjamin, Illuminations, 42. In her beautiful and sympathetic introduction, Arendt says that Benjamin’s basic approach was “not to investigate the utilitarian or communicative functions of linguistic creations, but to understand them in their crystallized and thus ultimately fragmentary form as intention-less and non-communicative utterances of a ‘world essence.’ . . . What guides this thinking is the conviction that although the living is subject to the ruin of the time, the process of decay is at the same time a process of crystallization, that . . . what once was alive . . . survives in new crystallized forms and shapes that remain immune to the elements” (50–51). In a certain way, one could think about the “perfect school” as something that is crystallized as a kind of pearl.
34. Van Den Driessche, “The Journey of the Children,” 81–82.
35. Here we differ from the interpretation of Cuyvers’s work by Van den Driessche, who still looks at the school he designed as primarily an “intermediate” space or a space-in-between the home and the world, that is, a space of introduction (Van Den Driessche, “The Journey of the Children,” 84).
36. Tijl Vanmeirhaeghe, “De school als apparaat. Een kleine geschiedenis van het Belgische schooltraktaat” [The School as Apparatus: A Little History of the Belgian School Tractatus], in De school als ontwerpopgave, 64–87.
37. See Giorgio Agamben, Infancy & History: Essays on the Destruction of Experience (London: Verso, 1993).
38. Michel Foucault, “Of Other Spaces (1967),” Diacritics (Spring 1986): 22–27.
|Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 112 Number 2, 2010, p. 533-555|
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15743, Date Accessed: 11/9/2011 4:29:28 PM