The pandemic has reminded us that, as individuals, we are members of a society

The education researcher and philosopher Prof. Dr. Rita Casale sharpens the next generation's ability to judge the social issues of our future with concrete educational teaching offers

For two years, a virus has seemingly put the social life of the whole world on hold. All the freedoms that are pleasant and familiar to us end up in front of closed doors, even the intimate private sphere is regulated. Meanwhile, resignation is spreading among the population, people are weary (tired and angry). But instead of lapsing into agony, many are also making an effort to defy the crisis and are developing new formats because the world keeps turning.
The education researcher and philosopher Professor Rita Casale is one of these people who, together with her colleague Fabian Kessl, initiated the so-called Corona Talks as a podcast. In it, she sheds light on the implications for teaching and also everyday life from an educational science perspective. "This was an interesting experiment," she begins, "in these talks we tried to connect two dimensions that are often separated in the German university tradition. Namely, an intellectual and a professional perspective. Either you are intellectual and talk about everything, or you are an expert and do not dare to say anything about a general development." Intellectuality is also a form of transfer, she explains. Starting from the professional perspective in which one feels at home as a scientist, one is also obliged to take positions on social developments. One question that concerns us all is: "What changes has the crisis brought about and The pandemic does not automatically lead to changes, but it makes processes visible and shows dynamics that already existed before. Changes," she says, "not only depend on politics, but also on representatives of civil society. These changes can be observed in the school, university and scientific sectors in particular.

School as a place of learning or distance learning

Casale has critically followed the emphasis on self-directed learning in schools over the last two decades. The ability of children to learn on their own is subject to two essential factors, which she describes with the term sociality. This is shown, on the one hand, in the relationship between the children, because, as she puts it, "children learn differently when they are in a room with other children", and, on the other hand, through the mediation of the teacher. "The teacher is the person who, in face-to-face teaching, should be able to give the child a scientific approach to the world. If this person is omitted, something essential is missing," she emphasises, and this cannot be absorbed. Not even by committed parents, because "different things happen in different places." Urgently needed investments are therefore necessary, which should not only refer to the renovation of premises, she says. "School is not only a place of learning and educational processes, but also a place of socialising and educational processes. Thus it has a wider significance," Casale concludes. "If we really want schools to be places where educational occasions, also for children from different backgrounds, take place, it is necessary that we design these places as places where educational socialisation and learning processes can really take place."

Science in an advisory function or as a supervisory body?

The scientist, whose research focus is the relationship of education between university and state in modern times, could, especially in the Corona crisis, clearly observe how education can contribute to the formation of opinion and the assessment of a situation. "From my perspective, science and especially the natural sciences have acted in an exemplary manner in this case. Their function has gone beyond consultation. For me, my colleagues in the natural sciences acted as a supervisory body on the basis of an understanding of research that is characterised by autonomy." It is already visible in early texts on the foundation of a modern university, e.g. from Wilhelm von Humboldt, that they always built on the function of usefulness for society, while maintaining their autonomy. "One depends on the basic research of science!" The covid pandemic shows that it can be managed socially, societally, politically as well as medically through an incredible amount of cooperation.
Casale explains further that, in the social sphere, we depend on we depend on the behaviour of others to protect others and ourselves. "The pandemic has given us society back. It is interesting that a natural phenomenon reminds us that, as individuals, we are members of a society." Therefore the societal focus within sociology, political science and education needs to be shifted from individual processes to societal conditions. "To this end, the university should become a laboratory for interdisciplinary experimentation in both teaching and research, where students and academics research and learn together."

Social constellations must be understood

Many people are paying special attention to political decisions in the election year 2021. This happens because of the lockdown or the vaccination procedure. People's needs for freedom have not been met for two years. When asked whether educational offers can help people to better understand the situation, the Italian-born answers: "Yes, but these are long-term processes. In recent years, we have invested too little in political education. We have favoured an understanding of knowledge that is focused on competencies. This was totally important and crucial for the democratisation of science. And I would not want to miss that either," she explains, but a modern mass university should not base its success on the number of degrees alone. Therefore, she quite specifically demands: "We need a university that trains students who are able to understand the processes in their social constellation."

Rights to freedom equal consumer rights?

Casale supports the restriction of our rights to freedoms in order to protect other people during the pandemic. But at the same time, she sees the problem in the criticism and the associated protests, which does not only come from the right-wing spectrum. "It is difficult to reconcile all of this," she says, "but for me one point has become important. In recent years we have reduced the individual to a consumer and equated freedom as the possibility of consumption." In the pandemic, however, people were no longer allowed to consume, and that was experienced as a limitation of freedom, she says. Casale has also followed the development in her home country and says: "It is incomparable to Germany, if you think about the limitations one experienced in Italy. Here, I have the impression that de facto we are not limited in our freedom. But it has become increasingly important what has become important, is that we have to work on a concept of freedom for the 21st century. And I really see this as a central contribution of educational theory."

The younger generation challenges us teachers, and I that that is excellent

In the 18th century, the young Humboldt formulated the modern concept of education in a text, in his so-called Staatsschrift. In doing so, he thought of education as a relationship between the individual, the state and the university. "So what does that mean for the present?" Casale asks, answering, "for me, I teach educational theory and also the history of education, it means to nowaydays understand education as a constellation that exists in the relationship between the individual, the state and the university." And in doing so, she is also challenged by her students. "In the last two to three years, there is an incredible demand from students for a different kind of teaching. I think the younger generation is challenging us and expecting something from us. I think that is excellent. I do not know yet if we are able to do that, if we have overslept this in the past years and treated the younger ones as children. I think 20-year-olds have to be trusted with everything scientifically, they have to be seen as adults." That is why Casale always seeks direct contact and knows: "If we enable students to understand this relationship, we contribute to them also being able to make political decisions independently."

The development of one's own power of judgement

The path to one's own decision is often not easy. But it is essential in order to help shaping society as a human being. Casale will soon be publishing a book on this subject, in which she will describe how a capacity for judgement can develop using revised lectures as examples. "What is judgement? How does one contribute to judgemental capacity? A judgement is something more than a transfer or an objection of a knowledge that we have in another field. When we apply it, we are not judging, but merely applying. We are forced to judge, or to make a judgement, when the situation surprises us. When we are asked to assess the situation. A situation of not knowing." It is particularly difficult to separate decision and judgement, because even when making decisions in everyday life, one first falls back on what one knows. Now, however, the "new" is added, about which one has no knowledge.
Casale explains her approach using the concept of education. The process, she says, consists of decomposing each phenomenon into its structural elements, i.e. taking it apart, understanding it and recombining it in the next step. "I work on this process in different phenomena with the students. I only make the judgement when I have become aware of the elements and have put everything back together again."
So can educational opportunities influence the political and social actions of citizens? Casale's conclusion is clear. "They can contribute to the formation of political judgement, self-determination and political maturity. They should not have a direct influence on political action. I am a representative of the autonomy of science. Only as autonomous institutions universities can, politically and socially, be of great importance."

Uwe Blass (Interview on May 10, 2021)

Prof. Dr. Rita Casale studied Philosophy and History in Bari, Paris and Freiburg im Breisgau. After professional stations in Frankfurt am Main, Zurich and Fribourg, she came to the University of Wuppertal in 2009 and teaches General Educational Science/Theory of Education in the Faculty of Human and Social Sciences. She has edited various volumes on pedagogical historiography, on feminist theory and history and has written extensively on political and pedagogical thought in modernity as well as on contemporary philosophy.

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