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Reflections on values, principles and criteria in education

“You didn't learn Latin and Greek to speak them, to work as a waiter, interpreter or commercial representative. One learned to know directly the civilization of the two peoples, a necessary prerequisite of modern civilization, that is, to consciously be and know oneself” (Antonio Gramsci, prison notebooks, P. 45-6).

“Something moves in there. Premeditations, potencies, intentional destinies work together in an unmeasured work. O quid divinum currents, effluvia, polarizations and alterations; there is the embrace and the antagonism, a magnificent ebb and flow of the universal antithesis, the imponderable in freedom in the middle of the centers (...)” (Victor Hugo, the workers of the sea, P. 275).


When a student complains that he no longer has what he calls a “social life” after entering university, he does not realize that, if he takes his own project seriously, when he decides to pursue higher education, he is actually involved in a transformation in such an order in life itself that it will not be able to remain just the same as in past school, family and social times.

Studying, when carried out actively, tends to profoundly change one's life, habits, preferences, expectations, interests, values, and therefore, the point of view. It is one of the most decisive moments in the constitution of personal and intellectual identity. And, over time, also the invention of their own social and professional place. As Marcuse wrote: “The further away from the concrete social domain, the better it will be to verify and show how much society has subjected thought.”[I] Because it needs, in the type of order that constitutes it, the continuous mobilization of attention, interests and skills.

Pretending to go through such an experience without protecting yourself and without changing is like trying to travel around the world (like the caricature of the tourist who makes an effort to photograph everything and only look at the images when he returns home) but remaining immune to the varieties of cultures, of customs, languages, values, circumstances and all differences in relation to their own origin. To the surprises of chance, finally, on the path of learning.

The university experience entails, with some optimism, the possibility of becoming cosmopolitan by traveling (in time and space) through the universe contained in books, much greater than the merely geographical one; more interesting than the banal and sometimes boring immediacy of everyday life.

Since “pleasure, leisure, seduction and the erotic life have been brought within the power of money and commodity production”, the result is both “the sophistication of needs and their means, and a bestial barbarism, a complete, brutal, abstract simplification of needs.”[ii]

Whatever is placed under the rubric “social life” dissolves in the face of value, discoveries, importance, unsuspected pleasures, the possibility, even if difficult and arid, of solid formation of the spirit, hidden beauties and possible achievements contained in the studies. Included in this key are all friendships, loves, sympathies, desires and affections.

The worldly substratum benefits as much from this as potential fraternal relationships are better realized by shared mastery, for example, of the same language. The possibility of a qualitatively superior approximation has to do with practices of this type. That is, it is not just an apology for reclusion or strategic withdrawal, but the consideration of an essential time and space for the quality of meetings and attitudes. It is an attenuation (and therefore an enhancement) to the impetus for action and the voluntaristic rage so in vogue.

But the stubborn fact that we are, in general, seated in circumstances of supposed control of suffering makes us cautious to the point of confusing care with fear and therefore rejecting unknown horizons a priori. If the quality of social relationships and actions depends more on the values ​​that guide us than on any materiality, why so much emphasis, anxiety and regret to be returned so quickly to the world of social relationships and actions?

Studying, we must admit for our benefit, is never reduced to what occasional bad school experiences have imprinted in practice. It is rather a complex temporal, spatial and mental dimension. A scope and an exercise that require the most fruitful, but also the most painful of encounters: with ourselves.


Education, as a formative axis, is based, to a large extent, on imponderables. That is, far from any spirit of measurement, quantification, prediction and circumscription of results. Those who educate and those who are in the process of Education have always depended on betting on imponderable activities, studies and projects. Reading, writing, dealing with abstraction, relating, examining, commenting, judging, listening, speaking, tolerating, respecting and discovering are not mere emergency devices that can be activated when convenient, they are practices that depend on trust, cultivation, application, exercise and reflection .

Nuccio Ordine, referring to Max Scheller and Goethe, reminds us: “love and passion, if they are really authentic, presuppose in any case gratuitousness and disinterest: only under these conditions can the encounter with a teacher or with a classic be able to truly change life. life of a student or a reader.”[iii]

This means that Education is essentially different from work, family life, religions, living with friends, clubs, neighborhood associations, etc. It sounds like a truism, but it has been the source of much confusion. Education has distinct and peculiar purposes, modes and dynamics of formative and guiding experience that can only be apprehended with time, patience, dedication and effort. Almost everything that work denies by imposing protocols, automatisms, speed and efficiency.

It must also be said that among the peculiarities of Education is the fact, not always well accepted because it is almost always misunderstood, that, at most, it can be a promise, because it operates in tune with power, and, therefore, does not correspond, in general, to established results beforehand. All assessments based on strict expectations tend to downgrade any achievement of Education.

Why then are we not naturally tolerant of this essence of Education? Why are we naturally rushed, pragmatic, immediate, impatient? Why do we tend to refuse beforehand anything that doesn't look like or fit well with the fast pace of so-called contemporary life or, worse, contemporary demands? As in the beautiful verse of the poem "The mouth of the storm”, by Eugenia Almeida, “have a well full of echoes where they should have eyes.”[iv]

The answer is not easy, because it has to face a hostile intelligibility, it has to be formulated with many concessions to contemporary vocabulary in order to be received and, with luck, assimilated in an atmosphere saturated with other types of agreements, chances and limits.

This is the scope of the so-called postmodern culture, as characterized by Olgária Matos in her university version:

“The postmodern culture is that of the “devaluation of all values”. Its notion of equality is abstract, homologous to that of the market where everything is equivalent. In the midst of the post-modern liberal revolution, the university provides services and adapts to the market society and the student, converted into a client and consumer, as attested by the ideology of control of professors by their students.”[v]

Brecht wrote in his poem “Nothing Is Impossible to Change” that “nothing should appear natural”. This imperative is a basic assumption to air the perspective that focuses on the condition that we become impervious to the imponderables. It is basic because the force of interest necessary to trigger any examination depends on this horizon.

This means that those “naturally” referred to above and imbricated in our evaluation criteria about what would or would not deserve the time of our attention immediately become suspect of having been socially produced instead of always being an innate trait of our identities, or that is, they are, on the contrary, forged, false criteria, and made ours by the cultural dimension in which, even involuntarily, we participate.

The refusal of the imponderable in Education, therefore, is a symptom of being immersed in the contemporary conditions of production of values, principles and criteria, as characterized by prof. Olgaria Matos. But this is not a conspiracy of society, as if it were a puerile monstrosity that, for reasons that are always incomprehensible, would try to conquer that kind of human treasure that each one considers himself to be.

This assimilation takes place in the very condition of participating, reproducing and adjusting to the social environment in which we live. By impregnation, the most typical criteria and requirements, for example, the speed of television images, the technological responses of many Gadgets that surround us, the functionality, operability and usefulness of commercial procedures of various orders, the customs of the communities in which we intend to participate, have familiarity and acceptance and the hyperaccelerated[vi] rhythm of life in cities, due to the enormous scope they come to have on our lives, lead to a kind of slipping of the same criteria and demands towards dimensions from which they should remain banned.

In the same steps by which Franklin Leopoldo e Silva describes: “the process of development of emancipated reason – the one that was intended to support a perfect balance between theory and practice – provoked civilizing effects contrary to its assumptions, precisely because of the impossibility of maintaining of this balance between reason as a means of producing scientific and technical instruments for the improvement of civilization, and the same reason as discernment of the human ends that such instruments should serve, for the effective improvement of life.” [vii]

By causing, therefore, the immediate feeling of maladjustment, mismatch and even conflict, the equally immediate resulting diagnosis is that the educational dimension is the one that is out of adjustment, outdated in relation to what seems to be the world, never the criteria of examination that led to this type of conclusion.

The next step is to abandon everything that cannot immediately strengthen our position in what is unhesitatingly identified as the world. Complying with the fast pace of the world seems to be the legitimate answer and therefore essential to seek in the training that Education seems obliged to reinforce.


Why, in their right mind, would anyone adopt such suspect values? First, we need to face the hard fact that it is less about a healthy conscience, and more about a colonized conscience, modulated, programmed by values, principles and criteria foreign to those of Education.

Next, it's best not to rely too heavily on there being some sort of active, conscious choice of these values. And still less that they are apparently harmful. They have become, in a perverse way, the air we breathe, the culture in which we are immersed and in which we constitute our own identity.

Hence the counter-image, when we think of resistance, inscribed in the metaphor that educating oneself is learning to breathe in more rarefied atmospheres. This is also why a common side effect of moments of intense learning is, for example, a feeling of shortness of breath, but with enthusiasm and euphoria.

Everything would happen if we accepted, even as thought exercises, the also imponderable reasons for the refusal, as if we were constrained to be others or, to mitigate the possible aggravation of the demand, to be in other ways. That is, it would be necessary to question the meaning of what is inadvertently taken as one's own and exclusive identity.

There is no way to get through this without facing a major personal crisis right away. However, Quintilian warns: “it is above all necessary to be careful so that those who cannot yet love them do not come to hate studies and do not come to fear them, once they feel their bitterness, even beyond the years without experience.”[viii]

How, after all, could it be otherwise? It is a world that has to stop being a safe, comfortable and welcoming place. It is another, completely different, that needs to be erected with less passivity. But it is also another world that allows less dramatic meanings for, for example, the old challenges of understanding crises, sufferings, difficulties, complexities and the like. What I am proposing is an effort to invent a position outside the ideologies hostile to Education as a horizon of emancipation. After all, thinking is not an innate and intrinsic capacity, it is just a possibility that, in general, is wasted precisely because of the socially forged belief that thinking is an innate and intrinsic capacity.

From this new field of experiences, an authentic interest in discovering new horizons may arise, the distinction between inside and outside the questioning and research period could no longer make sense, dimensions of existence previously torn apart, the more intimate questions could be translated into a disposition for research, permanent inquiry, oriented discussions, reordered and varied temporalities.

Patience and zeal with the journey would become the delight and benefit of the journey because invested at the same time with dedication to oneself[ix]. There would no longer be an acceptable distinction between thinking and existing, there would no longer be any possible concession to the immediate that was not an imponderable project of reconstitution, of humanization and, therefore, of Education.

The best part of Education resides in the possibility that someone can offer himself the chance to get rid of the many prejudices that prevent him from experiencing an authentic, profound and lasting encounter with knowledge, after which it is never possible to simply go back to being what you used to be. Wouldn't this be one of the meanings of the idea that Education is an accumulative path that allows a meeting with oneself, a slow process of reaching an indefinite age, moving through different temporalities and recognizing oneself as a visible, albeit imponderable, face in the mirror of humanity?

Therefore, there is no lack of social life, rather it is the substantive drama prevailing in the claimed social life that, without Education, goes unnoticed as a relegation and devotion to the rough ground of the market.

*Denilson Cordeiro He is a professor at the Department of Philosophy at Unifesp.

Originally published digital magazine Books&Coffee.


Almeida, Eugenia. The mouth of the storm. Buenos Aires: Ediciones Documenta Escénicas, 2015.

Brecht, Berthold. Poems, 1913-1956. Selection and translation by Paulo César Souza. Sao Paulo: Ed. Brasiliense, 1986.

Gramsci, Antonio. prison notebooks. Trans. Carlos Nelson Coutinho. Rio de Janeiro: Ed. Brazilian Civilization, 2004.

Guiton, Jean. Intellectual labor. Paris: Aubier, 1986.

Havey, David. Postmodern condition. An inquiry into the origins of cultural change. Trans. Adail Ubirajara Sobral and Maria Stela Gonçalves. Sao Paulo: Ed. Loyola, 2013.

Hugh, Victor. the workers of the sea. Trans. Machado de Assis. Sao Paulo: Ed. April, 1979.

Marcuse, Herbert. The one-dimensional man: the ideology of industrial society. Trans. Giasone Rebua. Rio de Janeiro: Jorge Zahar Editores, 1973.

Matos, Olgaria. "The Twilight of the Sages". In: The State of S. Paul, Notebook 2, November 15, 2009.

Order, Nuccio. The usefulness of the useless: a manifesto. Trans. Luiz Carlos Bombassaro. Rio de Janeiro: Zahar Editores, 2016.

Quintiliano, Marcos Fabio. public speaking institution. Translation, introduction and notes Bruno Fregni Bassetto. Campinas: Editora da Unicamp, 2015.

Silva, Franklin Leopoldo e. University, city, citizenship. Sao Paulo: Ed. Hedra, 2014.

Virillo, Paul. Vitesse et politique. Paris: Editions Galilee, 1977.


[I] Herbert Marcuse, “Towards Total Management,” p. 109

[ii] Marx apoud David Harvey.

[iii] The usefulness of the useless, P. 132.

[iv] Almeida, Eugenia. The mouth of the storm. Buenos Aires: Ediciones Documenta/Escénicas, 2015.

[v] "The twilight of the wise". The State of S. Paul, November 15, 2009.

[vi] On this list of perspective transformations, see especially Paul Virillo, speed and policy.

[vii] “The loss of training experience in the contemporary university”, pp. 86-7.

[viii] public speaking institution, I, 20.

[ix] This is what Saint Thomas Aquinas writes when he refers to the “Ingressum instruas, Progressum custodias, Egressum impleas”, whose possible translation is approximately: “Take care of the preparations, watch over the course and enjoy the fruits”. apud Jean Guitton, Intellectual labor, P. 30-1.

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