Growing up near Milan, Binetti was immersed in a culture-centric environment. His father read the newspaper, while his mother delved into books. Television provided the family with news. Binetti attended a primary school in Milan that embraced freedom for children to develop, inspired by Rudolf Steiner’s principles. “I could draw, explore art, work with wood and even knitted socks with five needles. Learning was fun; there was never the pressure of a test.”

The joy of learning waned in high school, where knowledge was tested rigorously. At university, Binetti began questioning the traditional methods of imparting information to students. He remembers a professor of Italian literature, specialising in medieval works – ‘not the most captivating era in literature’ – but it made Binetti realise how important the method of teaching was. The professor did more than just analyse Dante’s work in a detached manner. “He brought in diverse perspectives, sharing personal experiences and emotional reactions to what he had read. It was truly inspiring.” In the same lecture hall, Binetti also listened to a lecturer who simply read from a script throughout the session. Reflecting years later, he concludes: “Teaching is indeed an artistic endeavour.”

Number of books a year: A few books while on holiday.

Last book read: “The last book I finished The Chosen by Chaim Potok. I’m always reading a few books at a time. I’m a bit chaotic. I always finish them, but there’s no set rhythm or routine.”

Favourite genre: fiction

Main motivation: relaxation

Efficiency reigns

During his bachelor’s degree in Humanities, Binetti went on an exchange to Scotland. There, he decided to incorporate his fascination for education into his study path. He stayed in Scotland for a master’s in Education with the intention of later becoming a teacher in Italy. After a decade of getting a PhD and obtaining British citizenship, he finds himself in Rotterdam , where he assists teachers in reevaluating the design of their courses. While the organisation of education may vary among Scotland, the Netherlands, and Italy, efficiency plays a significant role in all three, perhaps more so than is beneficial for students, according to Binetti.

Teaching is like painting

“Education has transformative powers”, he says, “it can change people’s lives.” This is also evident in Tara Westover’s book Educated, which he bought in a bookshop in Edinburgh because of the title. Growing up in an isolated family in the mountains of Idaho, she, like her six siblings, initially didn’t go to school, instead working in her father’s business. Violence and abuse were prevalent in the family. Eventually, Westover managed to carve her own path, separate from her family. She educated herself through books, attended school and earned a PhD from Cambridge University.

“Tara Westover is where she is today because she was open to teachers who were more than just sources of information. They encouraged her not to give up, and it was her mentor who encouraged her to start writing.” As a teacher, you have influence, Binetti emphasises. The book also made him appreciate his own blessings.

“I realised once again that education contributes to self-development, that it can free you from your cultural background and family. Sometimes, I don’t fully grasp how fortunate I am. I still have the opportunity to learn, to conduct research. That is both unique and immensely valuable.”

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Teaching as an art

With a focus on efficiency, the pedagogical aspect of teaching is lost, Binetti believes. While Westover’s story shows that teachers can also help their students on their way in life. Even at university, teachers can help students develop. “When I was seventeen, I was not the person I am now. There should be more recognition of that in university teaching. Ultimately, the way we approach our students affects the prevailing ideas in the future.”

In doing so, Binetti sees teaching as a human creation. “In no other natural kingdom do we see education as we know it in humans”, he says. And with that knowledge, he takes on the standardised transmission of knowledge. He wants to give teachers back control over their craft, to bring back the art. “With the right instructions, anyone can recreate a van Gogh, but that is not an artistic experience”, he says. Rather, he sees teachers being given a compass, agreeing on what the end goal is and allowing the path towards it to be self-determined.

Joe Binetti received his bachelor’s degree in Humanities from the University of Milan. After completing his master’s degree in Education at the University of Edinburgh, he also completed his PhD in Scotland at the University of Glasgow. Currently, he serves as a postdoctoral researcher at Impact at the Core at Erasmus University, focusing on research into impact-driven education.

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