The paradigm of questioning the world and the inquiries that make it a reality do not exist in a vacuum. They must have a basis in society and in school. Once again let me stress here that the field of relevance of the didactic schema—called the Herbartian schema—outlined so far extends to the whole of society—it is not conceived as being restricted to school. Any person can represent x in a didactic triplet (x, y, O). [A didactic “helper” y may fail to exist, in which case it is common to write the triplet in the form (x, ∅, O): the didactic triplet is then reduced in actual fact to a 2-tuple.] Of course it is easy to spot an outstanding difference. In many modern societies, going to school during the first part of one’s life—while you’re a youngster—is compulsory. Admittedly, there is no such thing as compulsory education for adults in general. In this respect, the scenario advocated here supposes a fundamental change, with the extension of the right to education into the right to lifelong education for all, provided by an adequate infrastructure that we could continue to call “school”, but in a sense that goes back to ancient Greece and, more precisely, to the Greek word skhole, which originally designated spare time devoted to leisure (this was still its meaning in the time of Plato, for example), but which evolved to mean “studious leisure”, “place for intellectual argument”, and “time for liberal studies”. The new role of the didactic in our societies thus implies the development of a ubiquitous institution that, in what follows, I shall term, more genuinely, skhole. Of course, school as we know it is a key component of skhole, even though, in its present form, it remains largely foreign to the new didactic paradigm. But school is not all of skhole. For example, for adults as well as for younger people, a good part of skhole takes place at home: home skholeing will be, and already is, a master component of skhole. In what follows, skhole will be approached for its capacity to favour the development and flourishing of the paradigm of questioning the world—even though parts of it are still under the control of the old school paradigm.
I begin by considering the case of adults’ skholeing—of which today’s “adults schooling”, as we may call it, is but a meagre component. In truth, many citizens are already, though partially, equipped to inquire on their own into the many questions that may beset them, for example in their daily life. This being noted, what are the main constraints that hinder, and what are the conditions that might favour the development of adults’ skholeing? The first condition lies in the fact that, instead of fleeing when faced with questions, x duly confronts them. To do so, x has to formulate them explicitly, at least for him/herself. Simple as it may sound, such a move conflicts with a fundamental determinant of our cultures, the disjunction between “masters” and “underlings”, if I may say so, that forbids the latter to raise questions about the world—natural or social—, or, as the saying goes, to put it “into question”, while “masters” have alone the legitimacy to question the world and to change it. Sheer observation—but this conclusion can easily be submitted to experimentation—shows that most people get excited at daring to pose on their own the merest question. Historically, posing questions was the privilege of the mighty, although it has become a defining right of citizens; but it is a right not yet exercised as it should in a fully developed democracy.
Let us suppose that some citizen has decided to inquire into some question Q, becoming thus an inquirer x in a triplet (x, ?, Q). At this stage of his/her study, two problems face him/her. On the one hand, x may think of getting help from some people Y; on the other hand, he/she will have to “search the world” for answers A
◊ to question Q and relevant works O. The first of these two problems has no systematic solution today. The second problem has a good approximate solution. It consists in the sum total of the information provided by the Internet and especially the Web. In fact, I shall refer to the Internet sensu latissimo—in the broadest sense—, a sense that, against current usage, includes… all the libraries in the world, because any document is either available on the Internet or can be regarded as not yet available on the Internet. To take here just one example, in the case of an inquiry into the mathematics of the “proportional to” symbol (∝), when starting from Jeff Miller’s well-known website on the Earliest uses of symbols of relation (2011), one is led to Florian Cajori’s classic book on the history of mathematical notations (1993, vol. 1, p. 297), which in turn refers the inquirer to three older books, authored respectively by Emerson (1768), who was the introducer of the symbol ∝, Chrystal (1866), and Castle (1905). Today, all of these books are available online for free. Let us also observe that the Internet allows most inquirers x to find help from occasional helpers y, for example on Internet forums and discussion threads, so that the main solution to the second problem also supplies a (partial) solution to the first problem.
Making inquiries on the Internet sensu latissimo meets with well-recognised difficulties. First, if x is almost certain to come across at least some relevant resources, documents allowing him/her to go further and deeper into the question studied may be scarce. Second, the inquirer x can prove unable both to find out relevant documents that do exist and to make the most of what little information he/she culled. The inquirer’s intellectual equipment—or more exactly the inquirer’s praxeological equipment, in a sense of the word praxeology proper to ATD—thus rests on two pillars: the capacity to locate resources, online and offline, and the knowledge necessary to take advantage of them. This leads to the question of making good use of the works O gathered. Most general questions Q entail the use of works O pertaining to different branches of knowledge, so that the study of Q is bound to be a co-disciplinary pursuit, bringing together for a common endeavour tools from different “disciplines”. It should be stressed at this point that what I’ve called a citizen is not a person reduced to being a member of a political community. But, much to the contrary, he/she is considered according to his/her accomplishments and potential, particularly as an inquirer into questions of any breed. It results from this that a citizen does not only have to be educated in many fields but, in the procognitive perspective of the new didactic paradigm, a citizen must be ready to study and learn, even from scratch, fields of knowledge new to him/her. A citizen is not only a law-abiding person; he/she also has to become a knowledgeable person, indefinitely ready to study works hitherto unknown to him/her, just because some inquiry calls for their study.
The citizen I portray here may feel unable to live up to what is thus required of him/her. This feeling essentially results from the old didactic organisation of school and society that has imposed upon us the illusion according to which, for any knowledge need we may experience, there somewhere exists a providential person who can teach us whatever we want to know. Such a puerile belief leads to passivity and submission to events outside our reach. In the paradigm of questioning the world, attending a course or a conference on some subject of interest is certainly not disregarded. But we should take them as means to a common end—learning something on some determined work O supposed to be useful in order to bring forth an answer A
♥ to question Q. In such a situation, because of a relation to ignorance and knowledge resulting from exposure to the old school paradigm, we are prone to feel frustrated at not having all the knowledge needed—all of history, biology, mathematics, physics, chemistry, philosophy, linguistics, sociology, and so on indefinitely. The character implicitly fantasised here is what I’ve come to call an esoteric (using thus the adjective also as a noun), who is supposed to already know all the knowledge needed (the idea most people have of “a historian”, “a biologist”, “a mathematician”, “a physicist”, etc., is commonly akin to this fantasy). By contrast, an exoteric has to study and learn indefinitely, and will never reach the elusive status of esoteric. Indeed, all true scholars are exoteric and should remain so in order to remain scholars: esotericism, as I define it here, is a fable.
The citizen in the new paradigm is therefore called upon to become Herbartian, procognitive, and exoteric. How can we promote this new citizenship? Beyond being possessed by the epistemological passion necessary to go all the way from pure ignorance to adequate knowledge, a crucial condition is, for sure, the time allotted to study and research in an adult’s life. More often than not, it seems, this time tends to zero as years pass by. In this respect, I suggest that we repeat again and again the founding trick of the ancient Greeks—that of transmuting leisure time, which some of our contemporaries seem to enjoy so abundantly, into study and research time, in the authentic tradition of skhole. Such a pursuit pertains to what Freud once called Kulturarbeit, “civilisational work”—a radical change still to come, which is a sine qua non of the emergence of the new didactic paradigm.
The problem of the time allotted to study and research has an easy solution when it comes to ordinary schooling: youngsters go to school to study, in accordance with skhole’s defining principle. But in what measure does school welcome the new didactic paradigm? I shall not dwell too long on this subject. I will, however, suggest that in too many cases, the so-called “inquiry-based” teaching resorts to some form or another of “fake inquiries”, most often because the generating question Q of such an inquiry is but a naive trick to get students to find and study works O that the teacher will have determined in advance. Of course, this is the plain consequence of the domination of the paradigm of visiting works, which implies that curriculum contents are defined in terms of works O. In contradistinction, in the paradigm of questioning the world, the curriculum is defined in terms of questions
Q. However, the works O studied in consequence of inquiring into these questions Q play a central role in the process of defining and refining the curriculum: starting from a set Q of “primary” questions, the curriculum contents C eventually studied will include the questions Q and answers A
♥, together with the answers A
◊ and the works O.
At this point two questions arise, though. The first question relates to the set Q of “primary” questions: where do these questions come from, and according to what mechanisms? In the case of a national curriculum, the set of primary questions to be studied at school constitutes the “core curriculum”, and therefore the foundation of the national pact between society and school. Consequently, it is up to the nation to watchfully and democratically decide what the set Q will consist of and to periodically revise and update its contents on the basis of a careful monitoring of the curriculum’s life-cycle. Because it is essential to the relationship between a society and its schooling system, the core curriculum—i.e. the “primary” questions—will play a decisive part in the society’s skhole. But it should be obvious that the curriculum is not precisely defined by the primary questions alone. The inquiries entailed by these questions are in no way uniquely defined: as we know, an inquiry may follow different paths of study and research, and the questions inquired into as well as the other works encountered and, up to a point, studied, are indeed path-dependent. As a result, even if the core curriculum (in the sense defined above) has been made precise, the ensuing curriculum might well look fuzzily defined because of its built-in variability. How can this situation be managed for the better?
Let us consider didactic triplets (X, Y, O) with O a (finite!) family of questions. We can envisage two types of didactic triplets associated with a class of students. First, there is a seminar, in which O is a dynamic family of questions comprising the primary questions and the questions their study will generate. (Remember that the scenario delineated is supposed to apply to advanced students as well as to… toddlers, so that the words I use here must be taken in a very broad sense, which allows for their adaptation to a wide variety of concrete conditions.) This seminar will essentially be co-disciplinary, for primary questions rarely fall into a unique disciplinary domain. Second, there will be disciplinary workshops to study the questions and works put forward in the seminar but which pertain essentially to a given discipline—there will be for example a chemistry workshop, a mathematics workshop, a history workshop, a biology workshop, and so on. The activated workshops may vary depending on the primary questions studied in the seminar. The key fact is that, in this two-step process (seminar plus workshops), some works O and disciplines will be insistently recurrent, because they will be more often called upon in the inquiries, while others will be encountered erratically or will almost never turn up. This “degree of mobilization” of a work O, if averaged nationally across all the seminars held at a given school level, gives the “degree of membership” of the work O to the curriculum regarded, metaphorically, as a continually redefined fuzzy set—a view more adequate to the true nature of a real curriculum. As indicated above, and contrary to the age-old habit of imposing a curriculum founded essentially on opinion, the paradigm of questioning the world makes it possible to bring to light in an organic way which resources are really used in trying to question and know the world, both natural and social.