The fly Thunberg and the elephant

A few days ago in Davos, President Trump invited us to be wary of these prophets of doom that herald the end of the world. A few weeks earlier, he had advised Greta Thunberg to relax and go to the movies. Interesting obsession as that of the king of the world for the smallest of his subjects! In 2016, Yuval Noah Harari used the parable of the fly and the elephant in connection with terrorism: “Small, weak, the fly is incapable of moving even a cup. So, it finds an elephant, enters his ear and buzzes until enraged, mad with fear and anger, the latter ransacks the store. ”

This is how, according to Harari, the Al-Qaeda fly led the American elephant to destroy the porcelain store in the Middle East. Will the Thunberg fly cause Trump and all climate skeptics to self-destruct or will it lead Trump and his friends to trash the planet?


all rights reserved -

all rights reserved –

It will certainly take a lot of little flies to enter the ears of all these leaders who strive to deny, minimize or disguise the impact of their policies on the climate. In this regard, it is interesting to put into perspective the role of young people in climate alert. The strikes of schoolchildren have shown the mobilization capacity and the concern of the young generations.

What should be the next step? The French Minister of Education, Jean-Michel Blanquer, reminded at the launch of the Learning Planet initiative (UNESCO-CRI) that students should not be taught to fall into pessimism (unintentional convergence no doubt with the President Trump!) But, on the contrary, make young people actors of the environment and call them to action, in particular on biodiversity around their schools.

It definitely takes a lot of courage for all the Gretas in the world to think that one day they will be taken really seriously, as full-fledged citizens, capable not only of acting but of deciding instead of adults on what we must do to protect the planet and not just the school garden.

The participation of young people in climate action is not an educational issue which will be resolved by decisions worthy of the manual of the Junior Woodchucks. It is a political subject which calls into question the balance of powers and the manner of exercising it and therefore requires political decisions.



Can we still educate for the world as it is?

Recently a controversy opposed environmental NGOs and the BNP Paribas bank regarding the bank’s investment into fossil energies. The CSR director tried to close the controversy by explaining: “we finance the world as it is.”

If we do so, then how can we reasonably expect to change it? The same could be asked for education: are we educating children to live in the world as it is in the same way we (the banks) are financing the world as it is? in other words, can we still educate for the world as it is?

This question resonates with the latest actions undertaken by young people all over the world against climate change or feminicides. Aren’t young people claiming for being educated / financing a world as they want them to be?

(all rights reserved)

(all rights reserved)

Our incapacity to listen to them is certainly deeply rooted in the practices of BNP Paribas and all other banking and political institutions, i.e. using people’s deposits and votes to finance the world as it is.

Martha Nussbaum once said (Cultivating Humanity, 1998) that “we produce all too many citizens whose imaginations never step out of the counting house”. How do we step out? According to Nussbaum, we need Socratic citizens who are capable of thinking for themselves and arguing with tradition. It goes back to key questions raised by Margaret Mead back in 1969 (Culture and Commitment): Can I commit my life to anything? Is there anything in human cultures as they exist today worth saving, worth committing myself to?

In their Capability approach theory, Sen and Nussbaum stated that freedom to achieve well-being is a matter of what people are able to do and to be. Young people think the same. In a recent poll a 51 percent of Americans ages 18-29 said their generation can change the world. The same result was registered in France.

This is certainly a good moment to listen more carefully to what young people say and more importantly do (or can do).  One of the key principles of child participation, elaborated by Roger Hart, was that the highest level of child participation (*) should be “Child initiated, Shared Decisions with Adults (Children’s Participation, 1997). This is what Greta Thunberg and her friends worldwide are claiming for.

(* At this level of participation, banks shouldn’t be authorized any longer to finance the world as it is…)

“Legions of idiots”

Do you know the difference between a liar and a bullshitter? According to the sociologist Eva Illouz in an article published in Haaretz, “a liar lies because he cares about the truth not being known, whereas a bullshitter […] does not care about the truth, because he knows that whatever he says, true or not, will make an impression on the listener.”

Where does bullshit comes from? In a report commissioned by the Rand Corporation, Truth Decay, Jennifer Kavanagh and Michael Rich mention the role of social media platforms allowing anyone to become a source of information. They conclude that there is an increasing blurred line between opinion and fact.

Umberto Eco wrote about it in 2015 : “Social media gives legions of idiots the right to speak when they once only spoke at a bar after a glass of wine, without harming the community … but now they have the same right to speak as a Nobel Prize winner. It’s the invasion of the idiots.”

We increasingly live in a world in which, according to Stephan Lewandowsky in an article about the post-truth era (jointly written with Ullrich Ecker and John Cook), it is not expert knowledge but an opinion market on Twitter that determines what is right and what is wrong.

These legions of idiots are everywhere. According to the Wellcome Global Monitor 2018, 28% of Americans and 33% of French do not agree that vaccines are safe. In a 2019 Eurobarometer survey, it was found that nearly half of people in Europe believe — incorrectly — that vaccines often cause severe side effects.

Legions of idiots

Legions of idiots

So, who should we trust?

We already know about the continuing decline in public trust in institutions such as the government and the media. But scientists are also seen as untrustworthy. In an article, Cary Funk wrote  that although many more people reported to the Pew Research Center in 2016 their trust in information from medical scientists, climate scientists and food scientists than information from industry leaders, the news media and elected officials, no more than about half of people hold strongly trusting views of scientists in any of these domains.

And the same exists in school, where it is more and more difficult to argue about objective facts and topics despite having data and evidence that have been produced in a scientifically proven way. Luana Maroja, Professor of Biology at Williams College, explained in an article the hard time she has in fighting “biological denialism that exists about nearly any observed difference between human groups, including those between males and females. Unfortunately, students push back against these phenomena not by using scientific arguments, but by employing an a priori moral commitment to equality, anti-racism, and anti-sexism.”

Can we be optimistic about the future of knowledge? Let’s hope that those millions of students around the globe that participate in marches against climate change and trust scientific facts are strong enough to defeat these legions of idiots.

Happy birthday to children’s rights?

How can we “celebrate” another year the anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child? Nine chilean teenage girls do it on stage on our behalf and denounce the violation of children rights in Chile … and all over the world.

“Lissette Villa was 11 years old when she died of suffocation because a 90-kg caregiver sat on her for minutes. Tania Águila died at age 14 when her boy friend crushed a stone on her head. Florencia Aguirre was 10 years old when her stepfather choked her with a bag, burned her and buried her in the woodshed of her house.”

These were some of the cases that prompted the La Re-Sentida Theater team to create Paisajes para no colorear (‘Non coloring landscapes’), a work in which a group of female adolescents tries to make visible the vulnerability to which they are exposed by being “women” under age in a male-dominated society.

Paisajes para no colorear © GAM – Centro Cultural Gabriela Mistral i Compañía de Teatro La Re-Sentida

Paisajes para no colorear
© GAM – Centro Cultural Gabriela Mistral i Compañía de Teatro La Re-Sentida

These girls force the spectators to listen to their experiences of daily violence in their school, in their homes, in their cities in Chile and South America. No one remains immune. When at the end of the play, the audience stands up and burst into applause, each of us  is also rethinking how they behave in their daily lives with children.

For years, we thought that UNICEF and all children NGOs were speaking for them. No one listened. Did anyone speak?

These girls – and all the girls – are changing the rules. They will speak for themselves and for all the girls. They will become – in their own words – ‘the stars of an unrivalled cultural revolution.’

And this revolution is already happening. Last October, Chilean children took the streets to protest the government’s announcement of an increase in the price of public transportation but also of all the other violation of human rights taking place in the country. At the same time petitioners – aged between 8 to 17 –  have filed a legal complaint against 5 countries, bringing the climate fight to court as it constitutes a violation of child rights.

And the others will follow. In Afghanistan where at least 546 boys from six schools have been abused by their teachers, in the US where 13 million children are living below poverty line, in Yemen where 2 million children are out of school.

Youth are no longer ready to wait “to be involved in the “governance” of  the settings of their everyday lives.”  They are standing for their rights.

Here and there and everywhere.

Happy birthday!


Jazz and samba will rock education

Learning is nowadays increasingly seen as a mix of formal and informal experiences. What we call “social learning” refers to the degree of interaction between learners of different levels of competence. Learning from the others, learning with the others are fundamental elements of the learning experience and essential for students to get full ownership of what they learn.

Samba and jazz tell us more about this new learning revolution.

An article by Seymourt Paper identified two innovative features in the learning process that takes place at a samba school: learning together and learning from the other.

“At a Samba School the dominant activity is dancing. But it has another purpose related to the Carnival at which each Samba School will take on a segment of the more than twenty-four hour long procession of street dancing. While people have come to dance, they are simultaneously participating in the choice, and elaboration of the theme of the next carnival; they are engaged in a common activity – dancing – at all levels of competence from beginning children to superstars. The fact of being together would in itself be “educational” for the beginners; but what is more deeply so is the degree of interaction between dancers of different levels of competence. What counts is the weaving of education into the larger, richer cultural-social experience of the Samba School.”

Another article by Joan Talbert and Milbrey Mclaughlin tells us how professional jazz musicians are committed to building communities through which young musicians learn to perform and through which their collective practice develops.”

As in the artisan communities of teachers we studied, communities of jazz musicians work together to develop their improvisational skills to create new compositions and arrangements, and to build and sustain commitment to jazz among musicians and the public.” A jazz ethnomusicologist describes musician communities : “Experts guide younger members in applying their technical knowledge by constantlt rehearsing and performing with them, thereby transmitting their deep sense of responsibility for the music… With time and experience, newcomers gradully accept greater responsibilities within bands, not only serving as soloists, but contributing original ideas for reperptory and musical arrangements”. (Berliner, 1994)

This makes me think of my nephew Guillaume, that just released his first jazz record – Sketches of sound – as a magnificent proof that talented learners can achieve incredible goals when they feel that learning is theirs!

© Guillaume Muller

© Guillaume Muller





The art of posing (the right) questions

Reading Martha C. Nussbaum’s Not for Profit gives us a new understanding of what education means. Nussbaum shows how the use of Socratic values produces a certain type of citizen: active, critical, curious, capable of resisting authority and peer pressure.

“Dewey’s socratism was not a sit-at-your-desk-and-argue technique; it was a form of life carried on with other children in the pursuit of an understanding of real-world issues and immediate practical projects, under the guidance of teachers, but without imposition of authority from without.” (Page 66)

“Tagore’s students were encouraged to deliberate about decisions that governed their daily life and to take the initiative in organizing meetings.” (Page 71) “Tagore’s school developed strategies to make students global citizens, able to think responsibly about the future of humanity as a whole.” (Page 84)

“The problems we need to solve – economic, environmental, religious and political – are global in their scope. They have no hope of being solved unless people once distant come together and cooperate in ways they have not before.” (Page 79)

Not for profit

Nussbaum and others help us understand the importance of posing the right questions. Gaston Bachelard wrote in The Formation of the Scientific Mind: “All knowledge is an answer to a question. Nothing is given. Everything is constructed.”

Having the ability to pose the right questions is fascinating. Listening to Stephen Hawking helps understand how the need to explore and settle on new planets is linked to fundamental questions about the origin of the universe and the future of the human race. Asking the right questions is also what economist and Nobel Prize Esther Duflo recommends to fight poverty, insisting on the need to come up with accessible solutions to concrete questions and problems.

Education is all about the art of posing the right questions. It requires a lot of factual knowledge and the ability to think critically: what Nussbaum calls “global citizenship”.

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