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the arguments, rhetorical strategies and the contentious nature of the discussion are always the same.

Once all tenses converge into a single homogeneous present, the individual is expropriated of his or her own time, and in particular the personal time required to process an autonomous critical thought.

What can we do to assure that our educational endeavors restore some of that time for personal reflection? How can we promote respect for the slow pace of autonomous critical thinking, the reconstruction of the conceptual links that connect the past and the near future? How can we reconcile the fast pace of economic efficiency with the longer time required to develop ethical judgment?

The necessary rituals

The compression of time and space afforded by NITs has also led to the destruction of most of the rituals whose purpose it was to mark the transition from one time and one space to the next. As the fox so eloquently says to the little prince in Saint-Exupéry’s novel, “...a ritual makes every day and every hour different from the next”.

In our culture, for example, Sundays are different from other days because we celebrate the week’s main religious ritual on Sunday.

Though this religious ritual continues to be a stronghold for the Catholic world, “secular” rituals, which also contributed to making Sunday a different day, are now being lost. By those rituals I mean family lunches, an excursion out of town, or a soccer game.

Today, one can go on an out-of-town excursion on any one day of the stretched out week-end. It all depends on one’s individual work schedule, which is different from that of others. The great Sunday family lunch has given way to a quick snack at the pizza parlor, more often with friends rather than one’s family, as on any other day. To go to a soccer game, one no longer needs to wait for Sunday to come around, or to go the stadium physically. All one needs to do is switch on the television set any day of the week.

For many centuries, the unity and consistency of family life were also marked by specific rituals like evening meals, for example, or Sunday lunches, which often stretched out until the late afternoon and where all the different generations gathered. Today, most of our families are poorer to begin with because they do not have a third generation. Its members often have different jobs, and increasingly they eat, sleep, work and rest whenever they can. This means that the moments in which the entire family gathers as a ritual are increasingly rare.

Perhaps it is also due to this loss of rituals that the contemporary family so often faces difficult situations.

For thousands of years, the separation between sacred and profane spaces was rigorously marked by well-defined rites of passage. Behaviors that were prohibited in profane spaces were allowed in sacred spaces, and vice-versa. Today, those rites of passage are also progressively growing weaker. Each day we learn from the media about profane behaviors invading sacred spaces, and the other way around.

NITs have also generated further confusion: it is difficult to distinguish between reality and fiction, the “real” and the “virtual” world. Perhaps this is the most dangerous contamination of all, from a psychological point of view, because it can lead to

The challenges in education. Recovering the past, promises, commitments

Italian Episcopal Conference, European Symposium, Roma 1-4 July 2004

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