Thursday, September 14, 2017

The United States vs Spain: a graduate’s dilemma

EL PAÍS English Edition summer intern Henry Hahn reflects on his time abroad and the differences between interning in Spain and in the US

As I wrap up my final week of an incredible internship at EL PAÍS (and a life-changing summer abroad), preparing to return to the United States for my final year of college, I can’t help but fixate on one of my favorite films of all time: Mike Nichol’s 1967 classic The Graduate. More specifically, I’m compelled to think of its opening title sequence, in which Dustin Hoffman, returning home from college, drifts along a moving walkway against a bland white wall at LAX airport, set to Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence.” The opening scene is a portending metaphor for how adolescent life in America can be viewed as a forced pathway – a straight line, on which you are almost vacuously propelled forward from the time you are born, with little purpose and little choice for direction – only to be thrown out into the wild upon graduating from college.

Henry Hahn at the EL PAÍS office in Madrid.
Henry Hahn at the EL PAÍS office in Madrid.

Though the film was made 50 years ago, the statement feels more pertinent than ever. Through the succeeding decades, it seems that the capitalist obsession on fixed paths in America has only intensified – that the infamous walkway of adolescence has only been elongated and accelerated.
Today, American students seeking admission to prestigious universities are advised to spend their high school summers engaged in an assortment of jobs, internships, and academic programs. The expectation continues through college summers, as students strive to secure coveted internships to bolster their resumes in time for graduation. The ideal maneuver is to land a gig at a large corporation the summer before your senior year – say, at a bank, a consulting firm, or a tech company – in the hopes of being given a return offer on your last day, saving you from the job search frenzy of senior year. Hence, the smoothest of transitions that allows the moving walkway to carry on, unimpeded.
After years of adhering to the process myself, I eventually burnt out. Just as I was approaching my final college summer – the most pivotal one of a young job seeker’s life, I rebelled and sought an unpaid internship in Spain – a land stereotyped in my mind by fiesta and siesta.

But during the months I’ve spent here, I’ve also gotten to see a more nuanced picture. Through the friends I’ve made, I’ve been given a privileged perspective on the difficulties surrounding the culture of work for young Spaniards. While, by contrast, there’s little to no pressure here for students to work internships during their college summers, whether or not they choose to do so ultimately has little impact on the reality they face upon graduating: in some sectors, it’s nearly impossible to find jobs straight out of college.
Two of my initial roommates when I arrived in June were biology students who had just graduated from the Autonomous University of Madrid, which boasts the best program in the field. One had just received her undergraduate degree, the other, his master’s. Both were working in coffee shops. Lacking nearly perfect grades, they were left jobless and contemplating grad school (yet, understandably, struggling to find the funds to pay for it). They resentfully attributed the absence of available jobs to a lack of investment in the sciences by the ruling PP party.

When I arrived in June, two of my roommates had just graduated with degrees in biology. They were both working in coffee shops

Others I met, who did manage to secure work (usually in more business-oriented sectors), seemed only slightly less unfortunate – plagued with low wages and long working hours. As I learned from them, many companies try to pigeonhole young prospects into internships or part-time roles for as long as possible to save on costs (typical intern salaries in Spain range from €600 to €900 per month). Given the higher-than-average unemployment in Spain as a result of the 2007 economic downturn, the market of young professionals is easily exploited.
One friend told me that it’s almost impossible to secure a full-time job with less than two years experience as an intern first. If you try to switch companies in the middle of this process, you’re often forced to start from square one. As a result, he ended up staying on an extra year as an intern at a company he didn’t enjoy working at to avoid demotion. He also took issue with the quality of work offered to young employees here. While applying for internships at many large American tech companies, he noticed that their Spanish branches often merely wanted interns to do dirty work – number crunching and basic data analysis – a notable contrast from the more educational and holistic internship programs offered in the US and elsewhere.
Another friend, working a low-salary job in Spain from Sweden, noted the difference in the daily schedule of a Spanish office. While Spaniards are accustomed to working long hours – often 12 hour days from 9am to 9pm – they are typically less productive, taking long lunch and coffee breaks. Though he didn’t necessarily enjoy this alternative system, he said the group mentality of his office made it difficult to do anything other than go along with it. If you wanted to be accepted socially by your co-workers, you were staying until 9pm.

Many Spanish companies pigeonhole graduates into internships, paying as little as €600 a month

Though he had hoped to transition to another job with a better salary, he was unsuccessful in his search and forced to return home. Even a bachelor’s degree and EU papers, fluency in three languages (English, Spanish, and Swedish) and previous work experience in the country were apparently not enough to expect a living wage in a high-skill job.
Nor can young Spaniards easily just pick up and move to another European country. I initially had just assumed that EU nations function exactly as states do in America, but it’s not a perfect analogy. Without the right connections or superior grades, it’s often difficult for a Spanish student to secure a well-paid, high-skill job in another country without prior work experience first. So moving abroad after school often just means waiting tables in a different country.
While some remain optimistic despite the difficulties they face, the recent biology graduate had a terse and despairing tone when I inquired about her possible options. “We’re screwed. We’re stuck here, and we’re screwed.” Addressing my situation directly, she continued: “America may not be a perfect country, but you have no idea how much I wish I could have been raised there.” Naturally, the comment struck me. There I was – sharing a tinto de verano with my friend at a quiet bodega late on a Wednesday night (something I would never do back home), enchanted by this country and its way of life, but also, in that very instant, humbled and reminded that I was only a tourist. Perhaps I had taken for granted all the opportunities I had been afforded back home.

If you want to be accepted socially by your co-workers, that can mean staying at work until 9pm

Still, I remain perplexed and defiant. Can there really be no compromise between the rigorous grind in America, which I felt deprived me of my adolescence, and the system in Spain, which limits many adolescents in their ability to transition to adulthood? (Most Spaniards live at home with their parents until their late 20s, a considerable number of them not by choice.)
Regardless, I find myself in quite the predicament. I would love to return to Spain when I finish school. It’s been a remarkable experience, and I don’t think I’ve had enough. But I only want to come back on the pretense of having a comfortable job – an aim that seems unattainable as a Spaniard, let alone an American lacking EU papers.
Perhaps it’s time to step off the moving walkway for real, entering the real world without concern for how much money I’ll make and without an immediate answer to what I’m going to do with my life. We’ll have to see if the work-obsessed American in me is up to such a task. I still have a year to decide. Until then, I’ll just be drifting along – like Dustin Hoffman – bleakly contemplating the void that not only awaits me, but that awaits many of the friends I have made here as well. Despite whatever sobering realities it has forced me to confront, the time I’ve spent in Spain and the people I’ve met here are far too special to ever forget. (El País English edition,30.08.17)

The day will come when bullfighting is history

Two centuries have not completely cured the Spanish of the savagery involved in a “fiesta” that involves the slow death of an animal. By 

Two centuries ago, the horses were disemboweled in the middle of the bullfight, and then stitched up in the square to stretch out the rest of their useful lives in front of the bulls that are trying to kill them, and who also going to die. This is the story told by Robert Hughes in his splendid book Goya, which devotes several pages to the fight against bullfighting as part of a modernizing eagerness that the enlightened tried – unsuccessfully – to wage in Spain. 

In some aspects, we have evolved. The horses no longer die gutted in the ring. Pro-bullfighting people are outraged by the criticism they receive, but they know – or should know – that throughout history various political figures andmovements opposed bullfighting. Carlos III, a king who undeniably brought some good things to Spain, tried to ban the bulls in 1771. Carlos IV did too. In an act of brazen populism, King Joseph I Bonaparte, however, celebrated his coronation with a bullfight. Bread and circus was a formula that worked well for the Romans, and the Enlightenment could not get rid of it.
Pro-bullfighting people are outraged by the criticism they receive, but they should know that various political figures and movements opposed it
Two centuries have not completely cured us of the savagery, backwardness or extravagance that – for some, with an opinion just as respectable as others – comes with enjoying a “fiesta” that guarantees the death of an animal. But at least time has allowed us to advance within its limits.
Other things are happening in Spain besides the independence referendum in Catalonia. One of those things was the release last week of the documentaryTauromaquia, from Jaime Alekos, and presented by PACMA, a Spanish animal rights group. His camera recorded actual images of bullfights from the bull’s point of view, including the animal’s terror, trembling, feces, and all the other symptoms of humiliation the tortured experiences. It only provokes compassion, without the typical epic and brave interpretations of bullfights.
In his documentary Land Without Bread (1933), Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel captured how fiancés in Las Hurdes, a mountainous region in western Spain, had to prove their manhood by ripping the heads off of chickens on a rope. If they failed, they would keep trying until they had the skull in their hands. The movie also showed depictions of incest leading to deformities and extreme hunger in the western Extremadura region of Spain.
It may take decades for our grandchildren to be horrified by the Spain of the documentary ‘Tauromaquia’
Spain is progressing little by little in many matters – even when it comes to the abuse of animals. The beheadings of hens and ducks, and the throwing of goats from a bell tower, seem to have been consigned to history. Bullfighting has been banned in some places, although the issue remains in court; and this summer authorities in the Balearic Islands prohibited the death of the animal at the event, as is the case in Portugal. Horses are no longer gutted and sewn back up in town squares.
Progress is gradual. It may take decades for our grandchildren to be horrified by the Spain of the documentary Tauromaquia, just as we are horrified today by the Spain of Goya or Buñuel. But it will come. (El País English edition. English version by Debora Almeida. 12.09.17)

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

How to Concentrate in a Multi-task World

May 4, 2009

Imagine that you have ditched your laptop and turned off your smartphone. You are beyond the reach of YouTube, Facebook, e-mail, text messages. You are in a Twitter-free zone, sitting in a taxicab with a copy of “Rapt,” a guide by Winifred Gallagher to the science of paying attention.

The book’s theme, which Ms. Gallagher chose after she learned she had an especially nasty form of cancer, is borrowed from the psychologist William James: “My experience is what I agree to attend to.” You can lead a miserable life by obsessing on problems. You can drive yourself crazy trying to multitask and answer every e-mail message instantly.
Or you can recognize your brain’s finite capacity for processing information, accentuate the positive and achieve the satisfactions of what Ms. Gallagher calls the focused life. It can sound wonderfully appealing, except that as you sit in the cab reading about the science of paying attention, you realize that ... you’re not paying attention to a word on the page.
The taxi’s television, which can’t be turned off, is showing a commercial of a guy in a taxi working on a laptop — and as long as he’s jabbering about how his new wireless card has made him so productive during his cab ride, you can’t do anything productive during yours.
Why can’t you concentrate on anything except your desire to shut him up? And even if you flee the cab, is there any realistic refuge anymore from the Age of Distraction?
I put these questions to Ms. Gallagher and to one of the experts in her book, Robert Desimone, a neuroscientist at M.I.T. who has been doing experiments somewhat similar to my taxicab TV experience. He has been tracking the brain waves of macaque monkeys and humans as they stare at video screens looking for certain flashing patterns.
When something bright or novel flashes, it tends to automatically win the competition for the brain’s attention, but that involuntary bottom-up impulse can be voluntarily overridden through a top-down process that Dr. Desimone calls “biased competition.” He and colleagues have found that neurons in the prefrontal cortex — the brain’s planning center — start oscillating in unison and send signals directing the visual cortex to heed something else.
These oscillations, called gamma waves, are created by neurons’ firing on and off at the same time — a feat of neural coordination a bit like getting strangers in one section of a stadium to start clapping in unison, thereby sending a signal that induces people on the other side of the stadium to clap along. But these signals can have trouble getting through in a noisy environment.
“It takes a lot of your prefrontal brain power to force yourself not to process a strong input like a television commercial,” said Dr. Desimone, the director of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at M.I.T. “If you’re trying to read a book at the same time, you may not have the resources left to focus on the words.”
Now that neuroscientists have identified the brain’s synchronizing mechanism, they’ve started work on therapies to strengthen attention. In the current issue of Nature, researchers from M.I.T., Penn and Stanford report that they directly induced gamma waves in mice by shining pulses of laser light through tiny optical fibers onto genetically engineered neurons. In the current issue of Neuron, Dr. Desimone and colleagues report progress in using this “optogenetic” technique in monkeys.
Ultimately, Dr. Desimone said, it may be possible to improve your attention by using pulses of light to directly synchronize your neurons, a form of direct therapy that could help people with schizophrenia and attention-deficit problems (and might have fewer side effects than drugs). If it could be done with low-wavelength light that penetrates the skull, you could simply put on (or take off) a tiny wirelessly controlled device that would be a bit like a hearing aid.
In the nearer future, neuroscientists might also help you focus by observing your brain activity and providing biofeedback as you practice strengthening your concentration. Researchers have already observed higher levels of synchrony in the brains of people who regularly meditate.
Ms. Gallagher advocates meditation to increase your focus, but she says there are also simpler ways to put the lessons of attention researchers to use. Once she learned how hard it was for the brain to avoid paying attention to sounds, particularly other people’s voices, she began carrying ear plugs with her. When you’re trapped in a noisy subway car or a taxi with a TV that won’t turn off, she says you have to build your own “stimulus shelter.”
She recommends starting your work day concentrating on your most important task for 90 minutes. At that point your prefrontal cortex probably needs a rest, and you can answer e-mail, return phone calls and sip caffeine (which does help attention) before focusing again. But until that first break, don’t get distracted by anything else, because it can take the brain 20 minutes to do the equivalent of rebooting after an interruption. (For more advice, go to
“Multitasking is a myth,” Ms. Gallagher said. “You cannot do two things at once. The mechanism of attention is selection: it’s either this or it’s that.” She points to calculations that the typical person’s brain can process 173 billion bits of information over the course of a lifetime.
“People don’t understand that attention is a finite resource, like money,” she said. “Do you want to invest your cognitive cash on endless Twittering or Net surfing or couch potatoing? You’re constantly making choices, and your choices determine your experience, just as William James said.”
During her cancer treatment several years ago, Ms. Gallagher said, she managed to remain relatively cheerful by keeping in mind James’s mantra as well as a line from Milton: “The mind is its own place, and in itself/ Can make a heav'n of hell, a hell of heav'n.”
“When I woke up in the morning,” Ms. Gallagher said, “I’d ask myself: Do you want to lie here paying attention to the very good chance you’ll die and leave your children motherless, or do you want to get up and wash your face and pay attention to your work and your family and your friends? Hell or heaven — it’s your choice."

Thursday, August 17, 2017

US federal department is censoring use of term 'climate change'

Series of emails show staff at Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service advised to reference ‘weather extremes’ instead

Oliver Milman in New York
The Guardian, Monday 7 August 2017 

Staff at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) have been told to avoid using the term climate change in their work, with the officials instructed to reference “weather extremes” instead.

A series of emails obtained by the Guardian between staff at the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), a USDA unit that oversees farmers’ land conservation, show that the incoming Trump administration has had a stark impact on the language used by some federal employees around climate change.

A missive from Bianca Moebius-Clune, director of soil health, lists terms that should be avoided by staff and those that should replace them. “Climate change” is in the “avoid” category, to be replaced by “weather extremes”. Instead of “climate change adaption”, staff are asked to use “resilience to weather extremes”.

The primary cause of human-driven climate change is also targeted, with the term “reduce greenhouse gases” blacklisted in favor of “build soil organic matter, increase nutrient use efficiency”. Meanwhile, “sequester carbon” is ruled out and replaced by “build soil organic matter”. In her email to staff, dated 16 February this year, Moebius-Clune said the new language was given to her staff and suggests it be passed on. 

In a separate email to senior employees on 24 January, just days after Trump’s inauguration, Jimmy Bramblett, deputy chief for programs at the NRCS, said: “It has become clear one of the previous administration’s priority is not consistent with that of the incoming administration. Namely, that priority is climate change. Please visit with your staff and make them aware of this shift in perspective within the executive branch.”

Some staff weren’t enamored with the new regime, with one employee stating on an email on 5 July that “we would prefer to keep the language as is” and stressing the need to maintain the “scientific integrity of the work”.

Trump has repeatedly questioned the veracity of climate change research, infamously suggesting that it is part of an elaborate Chinese hoax. The president has started the process of withdrawing the US from the Paris climate agreement, has instructed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to scrap or amend various regulations aimed at cutting greenhouse gases, and has moved to open up more public land and waters to fossil fuel activity.

The nomenclature of the federal government has also shifted as these new priorities have taken hold. Mentions of the dangers of climate change have been removed from the websites of the White House and the Department of the Interior, while the EPA scrapped its entire online climate section in April pending a review that will be “updating language to reflect the approach of new leadership”.

The series of emails. Some parts were redacted before the emails were released. The Guardian has further redacted phone numbers, and highlighted key passages.
“These records reveal Trump’s active censorship of science in the name of his political agenda,” said Meg Townsend, open government attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

I Can't Believe I Still Have To Protest This Fucking Shit

Following a proposition in Poland to ban abortion, pro-choice women such as this one began protesting on October 3rd, 2016, many not going to work and taking to the streets.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Black Mirror

Black Mirror is a British science fiction television series created by Charlie Brooker and centred around dark and satirical themes that examine modern society, particularly with regard to the unanticipated consequences of new technologies, reminding us that to revere our digital gadgets is to become their pathetic slaves. Episodes are standalone works, usually set in an alternative present or the near future. All genuinely unsettling and thought-provoking.

Stories tap into the collective unease about our modern world. Over the last then years, technology has transformed almost every aspect of our lives before we've had time to stop and question it. In every home; on every desk; in every palm -a plasma screen, a monitor, a smartphone- a black mirror of our 21st Century existence. A must-watch series. Take my word for it.

Check list of Black Mirror 13 episodes on Wikipedia for plot summaries.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

El canon de la tribu

Estamos en la era de la opinión. La Red ofrece una multitud de tribunas desde las que cualquier ciudadano puede opinar, públicamente, de cualquier cosa. La compulsión de opinar ha arraigado de tal forma en el siglo XXI que hoy es posible opinar públicamente incluso aunque no haya un público que reciba nuestra opinión.
Opinar es parte de nuestra naturaleza, desde luego, pero nunca la opinión del ciudadano común había tenido tanto impacto en la realidad. No solo todos tienen el derecho de opinar en la Red, también se les alienta permanentemente a hacerlo; el político pide la opinión de sus simpatizantes para orientar su programa, de la misma forma en que quien vende lavadoras o gomina para el pelo pide a su clientela que opine para mejorar, y mejor vender, su producto. Hoy la calidad de un objeto, de una obra, de una persona, se mide, sobre todo, por la cantidad de likes u opiniones positivas que consiga sumar.
Podría decirse que en la Red, y esto es tanto como decir que en la vida real, se ha establecido una suerte de hiperdemocracia: nada se mueve sin la voluntad del pueblo y uno de los efectos de esta novedosa situación es que el sabio de la tribu, esa figura milenaria que hasta hace poco nos iluminaba con sus conocimientos, está siendo desplazado por la opinión masiva de la tribu.
La música, las películas, los libros son valiosos porque proponen una nueva mirada sobre el mundo, porque nos enseñan a pensar y a reflexionar de otra manera
Veamos el caso sintomático y muy reciente de los nuevos vinos que se están produciendo en el Estado norteamericano de California. Cada vez son más los viñedos que diseñan sus caldos de acuerdo a los gustos de la clientela; los enólogos ya no proponen el vino que les dicta su sabiduría y su inspiración, sino el que les dice la opinión, vertida permanentemente por la clientela en la Red; de esa opinión, de la que sale una información minuciosa y precisa sobre las preferencias de la colectividad.
El resultado es un vino rigurosamente popular, con un éxito contundente en el mercado, que difiere radicalmente de lo que un conocedor o un enólogo llamaría un buen vino, pues del promedio de los gustos de la clientela sale un caldo dulzón y poco sofisticado. Los vinos diseñados a golpe de opinión no son buenos y sin embargo van a terminar imponiéndose en el mercado porque cuentan con una base más amplia de clientes, esos que antes no estaban interesados en el vino, y esto los convierte en más rentables que los vinos diseñados por un experto, por un sabio que propone a partir de sus conocimientos.
Como el futuro se inventa hoy en California, lo que está sucediendo con estos vinos va a empezar a pasar en el resto del mundo, como ya pasa con las películas y las series en Netflix y con la música en Spotify, dos plataformas que prescinden de la opinión del sabio y que proponen obras a partir de la suma de opiniones que los clientes han emitido previamente.
Así como el enólogo, el crítico de cine y el de música empiezan a ser desplazados por la opinión de la colectividad, también el librero, el experto que jerarquiza los libros en las librerías, empieza a perder terreno con la reciente inauguración, en Nueva York, de la primera tienda física de la cadena Amazon. En esta librería, como ha sucedido tradicionalmente en su página web, la distribución de los libros, su visibilidad en las mesas y en las estanterías, obedece no al valor de las obras, sino al promedio de las opiniones conocidas de los clientes.
La opinión de la tribu produce artefactos populares que se venden muy bien pero que, al reflejar por fuerza el gusto de la medianía, reducen el horizonte de las obras, entre las cuales incluyo, desde luego, a los vinos. La medianía que genera la opinión popular, vertida en la Red como único baremo, nos escatima el horizonte, reduce nuestras posibilidades de elección y nos empobrece. Pero también, si estamos atentos, nos invita a buscar más allá del dictado de la multitud.
La música, las películas, los libros son valiosos en la medida en que se separan de la medianía, son importantes porque proponen una nueva mirada sobre el mundo, porque nos enseñan a pensar y a reflexionar de otra manera. Precisamente son valiosos porque no son la voz de la tribu, sino la del sabio que propone un nuevo camino.
Jordi Soler es escritor. El País, 22 de julio de 2017

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Autodisciplina desde la escuela

“Hay que recuperar la disciplina y la autoridad en la escuela”

La exasesora en educación del Gobierno sueco Inger Enkvist se posiciona en contra de las nuevas metodologías educativas. Por ANA TORRES MENÁRGUEZ, El País, 13 de julio de 2017

No es fácil encontrar una opinión como la de Inger Enkvist (Värmland, Suecia 1947). Mientras la mayoría de los gurús educativos abogan por terminar con las filas de pupitres, con los formatos de clase encorsetados y por dar más libertad a los alumnos dentro del aula, Envist, antigua asesora del Ministerio de Educación sueco, cree que ha que recuperar la disciplina y la autoridad de los docentes en las clases: "Los niños tienen que desarrollar hábitos sistemáticos de trabajo y para eso necesitan que un adulto les guíe. Aprender requiere esfuerzo y, si se deja a los alumnos elegir, esto simplemente no sucede."

La profesora y experta en educación Inger Enkvist en la Universidad de Lund.
La profesora y experta en educación Inger Enkvist en la Universidad de Lund. JONAS ANDERSSON

Catedrática de Español en la Universidad de Lund (Suecia), Enkvist comenzó su carrera educativa como profesora de Secundaria y durante más de treinta años se ha dedicado a estudiar y comparar los sistemas educativos de diferentes países del mundo. Además de la publicación de libros como La buena y la mala educación (Encuentro, 2011), ha publicado más de 250 artículos sobre educación.
Enkvist compareció el pasado marzo en la comisión de Educación del Congreso de los Diputados para aportar su visión sobre el modelo educativo en España, del que echa en falta motivación por parte del profesorado y una reformulación de los grados en Maestro en Educación Infantil y Primaria -nombre de la carrera de Magisterio tras el Plan Bolonia- para intentar captar a los mejores estudiantes. 
Pregunta. Las nuevas corrientes de innovación educativa reclaman un papel más activo por parte de los alumnos. Acabar con las clases magistrales y crear metodologías que impliquen acción por parte del estudiante. ¿Por qué se opone a ese modelo?
Respuesta. La nueva pedagogía promueve la antiescuela. Los colegios se crearon con el objetivo de que los alumnos aprendieran lo que la sociedad había decidido que era útil. ¿Cuál es el propósito de la escuela si el estudiante decide lo que quiere hacer? Estas corrientes quieren enfatizar al máximo la libertad del alumno, cuando éste lo que necesita es una enseñanza sistemática y muy estructurada, sobre todo si tenemos en cuenta los problemas de distracción de los niños. Si no se aprende en Primaria a ser ordenado y a aceptar la autoridad del maestro, es difícil que se haga más tarde. El alumno no siempre va a estar motivado para aprender. Hace falta esfuerzo.
P. En su libro cuestiona la creencia de que todos los niños quieren aprender y, por lo tanto, es una buena opción dejar que tomen la iniciativa y aprendan solos. ¿Cuáles son sus argumentos en contra?
R. Esto nunca ha sido así. Es una idea romántica que viene de Rousseau; dar por hecho que el ser humano es inocente, bien intencionado y bueno. Un niño puede concentrarse en una tarea por iniciativa propia, pero normalmente será en el juego. Aprender a leer y escribir o matemáticas básicas requiere trabajo y nadie se siente llamado a dedicar un esfuerzo tan grande a asimilar una materia tan complicada. Se necesita apoyo, estímulos y algún tipo de recompensa, como la sonrisa de un profesor o la felicitación de los padres. 
P. ¿Qué se debería recuperar del antiguo modelo de educación?
R. Tener claro que el profesor organiza el trabajo del aula. Si los alumnos planifican su propio trabajo se hace muy complicado que obtengan buenos resultados y eso desmotiva al profesor, que no quiere responsabilizarse de algo que no funciona. Estas metodologías están alejando de las aulas a los profesores más competentes. Ya no se considera beneficioso que el adulto transmita sus conocimientos a los alumnos y se fomenta que los jóvenes se interesen por las materias siguiendo su propio ritmo. En un ambiente así no es posible enseñar porque no existe la confianza necesaria en la figura del profesor. Vivir en lo inmediato sin exigencias es todo lo contrario a la buena educación. 
P. Usted ha calificado el autoaprendizaje como contraproducente. Pero una vez que finaliza la formación obligatoria y los estudiantes consiguen un trabajo, el mercado laboral cambia rápido y se pueden ver obligados a reciclarse y cambiar de profesión. ¿No cree que es buena idea enseñarles desde pequeños a tomar la iniciativa en el aprendizaje?
R. Esa es la gran falacia de la nueva pedagogía. Los niños tienen que aprender contenidos, y no el llamado aprender a aprender. Solo con decir a los alumnos que tomen decisiones no van a saber hacerlo. Pongo un ejemplo. El Gobierno sueco ofrece cursos de formación para adultos y su desesperación llega cuando solo se apuntan ciudadanos con un perfil educativo alto. Les interesa y lo encuentran útil y por eso tienen ánimos para empezar. Si uno aprende un contenido, piensa que es capaz y que en el futuro podrá volver a hacerlo. ¿Quién es más adaptable y más flexible al perder un trabajo? El que ya tiene una base de conocimientos, el que cuenta con más recursos interiores y eso lo proporciona la educación. Cuanta más autodisciplina, más posibilidades tienes por delante y menos desesperado te sentirás ante una situación límite.
P. Hay un gran debate en cuanto a la utilidad de los exámenes. Algunos expertos defienden que en la vida adulta no se dan ese tipo de pruebas y que lo importante es haber desarrollado habilidades para adaptarse a diferentes entornos.
R. Esa es la visión de alguien que no sabe cómo funciona el mundo de los niños. En la vida adulta, todos tenemos fechas tope, momentos de entregar un texto y esto se aprende en la escuela. Con los exámenes el niño aprende a responsabilizarse y entiende que no presentarse a una prueba tiene consecuencias; no lo repetirán para él. Si no cumplimos con nuestras obligaciones en la vida adulta, pronto nos veremos descartados de los ambientes profesionales. Los exámenes ayudan a desarrollar hábitos sistemáticos de trabajo. 
P. ¿Por qué cree que el modelo actual de escuela no permite que nadie destaque?
R. El colegio no es neutro, no todos van a aprender igual. En las aulas se dan unos desequilibrios enormes en un mismo grupo, puede haber hasta seis años de diferencia intelectual entre los alumnos. La escuela debería mantener a los niños con diferentes capacidades juntos hasta los once años y a partir de ahí ofrecer diferentes niveles para las asignaturas más complejas. En algunas escuelas públicas de Alemania se hace. Para los que no lo entiendan pongo un ejemplo. Imagina meter en una misma clase a 30 adultos con niveles socioculturales e intereses totalmente dispares y pretender que aprendan juntos. Eso es lo que estamos pidiendo a nuestros hijos. En menos de una semana habría una rebelión.

P. La escuela mata la creatividad, según el pedagogo británico Ken Robinson.
R. Lo más sencillo es pensar en un músico de jazz. Parece que está improvisando, jugando. ¿Cómo puede hacerlo? Sabe 500 melodías de memoria y usa trozos de esas piezas de forma elegante. Lo ha repetido tantas veces que parece que lo hace sin esfuerzo. La teoría es necesaria para que surja la creatividad. 
P. Si hablamos de los contenidos que se aprenden en la escuela. ¿Cree que habría que modernizarlos?
R. Una profesora española me contó que uno de sus alumnos le dijo en clase que para qué le serviría estudiar a Unamuno, que qué aplicación práctica podía tener. Necesitamos conocer la situación de nuestro país, saber de dónde venimos. Con Unamuno se aprende un modelo de reacción, que no tiene porqué adoptarse, pero conocerla te ayuda a elaborar tu propia forma de ver el mundo. 

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Las campanas doblan por los toros

Activistas antitaurinos, este miércoles en Pamplona.
Activistas antitaurinos, este miércoles en Pamplona.  EFE

La ocupación hotelera en Pamplona es este año inferior a otros, como es menor la afluencia a los toros en una España donde el rechazo a la fiesta crece entre las nuevas generaciones. El arranque de la fiesta fue precedido este miércoles, como está siendo habitual, por una manifestación de antitaurinos. Ada Colau reiteró recientemente su veto a los toros en Barcelona a pesar de que el Constitucional anulara la ley catalana que prohibía las corridas. El Toro de la Vega ha sido prohibido. Y otro juzgado anuló la prohibición similar en San Sebastián. Los toros hoy parecen necesitar defensa judicial.
Probablemente es pronto para dejar atrás la fiesta, pero no para que el 84% de los jóvenes españoles de 16 a 24 años estén poco o nada orgullosos de ella, según una encuesta de Ipsos Mori para World Animal Protection. Las corridas han ido sufriendo caídas del 7% (2014) o 9,9% (2013), según datos del Gobierno. A principios de los setenta, la mitad de los ciudadanos se declaraban interesados por las corridas. Hoy, según otros estudios, un 33,8% es partidario de prohibirla, una cifra que asciende al 60% entre los jóvenes. A mayor nivel cultural, además, mayor rechazo.
Nunca dejaremos atrás a Chaves Nogales, ni a Hemingway ni una cultura que integra en nuestro idioma, arte y literatura ricas referencias al mundo del estoque o la puntilla, pero tendremos que admitir que los niños actuales no juegan como el niño Belmonte con vaquillas, cuernos y trapos, sino con la PlayStation, y que los vídeos que muestran el sufrimiento animal se viralizan con rapidez. La sensibilidad hacia el bienestar ha crecido, es un hecho. Aún no ha llegado la hora, por tanto, pero tal vez se acerque el día en que las campanas doblen en realidad por la fiesta nacional. Y algunos lo celebraremos.