Can emotions be educated? Emotional landscapes from the teaching experience

By Ana Kurtzbart


Graciela Rosenberg


About the book:

The thoughts the author shares in this book are an invitation for teachers, educators, psychologists, and all those involved in education —from different domains— to focus on the crucial importance of deploying the emotional and relational dimensions as a learning for life.


Emotions are born in the “fabric” woven by relationships. When dealing with an issue as complex as human emotionality we are faced with many questions and challenges. A useful starting point is to highlight the importance of being connected, staying involved, forming part of a network, both wrapping and being wrapped by the mesh of invisible fibers that make up a community; in this particular case, the teaching community of the present day.
The proposal is to reflect and state the problems or challenges that we have to face from within, with a committed attitude, since our emotional life is the result of our exchange with others, in that in-between space that we create, from the perspective of our own unique feelings, which is at the same time changing and varied, and is born from relationships with others in certain conditions of existence.
We may think that emotions become meaningful in our relationship with other people even if we are physically isolated from one another. We cannot think of emotions in the abstract or removed from the social, cultural or historical context in which they occur, make sense and have meaning.
By describing each of the nine emotions separately, this book begins with generalizations that are, of course, partial, and goes on to present the reader with a quite simplified version of each of them. However, they serve as a starting point to help us analyze each circumstance in particular, as related to one another and in context. This restores the complexity of their nature, both unique and plural at the same time. As in the case of the clinical pictures described by Sigmund Freud, including phobia or obsession, the description of each emotion is useful as a reference to analyze what is unique about each subjectivity, its logic, features and language, considering their history and unique circumstances.
By way of introduction, it is useful to ask ourselves a question that can lead us to reflection. Should we think of educating emotions or could we consider them in terms of affective experiences, bearing in mind that tension and conflict are inherent to human relationships?
It is worth digging into the etymology of the word “experience.” It comes from the Latin words experiri, which means “to test” or “to prove,” and periri, which means “peril” and “danger”, that is to gain knowledge by testing or trials, analyzing results and formulating new trials on the basis of previous ones. We could say that experience is the mother of all sciences.
It also means “to lead”, “to cross to the other side”, “to pierce”. Thus, emotional experience may account for how events impact upon us, pierce through us, drive us, lead us to try, to take risks, in a never-ending progression of new attempts and effects.
How can we conceive of ourselves in relation to what happens, and what happens to us? How can we let ourselves be surprised by the unexpected that bursts forth, transforming what used to be a certain way?
Reality is in constant change; how can we open to other possibilities and make room for what is to come, being hospitable and making room for the unknown?
It is difficult to approach what is different or give a name to the complexity of what is happening, the multiplicity of feelings and experiences, which are often influenced by logics derived from positions of power whose views are generally imposed on us and naturalized, and as a consequence, usually invalidate other views.
If our practice is alive, and thus in constant change, should we question the mechanisms, the assumptions, and the beliefs, as well as the interpretations of reality, that are now obsolete?
Which paths will free us from the confinement of that which no longer works, of times marked by slow clocks, without leaving us unprotected and unsheltered in a territory yet uncharted by traditional institutions?
Changing maps, cultural landscapes that are transitory and circumstantial.
Surely Rolnik, a Brazilian psychoanalyst, writer and professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo, introduces the concept of ‘changing maps’ in “Öyvind Fahlström’s Changing Maps” (in Öyvind Fahlström: Another Space for Painting, Museu D'Art Contemporani De Barcelona & Actar, 2000), where she discusses the work of Öyvind Fahlström, an artist who lived in Sweden, Brazil, Paris, Rome and New York.
Fahlström had to migrate to survive the Second World War, and he didn’t have the opportunity to settle down anywhere or to return to his country of origin; he had to invent his own changing maps, as a reference to help him know where he was, throughout his life, in landscapes that were always new to him and in which he was the perpetual foreigner.
What contribution would be feasible so that the reinvention of schools matches up, as Rolnik argued, to the forces that are rising rapidly?
It is not a matter of putting bandages on problems to make them go away as quickly as possible, or of calming down or disciplining emotions, but rather of facilitating their expression and their deployment in order to find new ways of encountering others and moving with them, ways that are different from what we usually call disciplinary or vigilance systems, in which sanctions or punishments are the rule. It is rather a question of emphasizing the humanistic dimension of a social era that is extremely unstable and highly unpredictable but that, on the other hand, generates networks and new forms of communication.
In a context of so many questions, should we discuss the possibility of educating emotions? What does talk about emotional education entail? The debate is open now.
So, we could argue that the action of educating is supported by two complementary movements which generate a two-way exchange and encompass the four pillars proposed by UNESCO:
• Learning to know
• Learning to do
• Learning to be
• Learning to coexist
From this standpoint, we should consider the emotional dimension from a perspective that is dynamic, interactive and relational.
With that objective in mind, the activities suggested in this book are precisely that: suggestions, invitations to explore and experiment, for each reader to enrich these proposals with ideas that come from the needs of each situation, group or community; contributing with their own creativity and initiative, always give due priority to the emotional dimension of the educational experience.
This book is an invitation to a share and handmade work that aims at challenging practices, at keeping tensions alive, at enabling questions, and building listening mechanisms, all effective ways to integrate different points of view and make room for the unexpected effects, which are part of all types of experiences, based on involvement and without certainties. It is about moving out of duality, the problem-solution axis, as the only, standardized or automatic answer.
This text should work as an incentive, and encourage an open and enriching conversation on the emotional dimension of human beings.
Fostering communication, pursuing a practice that questions existing boundaries, weaving with generosity and disposition a fabric that leaves room for new formulations and demands is a key decision when it comes to including diversity, individualizing teaching and learning processes, and generating dynamics that can anticipate or tackle conflict, violence, discrimination, or abuse. This is all part of the mental, emotional, and physical health care of children.

Translated by Mercedes Rego Perlas / Laura Estefanía