Sixth part – A Privileged Place. By Giancarlo Galeazzi

Giancarlo Galeazzi, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the Istituto teologico marchigiano of the Pontifical Lateran University

Information is not enough without communication, and Cacciari would agree. He was among the seventeen intellectuals (including a good twelve philosophers) who signed the Appeal. Other signatories who attended our 24th annual festival, “Le parole della filosofia” (“The Words of Philosophy”), in Ancona, included Umberto Curi, Sergio Givone, Pier Aldo Rovatti, Carlo Sini e Nicla Vassallo. Now, the Appeal, published in “La Stampa”, 18 May 2020, censures the inadequacy of distance learning and stresses the inalienability of   traditional teaching based on live interaction between students and between teachers and students. It  denounces as rash “the reduction of the complex process of education to a question of instruction” and dismisses as shallow the belief that “the two modes – contact teaching and distance teaching – are interchangeable”, insisting that school “means, first and foremost, social relations, horizontally (among the pupils) and vertically (with the teachers”; it means “comprehensive, omnilateral education, intellectual and moral development, the growth of a civil and political conscience”.

The Appeal puts its finger on the essential features of a school which truly educates rather than merely instructs – in other words, a school which cannot do without personal relations, including tactile relations, among its educands. It should be added, however, that while the two scholastic approaches cannot be considered interchangeable, neither should they be seen as radically alternative or mutually exclusive: they can coexist, but in proprtions which will not pervert the sense of the school. There can be no doubt that we need to be aware  that the new generations (to use Mark Prensky’s felicitous expressions) are “digital natives” or at least “digital residents”, that a mediological culture has taken its place alongside “the two cultures” (literary and scientific) and that each culture can be humanistic (not just the one so-called up to now) provided that it nurtures the human: broadening horizons and instilling an awareness of limits.

I would go so far as to say that, from this viewpoint, the school can take on a role as the privileged forum for the three dimensions of touch discussed earlier: contact, contamination, contagion can work there at a physical and metaphorical level (as I have had occasion to witness in nearly fifty years of secondary school and university teaching). Contacts are inevitable at class and school level, contacts between peers and between generations:  real contacts no less than ideal; contaminations, too, are the order of the day at school and in class and concern the pluralism which characterizes the pupils (from their socio-cultural extraction) and the teachers (from their didactic freedom); finally, contagion is the hallmark of the good school if the teachers who work there are not merely experts in their own disciplines but real galvanizers: if, in short, they know how to kindle an interest in culture through stimulating contacts and contaminations to the point of infecting their charges with a love of culture in its manifold expressions.

With this in mind, I should like to mention a book by Massimo Recalcati – L’ora di lezione. Per un’erotica dell’insegnamento (Einaudi 2014) – in which the well-known psychoanalyst reflects on what it means to be a teacher in a society without fathers and without guides, arguing that the good teacher brings new worlds into being, makes knowledge an object of desire than can stir our lives into action and enlarge our scope, so that  during the lesson knowledge is invested with an erotic charge and the book becomes a body. Recalcati calls it a “small miracle”; in fact, it is not small at all, given that it has the power to change lives. 

All of which leads us to insist on the need for interpersonal contact, direct contact, contact imbued with its own physicality, also tactile. I am reminded of the words of the writer and philosopher, Mirt Komel, who in a recent  interview with Alessandra Pigliaru (“Il Manifesto”, 19 May 2020) said: “Touch can save us because, despite appearances, the problem we face today is precisely one of touch, from which we are, or we have been, alienated. This is why the issue also has a political sense, because it bears on something that is common to all of us, i.e. the community itself: if we cannot be in contact with one another – real contact, not digital, specious –  then we are no longer a community but an agglomeration of atoms”.

To conclude, I should like to say that we need to beware of “tactless people” (people with no delicacy of touch); there is a need instead for “tactful people” (whose touch is sensitive) and such must be our teachers, first and foremost. With this in mind, it seems to me that school can take on the role of a privileged place where contact, contamination and contagion are allowed free play, both literally and metaphorically, a place which is founded on tactility in the broad sense – in other words, sensory physicality – and tactility in the strict sense, which brings us back to the image (real and ideal) of “taking by the hand” and “holding hands”.