pass on to our children what is left

The explosion in the volume of available knowledge has rendered man ignorant of the essentials in an ephemeral world. The writer Xavier Patier calls for the transmission of what remains.

Teaching used to mean learning. Knowledge was a stable world, a mountain to climb. An honest man in Blaise Pascal’s time could hope, by the end of his life, to have reached the pinnacle, that is, to have read everything that human intelligence had remarkably published from the beginning: three thousand books, large the nature of things from Lucretius to discourse on method by Descartes. Three centuries later, things had changed little. Granted, the knowledge had grown infinitely broader, there were more important books to know than days in a man’s life, but the scholars continued to form a community that shared common ground and could devote themselves to a vocation, simple: discover, pass on.

Learn learn

Things came to a head at the end of the 20th century. The volume of knowledge began to grow exponentially, so that learning was no longer enough. The then director of Sciences Po, Jacques Chapsal, launched a slogan in the 1970s: we should no longer “learn” but “learn to learn”. From then on, knowledge was the ability to use and organize the available and changing mass of knowledge. We focus on the method. As Immanuel Kant had already suggested, it was decided that the best way to increase one’s knowledge was to classify it. To classify knowledge is to increase it. In elementary school, they refrained from memorizing. We got lost in modern math and the whole method of learning to read. The brain underwent a different workout, less muscular and more agile, resulting in a different way of looking at the world.

The message of the gospel is final and inexhaustible. It remains like a mountain of stability, yet unexplored, in a lost world.

Then came the internet. The key to the world library ended up in every pocket. Long effort gave way to the appreciation of the moment. Now the sum of human knowledge doubles every six months. A lifetime is no longer enough to read a single day’s news. Universal knowledge is immediately available. It is so plentiful that it turns your head. Everyone is an expert. Or rather everyone thinks they are. In front of our computer screen, we stroll through a huge library whose shelves double every semester. We no longer have to memorize a poem in order to store it in our soul: with one click we have it in front of our eyes. We no longer need to do mental arithmetic: our cell phones do it for us. An ascetic investment in knowledge of a foreign language will soon be superfluous for us: software does it for us. We will live more and more intensely, but through proxies. We will argue faster, but only to the rhythm of emotions.

learn to be

This revolution asks us about the importance that must be given to education. For our children it will no longer be about learning, not even learning to learn: it will be a question of learning to be. We must lead our children to what is essential, that is, to what is permanent and not to vanishing. The message of the gospel is final and inexhaustible. It remains like a mountain of stability, yet unexplored, in a lost world.


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