Comparative Education: an inner treasure

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1 Research in Comparative and International Education Volume 3 Number RESEARCH IN Comparative & International Education Comparative Education: an inner treasure GIOVANNI PAMPANINI Co-opted Member of the World Council of Comparative Education Societies, ABSTRACT Inspired by his meeting with Nigel Grant at the beginning of the Nineties the author explains how this influenced and accompanied his career as a Comparative Education researcher and a teacher of Special Needs in Education, with a close, personal examination of the cultural themes of personal identity. Using an anecdotal, colloquial style, he demonstrates the importance, if not the necessity, for all Comparative Education and Intercultural researchers, in parallel to their research regarding the external and exterior aspects of their subject (comparison of different school systems, of educational reforms, of philosophies of education, etc.), to carry out a study into their own interior, personal aspects that will help them to define their own cultural identity and possible, inner diversities. In the author s opinion, understanding and practising such a interior route to Comparative Education can only lead to a more precise, aware use of those terms employed when describing the objects of external research. There can be no doubt that in the overall panorama of human and social sciences comparative education can be categorised as one of the subjects which require the researcher to look rationally and reasonably outside of him/herself. It is of little importance whether he/she is able to disentangle him/herself from the inner difficulties that the external objects identified by the research can bring to light or even provoke. In this article I wish to highlight, for those people interested in this field, that it is extremely important not to neglect that which I would call the inner or interior route to Comparative Education in fact, quite the contrary. By this I mean that I would like to underline how important it is that the comparative education researcher comprehends not only the human and spiritual importance but also the theoretical and strategic importance of knowing how to come to an awareness of him/herself, not only, and not so much, in psychological or psychoanalytical terms, but rather in cultural terms. In my opinion, it is only this self-knowledge that allows the researcher to grasp the multiple aspects, both semantic and metaphysical, that such objects can comprise. In order to emphasise the message of this article I have used a colloquial style, which is also more suitable for the anecdotal mode that I have chosen. I met Nigel Grant, the international Scot (Winther-Jensen, 2004), at an international conference at the beginning of the 1990s. At that time I was a not-very-international Italian educator, but I was particularly struck by his double-sided business card: on the one side printed in English and on the other in Scottish Gaelic. As I was not very international at that time, this card appeared very strange to me, a caprice on the part of a renowned member of the international scientific community. In effect, I must confess that at that time for me England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland meant more or less the same thing, as I believed there to be at most only a few internal differences like those existing between Lombardy, Romagna and Sicily, or, to be conceptually more generous, between Catalonia, Castile and Andalusia. The esteemed scholar affectionately gave me his card and I kept it as if he had honoured me with an exclusive secret; but the doubt that it was only the superficial, and fundamentally unimportant, mannerism of a star remained with me for 317

2 Giovanni Pampanini quite some time, at least until the next international conference when I had the opportunity to hear him speak. He was witty, complex (decidedly too fast for a non-english speaker), but very intriguing, and I was particularly impressed by the way in which, speaking about educational research in Europe objective research, therefore, with impersonal data Nigel Grant managed instead, little by little, to reveal the absolute subjectivity of the authors points of view in the researches that he was examining authors who, in their own opinion, were presumably sure that they had produced an irreproachable piece of work. Gradually the audience began to smell a rat, and someone started to laugh openly, but the most exhilarating moment came when, using a series of slides, Nigel demonstrated that objectively the centre of Europe was neither Paris nor Berlin, much less Brussels, but... his house in Scotland! In the meantime, I had matured internationally, but... before I continue, let me tell you something about my own educational adventure. At the beginning of the 1970s I was a high-school adolescent who helped with after-school activities in a working-class area of Palermo, the city where I was born. Then I spent a voluntary training period in the psychiatric hospital and in a centre for psychoanalysis, and I graduated in education in I studied logic, epistemology, languages (German, Arabic, Chinese and Russian) and history (in particular, archive-keeping research). In 1983 I started teaching Italian, history and philosophy in a town in the north of Italy, returning to Ragusa, Sicily in 1985 as a professional educator in psychiatry. I immediately found myself having to deal with the problem of North African immigrants clandestinely employed on Sicilian farms. During the same period, I was elected as a member of the National Council of Italian Educational Associations and as Italian representative of the International Association for Intercultural Education, then headed by Peter Batelaan and Jagdish Gundara; I also got to know well the late-lamented Ettore Gelpi, then in charge of Lifelong Education for UNESCO. Together with these three scholars I helped organise the first Euro-Arab Intercultural Education meeting in Ragusa in September 1992; it was in this context that I met Nigel Grant. I am, therefore, an educator having begun my training at sixteen years old as a simple tutor; then I broadened my foundations, studying psychiatry and psychoanalysis. After graduating I moved on to widespread in-depth cultural and scientific studies and began teaching. My next post as educator for children with learning difficulties and special educational needs made it possible for me to utilise my wider training. Thus, at that point I was an educator with particular training in special education but exclusively centred in the Italian geographical dimension. Access to the European, Mediterranean and international sphere was something that came relatively late in my education (in 1992 I was already 35 years old). The shock meeting with Nigel Grant (coupled with the contemporary introduction to Lê Thành Khôi) greatly contributed to raising doubts about my reference points, not only professional but also personal, which previously I had believed to be quite solid and beyond dispute. Why was a scholar of that area there, the Anglo-Saxon one, so concerned to show so much so as to underline it on his business card that, yes, he did belong to that geopolitical, cultural area but that he was also different? It will probably have been the effect of these lessons that Nigel gave me but, in any case, I started to draw objective lines across the Mediterranean to see if my house too in Catania, Sicily was by any chance, in some plausible way, at the centre of the basin; and when I discovered that, yes, it was, I began to worry about the fact that no one in Sicily seemed to be aware of the centrality to which we were indisputably entitled. The flows of immigrants in the Mediterranean began to increase greatly in the 1990s, and, not only for Arabs but also for Africans and Asians, Sicily became a point of passage as well as one of permanent residence. To my eyes it was as if not only Paris or London, to name only two cities universally recognised as cosmopolitan, but also Catania (Catania!) could be cosmopolitan too. It was as if the international slid inside the local just as in the Hebrew devequt metaphor the ocean slides into the drop of water. And it did not stop here: the migratory phenomenon was not in any way a new one, it was historical, ancient but I was only beginning to realise this now! Walking the streets the familiar ones of my town, I now stopped to reread some of the shop signs, translucently discovering the intercultural histories of the names of the families owning them real, true sagas families that had practised their commercial activities in Sicily from time immemorial: Arabs, Jews, Spaniards, English, French, Russians. I reread the beaches in the south of Sicily where I used to go swimming 318

3 Comparative Education: an inner treasure in summer from a different perspective: as a true Palermitan, coming from the Sicilian capital I had always regarded these areas with contempt, considering them abandoned, derelict the only exception of any importance being the Greek temples in Agrigento. Now, instead, I began to understand the ancient Greeks concept of beauty they who came so frequently oh! much more frequently than to the northern coasts, those of the Tyrrhenian, the only ones that I as a real provincial from the capital took seriously, because it was from there that one left to go to the first-class world the North! Instead it was to the coasts of Gela, Licata, Agrigento, Porto Empedocle, Selinunte, Marsala and Mazara del Vallo that the Africans, Greeks, Spanish and Turks had come for centuries and there that they had built sacred temples and theatres with breathtaking views to say nothing of their engineering works. In other words, it is not only now, since the 1990s, that the Mediterranean has become crowded: it always has been, even if the reasons for this congestion have changed over the centuries. In short, I was changing my inner view as an educator, my house. I began to study the Tunisian variety of the classical Arabic that I had studied for pleasure since the beginning of the 1980s and, above all, I began to see Tunisia as an interlocutory country, not only because of the low-cost manual workers that it sent us (an argument which, I believed, had nothing to do with me, belonging to the practical, political and economic field but which I now discovered was also educational), but also from the point of view of cultural and educational cooperation. After all, children of immigrants were beginning to arrive in the neuropsychiatric surgery where I worked, suffering from learning difficulties just like the immigrant Italian children of the 1960s who ended up in the German Sonderschulen. In this way I realised brutally that we Sicilians were guilty of keeping our eyes shut, only just covered by the perception to which the southern question had so well educated us of being always, perennially the bottom of the class, the class in question being the Italian nation. I can hardly manage to express here the sense of amazement which I first felt, to be followed by embarrassment, when I tried to bring this question to the attention of the National Council of Italian Education Associations and the SICESE, the Italian Section of CESE, Comparative Education Societies in Europe (of which I had in the meantime become a member) and noted how this attitude of disengagement was not only Sicilian, but national. Instead, the fact that my house was at the centre of the Mediterranean, just like Nigel s house was at the centre of Europe, greatly alarmed me. Too late, I realised that the difficulty of learning the abstruse Arab language did not hold up if compared with how the, often illiterate, Tunisians learnt both Italian and the Sicilian dialect and how they managed to make themselves understood: in the middle of the 1990s the large Tunisian community in Mazara del Vallo had not only begun to live once again in the kasbah built by their ancestors in the ninth century, but they had also begun to buy houses and engage in commercial activities (particularly in the fishing sector). The Tunis Provincial Education Office had asked for and obtained, from a school in the town, the use of some buildings to set up a Tunisian elementary school (in Tunisia it was the time of the newly approved Charfi reform of the educational system) and representatives of the Tunisian community were beginning to knock on Sicilian politicians doors to ask for common action and goals. In Vittoria and S. Croce Camerina well known as holiday resorts and for the archaeological excavations the Tunisians had even managed to achieve a presence in public institutions: I had been instrumental, thanks to an agreement with the Tunisian consul in Palermo, in getting about one hundred books written in Arabic onto the shelves of the local library (to the great embarrassment of the cataloguer). In the meantime, in Palermo the second Tunisian school opened at the same time, it should be noted, as the American schools set up in the military bases of Birgi (province of Trapani) and Sigonella (province of Catania). It is difficult to realise just how the Sicilian geopolitical situation was enriched and complicated if the usual arguments of the southern question were left to one side and one focused instead on/in the Mediterranean. And there was much to be gained: it was possible to achieve a new vision (and therefore a new theory ) of what it meant to be the tail of Italy, or to be on the edge of Fortress Europe, as Jagdish Gundara already called it in those times. I felt that Nigel s lesson was already starting to work inside me now my educational work to help children with special needs in education, in order to integrate them into normal schools, was provided with new meanings. The learning difficulty itself began to be removed from the conceptual limits of a mere technical- 319

4 Giovanni Pampanini medical fact and to take on metaphorical tones: what does it mean to have learning difficulties? What do the immigrants learn when they come to work clandestinely here and what do we learn about them? What is to be learned from meeting, from comparison? Who learns and who instead resists learning? Is culture a dormant fact, a book that is only waiting for a pair of hands to open it, or is it tension between two minds (in Ricoeur s view) that confront each other, an inter-esse? (Translator s note: the Italian noun inter-esse translates as interest, but esse comes from the Latin meaning to be, so the divided word should be taken to mean something that occurs among/is between people.) It is obvious that there are no easy answers to these questions. There are questions regarding the politics of culture and/or cultural politics that should be carefully considered. What culture is created, in fact, between two populations who confront each other, who now share the same living space, the same Lebenswelt? How can their differing interests be reconciled? And can culture help them? Lê Thành Khôi had already warned me: be careful not to let intercultural education become a mere factor of couscous and folklore. Ettore Gelpi had been no less severe: let us suppose that from now on all you Mediterraneans come to an agreement and work together to forward common aims. Great! However, do not forget your common history (and culture ) as exploiters of the wealth and lives of the non-mediterraneans above all, Africans and Asians, but also Latin Americans who also frequent your much-loved basin. In short: once you have settled the on the whole relative differences that exist among you Mediterraneans, if you want to go on thinking of yourselves as democratic, be careful not to create a second level of punitive difference to the expense detriment of the non-mediterraneans. At this point, the message was clear to me: it was necessary to link the ethical aspect of the absolutely vital dialogue among the various Mediterranean cultures with the scientific aspect, which was, instead, a feature of comparative education so as to join the ethical with the scientific. Moreover, the framework of a Mediterranean Society of Comparative Education open to contributions from non-mediterraneans had already been conceptually prepared (Pampanini, 2004a, 2005). However, once again, comparison and interculture intersected at different points, making it conceptually more difficult to know how to act. Did not the very fact that there existed in Sicily two Tunisian and two American schools (apart from the more traditional international schools, one in Palermo and one in Catania), as well as the national Italian education system, make it more complicated to speak of a pure comparison between national schools (for example, on the one hand the Italian system and on the other the Tunisian or American)? Not only that: the new generation of non-italian students (not to speak of those children born to mixed-nationality couples, or adopted) were growing up in the national Italian school system. That is to say, comparison here short-circuited because of the creolisation process as was also happening in many other parts of the world in the same period and interculture started to become a prominent aspect. Was I were we therefore discovering that the reasons for comparison, elucidated by Julien de Paris at the beginning of the nineteenth century, were disappearing in favour of a single, intercultural dimension? Perhaps so (or, at least, this is what I tried to argue in my courses at the University of Catania from 1999 on, and in Pampanini, 2004b). Certainly the intercultural aspect, although presupposing that the researcher comes equipped with educational-comparative knowledge, began to assume a centrality not only in educational research but also in educational practice itself. In effect, continuing to be a practitioner of special education, I was able to personally understand that within the educational operator, an interface is at work which greatly conditions the concept that he/she has of his/her own work. It is at this point that we return to the great refinement of Nigel s boutade his double-sided card, which still remained sphinx-like in my mind to be deciphered. It is when you approach the other, with the attitude of an educator (or as any other type of social worker), that you realise that you have within yourself different othernesses and samenesses which are waiting to be examined. Practising comparative and intercultural education has led me to travel and to visit cities that are very different from those in Sicily and Italy and to discover in this way how much our supposed samenesses are crammed with othernesses. For example, in Arab Jerusalem I discovered the 320

5 Comparative Education: an inner treasure prototype model of the fried-food shop, typical of my Palermo; the absolutely Palermitan pasta with sardines moreover, more typical than all the other Sicilian versions of the dish that exist today owes a great deal to Arab cuisine; in Spain, even some words that I had believed to come exclusively and originally from my Palermo, I heard used by normal people on the streets in their clearest version! My family itself derived from a combination that had nothing whatsoever to do with Sicily: up to a few generations ago it was Spanish on my mother s side, and up to only two generations ago Austrian on my father s (my great-grandfather spoke German and did not understand Italian while now I find myself studying German for pleasure!). Even my name, Giovanni, has Jewish-Arab roots as a Palestinian doctor friend of mine informed me, iun means live: how Italian I am! I do not know whether Nigel Grant would have accepted these reflections as the fruit that I developed from his perhaps innocent act of giving me his business card. Understanding the differences within the samenesses was for me the greatest inference that his gesture had. Nevertheless, it seems to me particularly urgent that all comparative and intercultural education researchers supplement their external research that is directed towards educational systems, educational philosophies, budgets and reforms with a deep examination of themselves, their inner selves, their languages and conceptual ideas as regards what constitutes the model for the good educator, the good student (for educational archetypes permit me to refer you to Pampanini, 2006) and good educational practices ; in short: with regard to the suppositions from which they study and express judgements and make recommendations with reference to the objects of their research. Certainly in this sense, being an educator is a great help to me, as compared with other comparative education colleagues: it has, in fact, been verified that the majority of comparative education authors are not practising educators, but rather are researchers on education (Bray, 2007). This is a pity, because the exceptional developments in modern-day communications now make it possible to bypass the enormous problems in collecting data that researchers older than myself suffered and to move directly to the observation and study of the educational problems to be examined. Anthropological and ethnomethodological knowledge to name but two types of the cultural and educational contexts to be studied (including ourselves) is part not only of a qualitative complement that is fundamental to statistical-quantitative type research (as Masemann, Broadfoot, Crossley, Phillips and others have already recognised), but is perhaps only the threshold from which to enter the infinitely rich inner world of the comparative educator-researcher but only on condition that he/she courageously, resolutely takes the direction, that I have indicated here, of interior intercultural and inter-linguistic research. If, as they say, Alexander von Humboldt breakfasted in one language, lunched in another, took tea in a third and dined in a fourth, in order to remain fluent in many languages, the possibility that ICT opens up to us today (besides that of never missing any international meeting if only we have the energy and competence) is that of practising and making ours all the educational problems faced by all our colleagues in the world. The whole international, educational, scientific community finds itself today in the effective condition of being able to share educational problems and cooperate reciprocally to identify the optimum solutions but, again, only on condition that the comparative educator, even more than any other type of educator, is prepared to open him/herself to intercultural and inter-linguistic research, which is primarily of an interior nature. Only by viewing the problems from within the cultural perspective in which they were conceived is it possible to take them on board; and vice versa, only colleagues who share our cultural tradition, that in which we find ourselves working and understanding our educational problems, can seriously participate in our efforts to resolve them. Personally, I thank Nigel Grant for having made me understand how important it is to deeply understand ourselves in cultural terms, before starting to try to solve any important external problems. I attribute to him the in nuce discovery of this rich, cultural and intercultural interior route to comparative education. Note English translation from the original Italian version by Joy Redican. 321

6 Giovanni Pampanini References Bray, M. (2007) Actors and Purposes in Comparative Education, in M. Bray, B. Adamson & M. Mason (Eds) Comparative Education Research: approaches and methods, Hong Kong: Comparative Education Research Centre. Pampanini, G. (2004a) The Mediterranean Society of Comparative Education, Mediterranean Journal of Educational Studies, 9(2), Pampanini, G. (2004b) Critical Essay on Comparative Education. Catania Catania: Cooperativa Universitaria Editrice Catanese di Magistero. Pampanini, G. (2005) L éducation dans la Méditerranée, preface par Lê Thành Khôi. Catania: Cooperativa Universitaria Editrice Catanese di Magistero. Pampanini, G. (2006) Wisdom and Madness: a comparative study on educational archetypes. Catania: Cooperativa Universitaria Editrice Catanese di Magistero. Winther-Jensen, T. (2004) Nigel Grant An International Scot, Comparative Education, 40(1), GIOVANNI PAMPANINI, born in Palermo in 1957, graduated in Education cum laude in 1980 from the University of Palermo. He was a voluntary worker from 1973 to 1976 in an afterschool activity centre and in Palermo Mental Hospital from 1976 to He was a middle-school teacher from 1983 to 1985 and then a professional educator for children with special needs in Education working for the National Health Service from 1985 till now. A Contract Professor of Comparative and Intercultural Education at the University of Catania from 1999 to 2004, he founded the ME.S.C.E., Mediterranean Society of Comparative Education in As proponent of the XIII WCCES Congress, he was WCCES Vice President from 2005 to 2007, and he is now a WCCES co-opted Member until His publications include: La complessità in educazione (Roma, Armando, 2001); Illuminismo pedagogico (Catania, CUECM, 2006; Spanish Translation: Iluminismo pedagogico, Buenos Aires, Altamira, 2008); The Reasoning and Its Flaws (Catania, CUECM, 2007). Correspondence: Giovanni Pampanini, Via Vezzosi 26, I Catania, Italy 322

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