In his latest book, L'école des Lumières brille toujours (ESF 2022), Eirick Prairat presents the major challenges ahead for education. In this article, he discusses two relatively recent ones that have appeared in the last two decades: the post-truth challenge and urgent issues concerning our way of life. He also suggests some ways of meeting these new and worrying challenges.
The post-truth challenge
Post-truth is beyond lies. While the prefix ‘post’ means ‘after’, it also marks a qualitative break, just as, in the word postmodern, the prefix ‘post’ indicates something beyond modernity. Postmodern is not a continuation but another moment. If lying is at the heart of all societies, particularly totalitarian societies, which are always inclined to falsify reality, the post-truth that emerges and spreads in democratic regimes results from a blurring of the boundaries between the true and the false. It attests, as a new phenomenon, to an indifference to truth.
If, in telling lies, the truth retains a normative value, since lying means doing everything possible to avoid telling the truth, in the post-truth order, it loses all relative value, it no longer counts. Relativism (the idea that everything is equal), which has long been present in our societies, had already largely prepared the ground for the advent of alternative facts and other fake news. But post-truth completes this process by definitively discarding the question of truth. “ What the impostor desires is not the truth, but the effect that intellectual fascination and amazement has on his listeners or readers” (Pouivet, L'Éthique intellectuelle). If the fable he tells disappoints, he can always tell another, more extravagant one.
Today, education must deal with the flood of inane statements, conspiratorial delusions and other ramblings. Ignorance is still there, but it is no longer alone. Post-truth is a devious evil that likes to mimic the art of reasoning and threatens our education systems in their task of transmitting knowledge. This new scourge invites us to reflect on the content of teaching because, before being fair education must also be good, i.e., a school must be an institution that teaches what deserves to be taught in order to emancipate people.
Post-truth also invites us to revisit the art of teaching. Teaching must take into account the epistemic rules and protocols surrounding the subject matter being taught. We must also teach students to be attentive to the mental processes they use when they reason. No critical thinking without metacognition. For several decades now, renowned American cognitive psychologists (R. Ammirati, M. Bond, B. A. Mellers, etc.) have been lobbying for schools to adopt ‘critical thinking’ programmes.
Students need to be taught to examine a problem in different ways, to support their claims with evidence and to be able to identify the cognitive biases that can always threaten the validity of reasoning (confirmation bias, intentionality bias, framing bias, halo effect, etc.). Rigour and the exercise of reason can be learned.
The future of Life
There are realities we can no longer ignore, the ecological and climate disasters. They are not on their way; they are already here. According to a recent report by the World Meteorological Organisation, extreme phenomena (droughts, storms, floods, etc.) have increased fivefold in 50 years. Taking up this challenge requires the recognition of two types of learning: civic education and artistic education. It is ironic that the historically poor relations of education have become the ambassadors of the cultural revolution that is about to take place.
Civic education must be open to new questions. What are the civilisational ends assigned to technology? Can we contemplate endless growth? What are our responsibilities towards future generations? Other cultures? What should our relationship be with animals and, more generally, with the living world? How should we talk about progress? It is time for eco-citizenship. This new form of civic education must foster regulated discussions and arguments based on concrete situations.
Artistic and cultural education – education about and through art - must also be promoted. Education about art aims at acquiring an artistic culture by exploring the different fields of artistic creation (painting, music, sculpture, theatre, dance, literature, cinema...). It provides references and knowledge. Education through art aims to develop creativity and the ability to express oneself. It is an education in sensitivity.
Education through art is undoubtedly the best way to help us rethink our relationship with otherness, with everything that is other than ourselves and on which we depend for our lives. It is a question of moving from a consciousness polarised by the desire to master and dominate to an attitude that comes from a concern for openness and acceptance. Education through art invites us to cultivate our listening skills and availability.
We need to know how to be in touch with our own feelings, because humans are not only beings who analyse and manufacture, they also feel things, take things in. At a time when the language of appropriation and competence is all that seems to matter, when knowledge is measured only by its capacity to do and to transform, we must also know how to think of education as the acquisition of attitudes that affect our presence in the world.
This last challenge - facing the urgent issues impacting the future of Life - has perhaps become the most important one for our civilisation. It is indeed urgent to promote an education that invites us to change the way we look at life, that invites us to renounce the desire to “ make ourselves the masters and possessors of nature” (Descartes). In short, we must renounce the pattern of domination that runs through our way of being and thinking and that informs our imaginations at the deepest level.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.