This column is presented by Gabrielle Halpern every Tuesday during the 12 o'clock news on Radio RCJ and offers a philosophical look at current events.
For the past few weeks, we have been hearing more and more about Chat GPT; a prototype conversational agent using artificial intelligence and able to generate answers to many questions. For some, Chat GPT could well replace teachers... This raises the following question: what is the purpose of school anymore? What is its role in society? And what about teachers: what do they symbolise? This is where we need to turn to Elias Canetti, one of the greatest intellectuals of the 20th century. Of Bulgarian origin and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1981, he lived in Austria, England, France and Switzerland. This great European hybridised cultures, ideas and languages, being a chemist, writer, philosopher and also a playwright.
In his autobiographical work, he offers us a definition of school that makes us think a lot. I quote: "All teachers offer a spectacle of astonishing diversity; it seems to me, moreover, that it is through contact with teachers that we become truly and for the first time aware of this diversity (...). All this contributes to making school something more than what it's supposed to be, namely the school of human diversity, and, if we take it at all seriously, the school of human knowledge.
What is Canetti trying to tell us? School is not simply the place where knowledge is transmitted and learned. Through the intermediary of teachers, it's where the eye is sharpened. It's where we learn what it is to be human. After our parents, our teachers are the first representatives of this humanity, whose diversity we are still discovering. School is the place where we learn to touch the singular and the universal with our fingertips; where we begin to understand the complexity and necessity of their interconnections. Each of our teachers, by appearing before our eyes every week, at the same time and in the same place, gives us a taste of otherness. A diversity that children will continue to encounter wherever they go when they grow up.
Yes, going to school means "experiencing the world" and, through this experience, through the people we meet every day, through the knowledge we acquire, we are transformed and learn to become human beings.