e chuckled to himself and rubbed his long, nervous hands together.

“It is simplicity itself,” said he; “my eyes tell me that on the inside of your left shoe, just where the firelight strikes it, the leather is scored by six almost parallel cuts. Obviously they have been caused by someone who has very carelessly scraped around the edges of the sole in order to remove crusted mud from it. Hence, you see, my double deduction that you had been out in vile weather, and that you had a particularly malignant boot-slitting specimen of the London slavey. As to your practice, if a gentleman walks into my rooms smelling of iodoform, with a black mark of nitrate of silver upon his right forefinger, and a bulge on the right side of his top-hat to show where he has secreted his stethoscope, I must be dull, indeed, if I do not pronounce him to be an active member of the medical profession.”

I could not help laughing at the ease with which he explained his process of deduction. “When I hear you give your reasons”, I remarked, “the thing always appears to me to be so ridiculously simple that I could easily do it myself, though at each successive instance of your reasoning I am baffled until you explain your process. And yet I believe that my eyes are as good as yours.”

(The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, A Scandal in Bohemia, Arthur Conan Doyle, 1891).



“No, there is not a single circumstance in which microscopic beings may be asserted to have entered the world without germs, without parents resembling them. Those who think otherwise have been deluded by their poorly conducted experiments, full of errors they neither knew how to perceive, nor how to avoid.

And now, gentlemen, a fine topic presents itself for exploration. This is the role of those tiny beings which serve as agents of fermentation, putrefaction, and disorganisation of everything on the surface of this globe which once had life. This role is immense, marvellous, positively moving. One day, perhaps, I will be permitted to return here, to show you some results of this investigation. May God grant that it be in the presence of equally brilliant company!”

(On Spontaneous Generation, Sorbonne Scientific Soirée, Louis Pasteur, 1863).


“You’re right, this should be one of the first points to discuss on a teacher training course with young people: which is questioning. That said, I emphasise that the crux of the matter does not lie on playing an intellectual game with the question “What is questioning?”, but rather on living the question, living the discovering, living the curiosity and demonstrating it to the students. The difficulty is to develop in them, and in practice, the habit of questioning, of “admiring”.

There are no silly questions or final answers for the educator who adopts this position. The educator who refrains from castrating the learner of curiosity, who ventures into the act of knowing, never disregards any question. Because, even when it may seem naive or poorly formulated, this is not always the case for he who formulates it. Besides, the role of the educator is, far from mocking the learner, to help him reformulate the question. As such, the learner learns by formulating the best question”.

(Toward a Pedagogy of the Question, Talk with Antonio Faúndez, 1992)


These three texts provide insight into different approaches to what constitutes investigation or inquiry in pursuit of learning, which would be a more pertinent way to focus on what we set out to explore in this editorial. Our nuance, richer in essence, purpose of this Journal, would be “social learning”. How does this come about? What does its evolutionary process entail? How does it empower us and boost our freedom? How do we mitigate manipulation? How does it work on us? How does it work on social groups and societies as a whole? How is understanding of global citizenship developed in people? And many other questions, some of which have been addressed by social psychology and other fields of science, and others which are still pending.

However, in this editorial we seek to explore the specific role of the teacher as an investigator, as an inquirer of learning. Drawing from experience, this reality is few and far between in the teaching sphere and it would prove interesting to discover why. From those that have been studied, two interconnected causes are worth noting.

- The issue of time: this refers to the lack of time to conduct studies of this nature. The teaching body, bound by an economy of urgency, has limited time and a lack of gaps in their schedule to reflect on their teaching task or the outcomes of their learner counterparts.

- The issue of skills: whereby teachers suffer from a shortcoming in skills and abilities to conduct any type of research. In fact, there is a certain level of respect surrounding this word, which tends to be synonymous with specialists –notably academics– who in an adequate and proper manner develop its characteristics and processes.

However, and taking all possible foresight and nuances into account, both issues are generally valid, yet also an excuse, whether it be conscious or unconscious. The preliminary question is whether pedagogical inquiry (both general and in our case, social) is a prime feature of what we constitute the profile of a teacher or rather a second-tier element of its defining traits. According to the previous text, Paulo Freire sees it is a primary descriptor not only of the teacher but also of any school that seeks to be transformative. There are numerous specialist views that substantiate this belief, both indicative of modern times as well as the past, but what is most striking is that we can affirm, from our own experience, that teachers are of the same opinion, even though they see it as unfinished and unsurpassable business.

Taking all of this into account, it is strange to note how endeavours in this regard are already generally underway. We are convinced that research on learning is being conducted daily in classrooms, except by those who are paralysed by their teaching tasks. How to harness all of this energetic thought? Probably by being clear about the process. Which is neither complicated, difficult, nor demanding of time. Also, by being aware of the importance of the research mission. It is not only a professional matter, but also one that fosters and enhances our liberating and empowering ability and that of our students as learners. On account of the above, we shall discover whether we can get beyond excuses, specifying what an inquirer of social learning needs.

In this regard, we can extract lessons from Sherlock Holmes. Of course, there are aspects that we should not focus on, considering the character by Conan Doyle has a special gift for observing and interconnecting issues. We are not required to possess a special gift for pedagogical inquiry, but we can assimilate the character’s passion for investigation and the importance he places on knowing how to see, as Watson points out. It is also interesting to note his ability to ask good questions, something that comes naturally to him but that we as ‘mere mortals’ must strive to develop daily.

Pasteur would represent the scientific method, which at times is applied by Holmes, and which is somewhat startling to us, considering its level of demand that we feel unable to reach[1]. However, despite everything, without underestimating this type of research, we do not believe that this is what a teacher who asks questions must do, but instead entails reflecting on how we can learn by living in a daily learning lab. This is our common ground with the French researcher: opportunity. And on this basis, intentionality is shaped. The pedagogical inquirer differs from the teacher who occasionally seeks answers insofar as they are intentionally a generator of questions. Thus, upon addressing the issues of spontaneous generation, Pasteur became aware of the emergence of many more from which he selected the most relevant. A final aspect that we can examine is communication. All learning warrants being communicated, even if only to reject it. In our experience this is a problematic characteristic in view of the issue of time mentioned above. That said, we believe that there are many more possibilities in this age of social media than those from decades past. Tools like Twitter, YouTube, etc., make it possible to engage in communication that adapts to our complex reality.

Surely when Freire was discussing the pedagogy of the question he did not imagine that these possibilities, perceived as portals and not as definitive means or even purposes, were at all possible. Social networks give us the opportunity to overcome the individuality of thinking and build networks of knowledge and passion in educational communities. What is certain is that this does not solely have to rely on technology, but instead should serve as an inspiration for building learning that inside and outside the classroom is based on questions, in turn becoming an integral element thereof. It is strange how questions have always been present in classrooms and how the phrase “if you don’t understand something, ask!” is recurring. And along these lines, we always think of…

Mafalda 1


However, we are not referring to that type of question, but rather another, one of which Freire is a model and one from which we can all grow as pedagogical investigators. The point is that the questioning of the Brazilian educator is, ultimately, political, in the best sense of the word. Thus, we become questioners because it is a liberation exercise for people and societies. Whilst in the first strip with Mafalda we can observe how the question is reproductive of social patterns (some of which are necessary), new ideas emerge in the second strip presented below, which are more or less interesting but will have to be heard and if necessary, nuanced, as Freire pointed out.

Mafalda 2


This means that although our passionate intentionality may be initially pedagogical, the final question is not only “how do we learn?”, but also “how do we learn to be free?”, “how do we learn to feel interconnected to other people?”, “how do we learn to be transformative for a fair and decent society?, “how do we learn to be happy?…we are referring to this political difference. Our questions are not neutral and pure. They include those related to inclusion, participation and empowerment. We have to try and make sure that questions that excite us do the same for our educational communities, and that the communities approach them in a fresh way to rethink teaching and learning as a whole, both in small popular schools, associations, colleges, universities and other educational spaces that are aware of this matter. Lastly, it should be noted that the proposal put forward by Freire is both political and systematic. It entails a system for looking ahead that is inherent to learning and calls for a systematisation, which other authors have expanded on. We can use this system or we can create our own, but what is necessary is a system adapted to the classroom and to educational spaces that is facilitating, useful and sustainable.

Other articles in this edition of the Journal extensively address this issue. In formal science we can observe that, at times, theoretical work is separated from its practical counterpart. This is case for physics, where it can be seen how some people devote their careers to theoretical research and others to practice. The former attempt to reach conclusions by means of mathematical reflection and well-formulated hypotheses, whilst the latter seek to prove them through experiments and comparison with the very same conclusions. As such, planets have been discovered before they were seen, or subatomic particles have been predicted before they were detected.

We can also identify these two approaches in other articles of this edition, which are complementary and can be used to nurture one another. Vital components of the process are those who ask questions that open the field for reflection and propose these new planets where survival is viable. Meanwhile, other people are required to test them out, nuance them and even improve them. Perhaps even to generate new, even better questions that enable us to better juggle the complexities of global citizenship learning.

Complexities that enhance our happiness yet are more than mere intellectual games, as they also put our life in danger and render us unprotected. To this end, we shall allude to the recent case of Berta Cáceres, Honduran environmental activist belonging to the Lenca people, who in her acceptance speech for winning the Goldman Environmental Prize summed up the situation in one sentence:

“Let’s wake up! Wake up humankind! We’re out of time”.

Almost one year later she was murdered at home whilst sleeping, like so many other activist comrades in Honduras. She had received this calling to Humanity, in her own way, from the global and environmental citizenship that she learned from her mother and that she knew was the key to securing the future of the Earth, because as Pablo Neruda once said:

“You can cut all the flowers, but you cannot keep spring from coming”.


Full article (pdf): EGR11 00 Editorial


[1] “We sometimes talk as if “original research” were a peculiar prerogative of scientists or at least of advanced students. But all thinking is research and all research is native, original, with him who carries it on, even if everybody else in the world already is sure of what he is still looking for.

It also follows that all thinking involves a risk. Certainty cannot be guaranteed in advance. The invasion of the unknown is like an adventure; we cannot be sure in advance”. (J. Dewey, Democracy and Education).