Avoiding the pitfalls of positive education with Hegel's philosophy

thwart the pitfalls of positive education with Hegel's philosophy

Positive education is a great idea. This is why many parents have believed they have found in it the foundations of a liberating educational practice for their children. However, it opens up pitfalls which, if we are not careful, risk preventing any real educational work. Hegel's "great Shadow", as Alain evokes it in his talk about education, can “talk” to us very loudly about this. Let's hear it.

The hope of parents who adopt the model of positive education is to work for the emergence of free children, somewhat like the Free Children of Summerhill, which had their heyday in the XNUMXs. It is clear that it is difficult to speak out against the guiding ideas of positive education, whose key words are listening, respect and accompaniment: promoting an education based on empathy; develop cooperation between parents and children, adults and young people; accompany the child by listening to his needs; learning based on individual strengths and personal motivation. Who could find fault with it?

But positive education very quickly comes up against the problem of educational limits. Because freedom should not be mistaken. What is often described as "educational violence", as constraint, refusal of certain behaviors, and conversely imposition of ways of being and doing in conformity with norms, or morals, is it, in principle, and always, detrimental to the freedom of this one?

The Freedom of the Void Trap

Hegel reminds us that freedom cannot be reduced to the refusal of any external content, judged then as being simply an inadmissible “restriction”. This "negative freedom" is only a "freedom of the void", which only exists in the destruction of what opposes it. We must not allow children, believing they respect them, to be swept away by a "fury of destruction", refusing "any existing social order", and aiming for "the annihilation of any organization wishing to emerge".

Certainly, on the one hand, "Children are in themselves free beings, and their life is the immediate existence of this freedom only ". Children do not belong to anyone, neither to parents nor to educators. But, on the other hand, they need an education to "raise them from the immediate nature in which they are primitively found to independence and a free personality." What immediately appears as negativity – the restrictive and channeling educational intervention – has an irreplaceable positive dimension. This positivity is called and felt by the children themselves.

Positive education: theory, practice, controversies (Debate organized by Sciences Humaines, 2022).

“The need to be nurtured exists in children as their own feeling of not being satisfied with who they are. ". Any pedagogy that “treats the childish element as something valuable in itself (and) presents it to children as such…reduces for them what is serious, and itself, to a childish form little considered by children. By presenting them as completed in the state of incompleteness in which they feel”, it can only lead to “the vanity… of children full of the feeling of their own distinction”.

The completion of the person who has become free in oneself and for oneself will require going beyond what one is at the “moment” of childhood, when one exercises what risks being nothing but a freedom from the void.

The trap of ignoring the overrun requirement

This requirement was well highlighted by Hegel, with the concept of “aufheben”, which makes understand the necessity and the positivity of the fruitful confrontation of the negative. The negativity represented for a being by the encounter with otherness (the other – the parent, the master – restricts my field of “free” development, and imposes on me his own ways of being and doing), has for effect of leading the educated outside and beyond himself, to become fully himself, which he was not (yet) in his state of incompleteness.

Thus, what is experienced as repression is at the service of the overcoming necessary for the free individual to emerge as an educated conscience. The confrontation of the negative is fruitful because it allows a rewarding overcoming, in relation to the immediate particularity of what is exceeded:

“Deleting has a double meaning: that of preserving, of maintaining (aufheben means in German to raise, lift and delete), and that of stopping, of putting an end. To preserve, to maintain, moreover, implies a negative meaning, namely that one takes away from something, in order to preserve it, its immediacy... Thus what is suppressed is at the same time what is preserved, but has only lost its immediacy, without being annihilated for that. »

The child's immediate will and freedom are only preserved, and only reach their fullness, if they are suppressed by going beyond, thanks to the confrontation with an adult whose positive consistency (firmness on rational principles) can be perceived at first as a reprehensible negativity. But it is that there is no education " when there is a lack of seriousness, pain, patience and the work of the negative”.

Such is “the prodigious power of the negative”. What is seen as negation is in fact only the "mediation", which allows the "becoming-other" by which one escapes immediacy, to access the fullness and the truth of what one was. simply potentially in its "empty beginning". Development is negative in relation to the beginning, in that there is something unilateral in it: thereby it is refutation. But it is also effective realization, and fulfillment. According to a metaphor proposed by Hegel, the truth of the acorn is in the future oak:

"When we desire to see an oak, in the sturdiness of its trunk, the spreading of its branches, and the masses of its foliage, we are not satisfied if we are shown an acorn in its place."

The oak refutes the acorn, as the flower generally refutes the bud. “The bud disappears in the burst of bloom, and one could say that the bud is refuted by the flower. At the appearance of the fruit, too, the flower is denounced as a false being of the plant, and the fruit is introduced in the place of the flower as its truth”. Giving in to the whims of the child, by idolizing him in all his fancies and whims, amounts to condemning him to be forever only an unfinished being.

The trap of unconstrained education

To help the child reach his truth as an educated person and as fully free as possible, it is therefore necessary to know how to impose educational constraints on him wisely. All educational work necessarily has a constraining aspect. But what can we legitimately impose, and how can we be sure that we are not simply opposing an adult whim to a child's whim? 

Hegel helps us to understand that the necessary constraint has two dimensions. We cannot fail to impose content and a framework. Content is generally defined by what constitutes culture at a given time. Because “culture is liberation, and the work of higher liberation”. Certainly, and this can no longer surprise us, the liberation involves hard work. “This liberation is, in the subject, the painful work against the subjectivity of conduct, against immediate needs and also against the subjective vanity of the sensible impression and against the arbitrariness of preference”. But this arduousness is only the price to pay to taste “the infinite value of culture as an immanent moment of the infinite”.

This imposition of content goes hand in hand with the imposition of a framework, which first takes on the face of discipline. Discipline is the set of rules without which there is no possible life in common, within a family, a class, or a population. How could you blame your teenager for coming home too late if you haven't set (with him!) a deadline for returning home? In his pedagogical writings, Hegel distinguishes between 'discipline properly so called' and 'culture of morals', both of which belong first to the family and constitute 'a task and a duty of parents'.

The purpose of discipline is "to tame rudeness, to fix the pursuit of distractions, and to fill children with a sense of respect and obedience" to parents and teachers alike, Hegel explains in his Educational texts :

“To attend our schools, calm behavior is required, habituation to lasting attention, a feeling of respect and obedience towards the teachers, a correct, modest attitude towards them as well as towards towards fellow students. »

However, if its aim is to offer individuals the fruitful confrontation of the negative, “discipline properly speaking cannot be a goal of educational institutions”. It is only a means. "Obedience...is necessary for the purpose of studies to be attained." But there can be no question of “demanding empty obedience for obedience itself”. One should not seek "to obtain, through harshness, what simply requires the feeling of love, respect, and the seriousness of the Thing."

But love can't do everything, because, ultimately, “It's easier to love children than to raise them”, and it's a matter of raising them! If the concern to educate one's children and pupils in a positive way is a noble intention, it must not make us forget that the indispensable love is not enough, that constraints belong to the domain of necessary means, that it is a question of contributing to overcoming the limitations and the first immediacy, and that freedom is never reduced to the freedom of emptiness.

Charles Hadji, Honorary Professor (Educational Sciences), Grenoble Alpes University (UGA)

This article is republished from The Conversation under Creative Commons license. Read theoriginal article.

Image Credit: Shutterstock


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