Every now and then it would be useful to stop and think

By Fabio Masini

Every now and then it would be useful to stop and think. About who we are, what we do, why we do it in a certain way rather than another. In short, to take a break and go deeper.

When you are an educator for a living, as is the case (at least for the most part) with me, it often happens that you switch on the autopilot and let the routine take over from the questions. But it is precisely in the need to ask oneself continuous questions, to let them evolve in response to changing needs and contexts, that the key to quality education lies.

We must always avoid the presumption of having acquired definitive knowledge or skills, finally worthy of being passed on to someone else. Those who have the good fortune to combine teaching and research are partially aware of this issue, because research requires constantly questioning acquired knowledge, opening up to other interpretative and cognitive perspectives. It is therefore necessary to have a constant and synergic exchange of information between the researcher (who lives in a constantly evolving academic community) and the teacher (who lives in daily contact with experiential needs that change in response to contexts); something, paradoxically, more complex precisely when these two subjects are the same person.

It is therefore useful to periodically ask ourselves questions about how and why we teach, about the relationship between empathy and authority (which is much less linear than it may seem), about critical thinking and how to transmit it, about the management of feedback and its use.

Not because there is anything to learn. Because, I am convinced, one can perfect techniques and acquire greater methodological awareness, but educating is a job that one can never really learn. But because in order to continue practising it, it is necessary to analyse and question the ways and the profound reasons in which and for which we do it. We need to deconstruct routines in order to build new, more effective ones.

Perhaps this is why, during the days I spent in Barcelona, that perennial construction site designed by the brilliant Antoni Gaudi appeared to me in a completely new light. Looking at those cranes constantly present in the photos of the Sagrada Familia, always under construction, they no longer seemed to me like a pathology of the landscape, a symbol of transience that sooner or later will have to disappear to make room for the completed work.

Perhaps those very cranes are, after all, the truest mirror of human existence. Because, just like the Sagrada Familia, the life of each of us is a cathedral in continuous construction. In which building is an integral part of the panorama; it is an inescapable constitutive trait: physiological, not pathological. And I have acquired the awareness that, in the end, when the work stops and the cranes are removed, when the construction aspires to be “definitive”, at that moment, in reality, the Sagrada Familia will cease to exist, at least as a brilliant project.