Jan Schakel in Rennes – Part 2

So, pronouncing and understanding French words in an English way and visa versa can be rather tricky. Moreover, because in France they try to keep their language ‘clean and pure’, so you can not use or pronounce words like computer, laptop or cell phone in French or in a French way (you have to know that they’re called ordinateur, portable, etc). The more surprising it is to find out that words in French sometimes do have the same meaning and structure as for example in Dutch. The English word ‘data’ for example is in Dutch ‘gegevens’, and in French ‘données’. These words have exactly the same structure, which might be caused by it’s origin: a positivistic way of thinking in both cultures. In my workshop “How to tackle reality and complexity” I could make clear to the audience that facts and data or ‘no gift from nature’, and that they or not ‘given to us’, but that it is mankind who takes information from nature in an active way and in this process it creates and constructs fact and data. So no ‘gegevens’ or ‘données’ at all!

Not only knowledge of languages is important to ‘survive’ in a different country (like knowing the difference between chamber, salle and bureau…), but also insight in their cultural and institutional history. I do work almost ten years now within an international framework on education (like IMRD, Erasmus Mundus, Intensive Programs), so I’m rather familiar with differences in educational systems between and within the European countries. But again I was too biased when I tried to understand what’s going on here in Agrocampus Ouest. For example: courses can last over 6 month, and the only way to understand the course and to get access to the content of it, is to join (‘assister’) the course. There are (hardly) any course outlines, no books, no readers, etc. Everything is taking place within the classroom and students have class during the whole day (2 x 4 hours), during the whole week, and this last week after week after week… So the professor himself is very important; not only in research but also in education. He is the authority, and the student really serves his apprenticeship with the professor. The French word for education is ‘formation’ –like word ‘vorming’ in Dutch- and indeed this educational system forms and shapes the student in a traditional way.

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Reality is an illusion – Jan Schakel in Rennes – Part 1

“Reality is an illusion, caused by a lack of drugs”. I found this rather philosophical text somewhere written on the wall in one of Rennes’ universities. It made me smile; not only because of it’s statement (very original), but also because I had to give a workshop the day after. The title of this event was: “How to tackle reality and complexity?”. I was wandering what to do? Should I present my 70 slides (as planned) with comments during the four hours of the workshop? Or should I ask the students to use some drugs? Maybe it was even a better way to ‘tackle reality’, according to the quotation on the wall. It was for sure a thrilling idea! I decide not to do so. So I worked with my class through all the slides, and I think I did the right thing. Drugs are forbidden anyway in France! (‘See the PDF-file Rennes handout 2010 for a brief summery of the content of this workshop).

I am in France for some weeks, being a ‘visiting teacher’ from Wageningen University, now working at the Agrocamups Ouest. One week I was supervising 40 students during a “Stage de Terrain” at  the Cote d’Armor (North Brittany), and next week I will do the same during a practical in Villarceaux, west of Paris (just very nearby Giverny). This ‘stage du terrain’ will focus on ‘Identifying sustainable indicators for Rural Development’. In between I am living and working in Rennes for three weeks. Rennes is the capital of Brittany. It is a beautiful city! With almost 200.000 inhabitants, including over 60.000 (!) students, it indeed is a cultural and intellectual city. Besides that, the city is rather wealthy and ‘good-looking’: it represents a rich history, with many important and impressive institutes, and almost no ‘heavy industry’ (except the automobile industry). Rennes is a leading centre in telecommunications and other knowledge based industries. But in spite of that, Rennes also has a different atmosphere, what sometimes makes me remember to my hometown. Rennes is ‘maxi-Wageningen’ (whereas Agrocampus Ouest really looks like a ‘mini-Wageningen’). Rennes isn’t just a very intellectual city; it also is very multi-cultural, very international and also very ‘alternative’. So a good place to be. (Have a look –for example- at www.salonbio.fr and www.legoutdici.com where you can find information on the 9th edition of the three days lasting manifestation on ‘ La Terre est Mon Metier’. I will come back later on the special relationship between Rennes and these organic initiatives in the rural area).

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