The History and Future of Education

Jacques Attali is a renowned French economist, social theorist, and writer. He was a Special Adviser to the French President François Mitterrand and the founder and first President of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. He is President of Positive Planet, an international non-profit organization assisting microfinance institutions all over the world, and CEO of Attali Associates, an international consulting firm. This essay is an adapted excerpt from his latest French language book Histoires et avenirs de l’éducation (2022). You may follow him on Twitter @jattali.

WHAT would we be without all those who, in one way or another, transmitted values and knowledge to us? And without all those who have kept our curiosity and willingness to learn alive? What has become of all those who have not had the chance to live in societies that place great importance on children or parents in a position to transmit love, values, and knowledge? What was the fate of those who did not meet inspiring teachers or benefit from fair and peaceful conditions to study?

For my part, I owe everything to a few people. First, my parents, who passed on their values to me and who, although self-taught, idolized knowledge and school so much that they sacrificed themselves to provide it to my sister, my brother, and myself. Then, my magnificent teachers who shall not be forgotten.

None of them knew the pedagogies of today. All they had at their disposal were only textbooks and exercise books. Only one thing brought them together: the passion to transmit knowledge. And, later, what would I be without encounters with some great minds who illuminated my journey during private conversations: Joseph Kenneth Arrow, René Thom, René Girard, Fernand Braudel, Henri Atlan, André Leroi-Gourhan, Michel Serres, Henri Laborit, Joël de Rosnay, René-Samuel Sirat, Matthieu Ricard, Yves Stourdzé, Edgar Morin, François Mitterrand and so many others?

Finally, what would I be without some of my students, who helped me clarify my thinking? It is by teaching and writing that I believe to have acquired my best intuitions. It is by transmitting that we discover what and how to transmit.

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