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Ten Answers for “What Is it To Be an Educator?”

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RONALDO MOTA – First Academic Prayer given on the occasion of taking his seat at the Brazilian Academy of Education, 04/04/2019

1. Being an educator depends on the times and contexts. In primitive societies there was already the figure of the educator, although diffuse. The younger generation learned from the older generation the art of survival, as well as the rules of cooperation and group living together. There were rituals of passage, in some cases well organized, when learning cycles were completed. The educator’s tasks were, over time, better defined as society became more complex. In the Western world, the sophists appeared and the school became an established institution. The maturation of the method, especially the scientific method, consolidated universities as spaces not only for the transmission of knowledge, but also for the production of science, which generated technologies and contributed to shaping modern societies. In recent centuries, basic knowledge was the domain of contents, procedures and techniques, where specialization was the hallmark of the development model based on the assembly line. All based on increasingly multiple and specific professional careers, following the degree of complexity of the most recent societies. At the same time, the adjustment of the educator to the times and their contexts is again a huge challenge. Contents, procedures, and techniques matter, but they are no longer enough. It is necessary to include unprecedented requirements, involving the art of learning continuously, throughout life, and a set of socio-emotional aspects, equally important. But whether in primitive societies or in the contemporary world, we know who the educator is;

2. Being an educator does not necessarily mean being the most knowledgeable, the one with the greatest knowledge. This is the cult, which is not always an educator. The educator is the one who, mainly, cultivates the knowledge as process, in which to know more emancipates the learner and prepares her/him to independent learning. The educator is fully aware that his role is to become, gradually, less necessary. And the educator likes it, promotes it, is happy and becomes detached from the student and learns every time he or she learns;

3. The educator has an opinion, but her/his opinion does not characterize it. It can be whatever. What marks the educator is how she/he behaves on all opinions, especially on those that are not hers/his own. To educate is to understand the other, including to understand what the other thinks, by putting oneself in her/his position. More than that, by understanding and doing something about it. In this sense, opinions themselves become almost irrelevant and the essence is the ability to understand, rationally, and convey the beauty of a world with multiple conflicting opinions. The educator may be gentle or grouchy, but never unkind. May be sympathetic or unfriendly, but never coarse. Indelicacy and rudeness do not educate, they rape. The educator pacifies, clarifies, opines, respects and, above all, educates;

4. The educator may have a political position, but she/he is not the one who defines the craft. It can be any, and may not be the same always. She/He just can not be authoritarian and inflexible  because the absence of dialogue is not education, it is mis- education. The essence of learning is the multiplicity of knowledge, doubt, opposition, debate, speculation, experimentation, methods, and especially respect for the various forms of knowledge and the desirable wealth of opinions, whatever they may be;

5. The educator may have faith and may not have faith. She/he can be monotheistic, of the most diverse beliefs, polytheistic, agnostic or even atheist. In fact, what is relevant is that the educator understands faith, or the absence of it, as respectable cultural traits, individual or collective. They are respectable choices in themselves and legitimated a priori. What does not appeal to the educator – and what characterizes it – is proselytism, because it deters, oppresses, opposes freedom of choice, openness of minds and flexibility of thought, essential and indispensable elements in learning;

6. The educator is not the most intelligent, but the one who understands that there is no unique form of intelligence. Intelligences are manifold. There is the intelligence that comes from memory and the ability to memorize content, which has been dominant in recent times, but already past. There is intelligence based on logical-mathematical ability. There are those who are intelligent for a differentiated body-kinesthetic ability. We can speak of linguistic intelligence, based especially on the ability to understand and elaborate complex texts, facilitating the communication between people. There is existential intelligence, resulting from intrapersonal processes of advanced reflections. We have intelligence through empathy and compassion. Musical intelligence is recognized and many other equivalents. There are more recent developments, such as the digital ability associated with the ease of dealing with platforms and other tools in the cyber world. There are other intelligences yet to come. In short, the educator is intelligent because he recognizes, stimulates and celebrates the unlimited multiplicity of intelligences;

7. The educator, nowadays, progressively approaches being an artist, since education is, more and more, an art. We have fewer educational recipes, the old ones no longer work and the challenges have become more complex, demanding a deep rethink of paradigms, concepts and values. The contents, procedures and techniques, foundations of education of the last century, are consistent bases, from which it is up to the educator to develop the art of learning mediated by new technologies and innovative methodologies. The educator is less educated when he clings too much to a single methodology and improperly believes that it always applies to everyone, forgetting that every student and every educational situation is unique. The art in educating is the ability to customize learning for each context, geared to each individual, exploring the possibility of flexible educational paths, anchored in several methodologies and making use of multiple technological resources;

8. The educator is not a merchant. Although the profession of the merchant is legitimate, the oldest and most respectable of our civilization, the educator is not a merchant. Not to demerit this, but for the simple fact that education is not a commodity. When a merchant sells or buys something, someone goes without the product and the other has it completely. In education, the surrendering of knowledge does not give it up to who receives it. It is a win win situation where even the one who does not directly participate, curiously, wins as well. Education is, therefore, a special process, where anyone who does not have it, living with one who has, also can acquire it, as if by osmosis. When one lacks education, not only does she/he lose, but the collectivity to which she/he belongs also loses. It is, in fact, a common good, with which everyone wins, collectively and cooperatively. Like health, the more one has everyone in the community has too. It is legal and legitimate to profit and demand for sustainability in education; the extreme savagery of those who, obsessed with the god Mamon of the numbers, do not like education, much less educators and students. As someone said, “If those who do poorly in education know how good it is to do well, they would do it well, even if only because it was good business”;

9. Educators, somehow, are all of us, individual and collectively, when we first become resilient. When we think that we are not learning or evolving, we are actually moving forward. Extending our resilience, we maintain the ability to resist to so many inclements and absurdities, with calm, tolerance and persistence by making use of the most efficient and available tool we have: education;

10. Educators are especially the Academicians of the Brazilian Academy of Education, who by tradition, since the Manifesto of the Pioneers of 1932, led by Anísio Teixeira and many others, opened the way so that today we could continue the process of convincing others about importance of education as an essential element of any sustainable economic, as well as social and environmental development. Economically, we will not meet our challenges without raising the average productivity of the population, involving workers and entrepreneurs. There is no increase in productivity without quality schooling. There may even be uneducated growth, based on circumstantial and transitory abundances of natural resources and other factors. However, sustainable sustainability is anchored in education. This is what I already knew, and that is how Anísio Teixeira taught us, from whom I have the honor of occupying the Chair that has him as the Patron, and which has already been occupied by educators of memorable memories, such as former Minister Eduardo Portela. May we all be educators and be learners for ever and ever.