What is the justification of a large school in the society of our future? Large schools of higher education have the opportunity of uniting many differences under one roof. Students learn to broaden their horizon and to be part of a substantial, diverse population.
Especially when differences are put under pressure because of, for example, an explosion in Turkey and the aftermath is felt here in Rotterdam, it is up to the school to teach students how to deal with this. To this end the school needs to be an autonomous place with its own pedagogics, specific rules and a shared language. This warrants a central position for the professionals, who from a place of equality and autonomy will safeguard the quality of our education.
New forms of communality
Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences has a student population that is very diverse, and increasingly so. In addition many professional fields that we are educating towards are drastically changing as well. In both cases we are being challenged to find a new form of communality without forcing conformation.
That this communality is under pressure and that differences in the outside world are finding a way in, is noticeable when political unrest, such as in Turkey at the present time, spreads to The Netherlands, and in particular to Rotterdam. We have to be conscious of the response that we want to give about the lack of understanding between population groups that is taking on worrying proportions.
The communality that we can offer as a large school should be based on a type of ‘game rules’ that allow everyone to play a ‘warm away-game’. The international classroom as a model is a good example for this type of open inclusion. Students are being prepared for an international society by working together with classmates of other nationalities. Differences are a given. They will have a wider outlook by coming in contact with other ways and customs. Students share the same disorientation not being able to count on a standard majority.
The example of an international classroom and equal, curious, and respectful interaction is not a given. If we want to offer this to our classes with our diversity of students, then we have to create the correct context with the help of a constitution or ‘game rules’. Game rules that are pacifying, democratic, including respect for each other, each other’s religion, gender, and culture. This implies rules that will appeal to our sense of responsibility.
Everyone can be who they are, but we need to take responsibility for the common or public good. It also implies methodological rules that are similar to the methodological rules from the academic world: statements need to be valid and based on arguments. Finally there are rules with an inspirational and pedagogical character, encouraging students to think for themselves and hold each other accountable. For example by daring to deviate from a rule, actively engage in conversation, asking questions, reflecting on the other, or their culture.
Differences as a given
Not just in society, but also in the school do we need some such ‘constitution’. Especially in a polarising society in which cultural relativism – ‘that is your opinion’ –, and monism, when there is only the matter of one truth, are the exact opposites of one another. Both racism towards Dutch people with a migrant background, as well as ignoring the lack of democratic principles in minority groups of a radical nature, are undesirable developments. Within the school we want to practise pluralistic pedagogics. This educational theory acknowledges differences and recognises this condition, but also forces discussion and well-argued compromises to take place.
If within the school we accept this as our task then that means that as educator Gert Biesta states we have progressed beyond learning and qualification. For us it is about becoming a part of a school community as practice for society, but also for the subjectification of our students. Do the lecturers also stimulate our students to think critically and take a stand?
What does this mean for education professionals? If we do not define lectureship merely as qualifying that which can be controlled, then we should also not limit the professional with a form of management that does not do justice to the professional autonomy. Furthermore additional supervision limits the way in which one can learn from one’s mistakes, and can even influence professionals to avoid taking risks. It is better to hold one accountable for being animated and inspired about their area of expertise.
Large schools of higher education are meaningful if they can arrange themselves with small units of lecturers and professionals at the core. In doing so the school develops as a conglomerate of small pedagogical communities. Students may practice in this environment before entering the outside world, but are also confronted with the limit of thinking freely, namely when democratic values are at stake.
In this manner the school functions as a transitional space or time, between the private and public world. It is a link to society, in which the lecturer presents the world to the students. The Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences wants to educate, which entails challenging students to take part in this world.