After reading Some Thoughts on Teaching Science in Schools at the Beginning of the 21st Centuryan essay signed by Frédéric Metz to Pontcerq and published in 2021, Jean-Louis Cotrieu, writer, poet, but above all a scientist, makes a report that, to say the least, contains nuances…

Strange coincidence yesterday. I took my grandson to school, and on the way we talked about longer days, about the joys of spring with flowering trees in the gardens and along the roads. See those tall trees, all in yellow? Mimosa. And the others over there in white dresses? Blackthorns. Are the bushes on the embankments yellow too? Gorse. We looked at the daffodils, the primroses of my childhood, at all those flowers that then still grew freely everywhere in the fields. The road went like this, now he was the first to discover them from afar. I promised him in a few weeks cherry trees, apple trees, in a word, a feast for the eyes of adults and children. A way to take time on a trip, but not only, as you will notice.

© Florencia Galan

Thus, on the same day, yesterday, I leafed through the book in the perspective of the Radio Laser program to come with my accomplice Felix Boulet, the inquisitive mind of the world and others, if there is one. This book about seeds and biodiversity, about agriculture engaging in a happy relationship with the earth, its animals and plants, also calls for collective awareness. And to these two episodes is added the program Pluriel, where I am invited by Ronan Manuel and Loïc Tourmel, this time on Radio Rennes, created 40 years ago by the always passionate Gaby Aubert. The radio sequence, which you will soon be able to see on YouTube, was shared with the editor at home. Pontserk (whom I will not name because he refused to identify himself from the image at the time of recording), who came with several recent works, including a short essay about the school Frederic Metz.

The propaganda book is to balance the lessons of biology (where molecules, genes, proteins, etc. are dissected), which, according to the author, are now dominant in the perception of living beings, and the lessons of natural science taught by naturalists, and this is a condition. A call to make room for what the gaze can capture directly around us. Birds, their songs, trees, plants, their colors, their smells. What is offered to the curious eye in forms, seasons, fleeting encounters, the very environment of life. Yes, Frederic Metz is right there, this ability to observe and fascinate the world is lost, as if we no longer live in it. Hence my mimosas, my thorns in their natural state, that is, not having become simple mathematical laws of growth. Hence the seeds, flowers and their amazing ability to self-renewal. Hence the importance of naming living things like minerals with the reward of simple happiness over their beauty.

© Hansjorg Keller

Propaganda, but also a serious indictment, against the sciences as we think and practice them, when objects become subjects. constructions of the mind and would replace evidence given by naturewhere the world would be summed up in abstract and enforced laws, where the most elementary perception would be abolished, struck by omission. Bachelard, who is profusely quoted, takes the title for himself, and perhaps he deserves it with some of his comments. However, do not discard him too quickly, he is important to us in many aspects of his thought and his life. Frederick Metz, Jünger, Merleau-Ponty, Canguilem, Foucault, Finkelkraut, Levi-Strauss, Rousseau, as well as Linnet, Buffon, Cuvier, and, of course, Darwin and Humboldt are called in the dispute. It is difficult to oppose any resistance to such painting by masters, and yet!

The caricature is a bit of a stretch for those whose job, what I’m saying, passion was to discover, understand, correct. Because the visible, the visible, the given cannot be enough. Moreover, if Aristotle and Theophrastus were more and more fascinated by the anatomy of plants (about 300 BC), then ancient Chinese writings already spoke of grafting, cuttings and layering. Let us also remember that we owe the medical profession to such anatomists as Claude Galen, Ambroise Pare, André Vesal, William Harvey, and many others. If I take this familiar field, it is not accidental, because in a certain sense it is a model of the subject of Frederic Metz. Yes, a thorough examination and attentive listening to the patient are of great importance in making a diagnosis, and today they are sometimes lacking. However, neither sight nor ear (and contrary to Laennec) can respond to the command to cure her.

Frontispiece of the 1644 illustrated edition of Theophrastus’ De historia plantarum.

The form of this short essay (50 pages and the same number in the notes) evokes and does not exempt from the amusing cuteness of insertions into the main text of quotations in German, relegated to the end of the book for translations. As to the subtitle, it will become clearer on page 106, note 159. Nothing less definite, though. If we can accept the fact that our views are multiplying, the exercise done in this book seems to me somewhat simple to the point that we really need to look for a passage of some interest in biology and, more generally, in the sciences. There is a reluctance to promote knowledge, raising questions and suspicion of a conspiracy around an exclusive method of thinking aimed at dematerializing beings and things that will be imposed on the school.

A few simple words, accessible to all, would deserve a more significant place. Among them are discovery, curiosity, understanding, intuition, imagination, everything that scientists have not abandoned and that for many they know how to cultivate in the same way as botanists, entomologists and … natural scientists. To assume even for a moment that the modern educator is only interested in complex processes, problems that need to be reduced to equations, or, even worse, new technologies, would be too far. To suppose that today he shows only condescension or self-satisfaction, suppressing in his reasoning any reference to the real, to the concrete, to what is offered to the eye, is a bad test.

© Kevin Schmid

And then why should the school be the only place where science is taught? We ask him about everything and more in this school. Wouldn’t this be another rejection of us? Because where are the parents, grandparents, to know, love, protect nature and the lives that accompany us wherever we go? So let’s start by turning off our phones and turning off our screens. Then we can truly touch, smell, see, hear and taste the world around us. And re-learn how to share it.

Frederick Metz, Some Considerations on the Teaching of Science in Schools at the Beginning of the 21st Century, or Pelasge the Diver.Pontcerq, 2021, 107 pages, 10 euro

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