may lead to thinking that education moves in reaction to the needs that in turn come up, and ends up adjusting to them3. Even N. Postman4 has reminded us that education does not consist in picking up all the requests and in pursuing change, but in providing an alternative, a ‘counterpower’. In inviting people to go against the stream. This is why it appears to be more correct to speak of the ‘challenges of education’.
If we refer to the path for constructing the identity of preadolescent children and of adolescents, a number of problems come up that education needs to know how to ‘challenge’.
a)The hard work involved in being born ‘socially’
One of the main problems that preadolescents and adolescents run into, but which originates in the previous ages of childhood and infancy, is that of ‘being born socially’, that is to say, the time when the child steps out of the hyperprotective shell of the family which experiences its educational task with discomfort, especially when this task requires going beyond the relational modes experienced in the fusion of an enveloping affective dimension, and needs to take on the responsibility and fatigue of teaching the ‘rules’, of setting containment boundaries, of encouraging the children to take on initiatives and experiment with the exercise of personal responsibility. In a family where the father is mostly absent, the mother, who works, needs to know that her son is well, that he is ‘happy’ and that also at school he is nourished with affect as occurs at home.
In this type of context, adolescence is particularly delicate because detachment from the family is neither encouraged nor desired, the boy is not supported in the difficult task of saying good-bye to childhood and he is faced with a contradictory communication from those around him: on the one hand he is ensnared in an affectivity that curbs the detachment, on the other he is reprimanded because certain ‘childish’ traits that still characterize him are no longer accepted and he is repeatedly told that he is not a ‘grown up’ yet.
b)The discomfort of the present, and fear of the future
The relationship that adolescents have with the present and with the future is very different from what it used to be in the past. The present is less conflictual, the ‘affective’ family is a welcoming space where tensions are much milder. In the past young people would dream of leaving home, of conquering their independence. Today, also because they are not supported in the adventure of their growing up, adolescents experience a strong fear of not making it, they are afraid of the future and are uncomfortable with the present. Often, in order to bear the anxiety of the developmental stalemate, they try out various ways of escaping from reality, which range from the different types of transgression, to substance abuse and, in the most extreme cases, to committing offences.
The fear of not making it is enhanced by a widespread state of uncertainty with regard to the future which pervades our current culture. The construction of the Self requires a good relationship with the past (tradition) and positive prospects for the future (life plans); living in the society of uncertainty, in a context in which the air we breathe is thick with apprehension for the future, in a culture marked by the decline of
3 Cfr.: A. Agazzi, The Challenge to Education of the 1980s, in The Challenge of Education (edited by M. Mencarelli), Giunti & Lisciani Editori, Teramo 1983.
4 Cfr.: N. Postman, The Ecology of the Media, Armando, Roma 1981