Stories by Unamuno (3): El diamante de Villasola (1898)

Stories by Unamuno (3): El diamante de Villasola (1898)

Stories by Unamuno (3): El diamante de Villasola (1898)

Today we would say that this teacher was preparing to “indoctrinate”

Frank Reppold. / Pixabay

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Andreu Navarra


It would be about time to delve into the specific pedagogical ideas of Miguel de Unamuno. However, we could not embark on this journey without first taking a detour through his perspectives on positivism and the dilemmas of his era. This is why we have chosen to initially discuss Mecanópolis and Batracófilos y batracófobos. We must also not overlook that Unamuno’s second novel, Amor y Pedagogía (1902), focuses on the question of education. In this work, Don Avito Carrascal intends to educate his son Apolodoro in such a way that he becomes a genius. In this biting satire of the futuristic pedagogy of the late 19th century, Unamuno aims to mock the progressive simple-mindedness that ultimately wreaks havoc on the spirits of the youth. It is for no other reason poor Apolodoro ends up committing suicide, overwhelmed by paternal megalomania and his inability to face the natural course of life.

El diamante de Villasola predates Amor y Pedagogía, having been written in 1898, during the author’s personal crisis. In Villasola (note: in an isolated, regional place, which does not generate science but imitates it) there exists a teacher. This teacher is like the batracófilos, supporters of conducting experiments with the frogs of the Casino de Ciamaña, or like Don Avito Carrascal: “El maestro de Villasola era perspicacísimo y entusiasta como pocos en su arte: así es que tan luego como entrevió en el muchacho una inteligencia compacta y clara, sintió el gozo de un lapidario a quien se le viene a las manos hermoso diamante en bruto”. Today we would say that this teacher was preparing to “indoctrinate”, that is, to excessively shape and manipulate an impressionable conscience.

But let’s continue: “¡Aquel sí que era ejemplar para sus ensayos y para poner a prueba su destreza! ¡Hermoso conejillo de Indias para experiencias pedagógicas! ¡Excelente materia pedagogizable en que ensayar nuevos métodos in anima vili! Porque la honda convicción del maestro de Villasola –aun cuando no llegara a formulársela- era que los muchachos son medios para hacer pedagogía, como para hacer patología los enfermos”. Without a doubt, this teacher, like many others in our contemporary world, has succumbed into the superstition of science, that is, to a religious and dogmatic concept of practical reason detached from artisanal prudence. How many times, when we examine “student-centred” practices, what we find is an “elephantiasis” of methodology, or in other words, guru-centrism?

Unamuno’s the most serious criticism of the teacher is that he dedicates himself to educating for his own glory, to illuminate and distinguish himself rather than enabling the student, the uncut diamond of Villasola, to shine or stand out.

This is incredibly relevant today, at a time where the simulacrum of learning has pulverized all kinds of verification of learning, and the urgency of method certification has turned the student body into a means and not an end. Like the future novel character Apolodoro, the disciple of the 1898 story is polished like a diamond, and as he is truly a diamond, he does not know how to behave in public, because his behaviour is entirely hard, cold and curt. He has been transformed into a kind of monad. His failure as a person is evident, and that of his teacher as an educator also comes to light: “Cuando el maestro de Villasola supo el fin de su diamante, se propuso esta ardua cuestión: “la Pedagogía, ¿es ciencia pura o de aplicación?”. Mas lo que no se le ha ocurrido al lapidario de Villasola es que sea más hacedero sacar luz del calor potencial almacenado en los negros carbones, que arrancar calor vivífico de la luz meramente refleja y de préstamo del diamante”. [When the teacher of Villasola learned of the fate of his diamond, he posed this challenging question to himself: “Is pedagogy a pure science or an applied one?” However, what did not occur to the lapidary of Villasola was that it is more feasible to extract light from the potential heat stored in the black coals than to draw life-giving heat from the merely reflected and borrowed light of the diamond].

This could well be the most interesting fragment of the entire story. It would have a dual interpretation: a specifically pedagogical interpretation, focused on the role of the students’ own intelligence, and a social or national interpretation, if we relate it to the content of the great central Unamunian essay, En torno al casticismo, written and published in La España Moderna a year before El diamante de Villasola.

Let’s consider first conclusion, the individual dimension: Unamuno, a professor of Greek, seemed to have a thorough understanding of Aristotle’s pedagogical theory, which at that precise moment was also being applied by Maria Montessori in her schools, as Catherine L’Ecuyer recounts in her studies on the Italian pedagogue: the child harbours an internal power that the pedagogue must reveal and develop, with the help of active and rationalist guidance. This is in contrast to today’s hegemonic nihilistic Rousseauism, which advocates formless wandering and proposes the disappearance of the host culture in favour of an innate and infinitely good-natured talent.

Secondly, the metaphor of the diamond connects with the doctrines of Entorno al casticismo and transforms an educational theme into a political key to national regeneration: Spain must be a sun and not a moon, it must generate its own light and science but must not imitate the light that comes from outside, in an uncritical, dogmatic or even drooling way. Just as a child possesses an internal power that shapes his personality, the nation (or civil society, if you prefer) should be able of constructing its own autonomous criteria beyond the glimmers of novelty and the pressures of urgent fashion.

Will we be suns or moons? Will we be passionate glowing coals of passion or isolated diamonds? The answer is unequivocal: technocratic enthusiasm can easily lead to imprudence and even a concealment of the limitations of perfection models. Unamuno had been concerned about the Rousseauian experiments of the 1890s. In our desire to create geniuses, we generate nothing but anxiety and self-destructive impulses. Individuals must learn to mature progressively before reality hits too harshly. The illusion of a magnificent future should not lead us to an illusion understood as a mirage totally disconnected from reality: voluntarism can breed many monsters. It is beyond doubt that we would all benefit from considering some of these ideas, born from a philosophically tumultuous turn of the century.

Source: educational EVIDENCE

Rights: Creative Commons

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