The pillar of education is trust in youth



Moving from a critical consideration of the politics of the European Commission concerning instruction in the last 20 years, the presentation highlights the contradictions in interpreting the value of education. Due to the prevailing interest of the financial ideologues stressing competition, Delors as Head of the European Union tried to draw the attention of economists toward the field of education, stressing the relevance of education for economic competition. Later on, as head of UNESCO Committee for Education, he tried to bring the attention back on the true value of education, but the damage was done. Curiously, in the UNESCO book, he used as mainframe the famous La Fontaine/Aesop’s fable (n. XLII) about the Farmer and his sons, emphasizing the need to better listen to the youngsters and to educate them to the values and social meaning of non-alienated work. However, the fable implies a pedagogical contradiction, because education requires trust and not escamotage. The deep anti-pedagogical result was to allow economists to think about education as just as a way to improve human capital.

General Information

Keywords: Competition vs cooperation, work, social values, anti-pedagogical results, misunderstanding

Journal rubric: Memorable Dates


For citation: Lucisano P. The pillar of education is trust in youth. Kul'turno-istoricheskaya psikhologiya = Cultural-Historical Psychology, 2017. Vol. 13, no. 1, pp. 44–48. DOI: 10.17759/chp.2017130104.

Full text


20 years have passed since Jacques Delors headed the UNESCO Commission aimed to outline the policies supporting education in the coming millennium.

In January 1995 Delors ended his third term as President of the European Commission and became chair of the UNESCO International Commission on Education for the Twenty-first Century. In his new role, Delors fully committed to the preparation, together with the other members of the Committee, of a very interesting document, rich of extensive evaluations, and entirely directed to describe the fundamental role of education for the future of society, under the title L’education: un Tresor est cache dedan.

“In confronting the many challenges that the future holds in store, humankind sees in education an indispensable asset in its attempt to attain the ideals of peace, freedom and social justice. As it concludes its work, the Commission affirms its belief that education has a fundamental role to play in personal and social development. The Commission does not see education as a miracle cure or a magic formula opening the door to a world in which all ideals will be attained, but as one of the principal means available to foster a deeper and more harmonious form of human development and thereby to reduce poverty, exclusion, ignorance, oppression and war”.

The document identifies four main pillars of the learning process:

learning to know

learning to do

learning to live together

and learning to be.

In the following years, this document has been a constant reference for the European institutions and, nevertheless, among the goals that have not been achieved in Europe, those related to the educational system have achieved a prominent place. It is clear that, of the four basic principles that Delors had stated, only two really interested politicians: learning to know and learning to do, goals whose purpose was essentially to increase human capital.

The partial failure of the UNESCO paper has deep roots, which lie in the genesis of the document and in the author’s previous work.

Delors is best remembered for his White Paper on growth, competitiveness, and employment, published in 1993. In this paper, he places great emphasis on training and education, issues that are of interest to him, due to his personal and political training. But Delors makes a real attempt to convince decision makers of the importance of education, and he does so by using the theme of the meaning of education for competitiveness, so that the word competitiveness is found in the White Paper many, many times, while the word cooperation is used very sparingly. Actually, the word competitiveness appears in the White Paper 129 times and the word cooperation only 58, whereas in the UNESCO report on education competitiveness occurs only 17 times and cooperation 80 times.

Delors’s error was shared by many, and in the nineties, we, as educators, struggled to persuade politicians and economists that there was a treasure to enhance in education. To convince them, we adopted their language, we accepted that young people would have been considered as human capital, we adopted the concept of flexibility, which translated into availability to accept anything, to abandon any safety and health at work: human capital is a treasure, that must be captured by any means. Delors, on his side, heavily uses this expression starting from the title, as we have already mentioned (L’education: un Tresor est cache dedan — Learning: the treasure within) and ending his report with reference to the fable La Fontaine about the Treasure in the field.

This fable is a classic, Aesop (Esopo) being, in our culture, among the first storytellers. A father is dying, he calls his sons and tells them that there is a treasure in the vineyard; so, after the father’s death, the sons go to the field, take a plow and dig through their own ground. They do not find the treasure, but the harvest for the next season is rich and so they discover that work is a treasure itself[3].

Like this father, Delors tries to convince that the field of education can provide a treasure-trove of competitiveness for the European economy.

The fable of Aesop, however, can be considered as anti-pedagogical, due to merits and method; and results and morals, among other things, constitute a forced interpretation. Consider the details: the father dying realizes that he could not, in any way, encourage his sons to develop true love for work and for the land, which were important values for him that he wanted to teach them. Thus, given that there is no direct reference to the desired result, he decides to try with deception. We can reasonably guess that the father doesn’t trust his sons. He has probably spoiled them and he believes them to be greedy. Therefore, he tells them that he hid the treasure in the vineyard. After the death of their father, the sons immediately started their treasure hunt. Now, it is not difficult to imagine that these greedy, scarcely judicious sons began to dig throughout the land and also destroyed the grapevine. Obviously, the search for a treasure and their contempt for cultivation, for work, brought them to dig everywhere, wasting the grapevines, and nothing makes us believe that, after wasting them, disappointed for not having found any treasure, they would replant and cultivate them. Without work, no grapevine can automatically grow any fruit.

The reasonable effect, therefore, is not the moral of this story, but what we’ve seen, as economists, bankers and politicians began to toss into the air the field of education, searching for the treasure: human capital, without any work culture and without any love for the vineyard. So it is true that the vineyard was hoed over time and the cultivations that made our country one of the wealthiest and most educated in the world were eradicated. Perhaps we lack work culture, perhaps these spoiled guys thought that the hoard can be achieved without work, like in the stock market. The outcome, however, was devastating.

From a pedagogical point of view, the father made a lot of mistakes. Of course, he failed to educate his children; he probably spoiled them, allowing them to grow without work, without love for land and vineyards. They have grown so stupid to believe that the buried treasure could solve all their problems, and would enable them to live a happy life without having to work. At his death, the father feels that the only thing to do for the benefit of sons is to spoof them with the revelation of the treasures in the field. He obviously does not trust them and believes that if he spoke differently he would not be heard. The guys also feel the scorn of their father. Difficult to rebuild trust, when this perverse scheme is activated. We only know that the expectations of educators affect their students.

Now it’s hard to believe that cheating is a good training practice, although, recently, we had the Minister of Education, former Rector of the Polytechnic, which glorified the “carrot and stick” approach.

The first priority of education is trust. Secondly, the teacher should work together with the learners, and should not think at their place; the learner’s autonomy of judgment, in fact, is not only the ultimate goal of education, but also the only means by which this goal can be achieved. All studies on learning confirm that the learner is the protagonist of learning[4] [2].

In addition, cheating for a good purpose is not acceptable as a means, since means and ends represent a continuum and must be consistent.

Delors, unlike the father of the fable, didn’t die, and after 1993, began to cope with the problems of the European Union without a soul, only interested in the Treasury and the greed of banks seeking to create wealth without work.

The UNESCO document tried to remedy, but, as you know, closing the door of the stables after the horse is gone, to cite an agricultural metaphors, is hardly effective at all. Thus, young professionals and adults talk a lot, especially in recent years, about how to succeed in life: to compete, compete, compete and try to win by any means. What is done less often is to listen to the young. We can observe that very often, in conversations about young people, their limitations and their shortcomings are emphasized. There is a willingness to list everything that they do not know and do not know how to do. We worry a lot less about what they think and what they are. Another common place: to compare them with young people from other times. Our deformed memory from the past describes young people as possessing abilities and attention that today’s youngsters do not have. Thus, young people grow with the burden of lack of respect. And yet, as we have seen, also thanks to their families and schools, they reach the age of choices full of good principles, but they also seem to know how these principles come into conflict with the peculiarities of the society, to which they must conform. A similar treatment is reserved to educational institutions, heavily impacted by lack of resources, lack of confidence and legitimization. Here the game becomes more complex, as school and university are constantly assigned new tasks without attribution of the resources required to implement them, and then they are carefully evaluated based on their default. All mistakes depend on teachers and young people, while the recipes by specialists tell us how things should be done in the right way. A great educator, Sir Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the scouting movement, responded to those who asked him the secret of education: “Ask the boys”. We tried to do it, but just asking is not enough, we should ask with respect, listen and act accordingly.


  1. Delors J. L’éducation: un trésor est caché Paris: UNESCO, 1996.
  2. Delors J. The Treasure within: Learning to know, learning to do, learning to live together and learning to be. What is the value of the treasure 15 years after its publication? International Review of Education, 2013. Vol. 59, pp. 319—330.
  3. Lucisano P. In Lucisano P. (eds.), Tееn’s Voice. Roma: Nuova Cultura, 2016, pp. 105—110.

Information About the Authors

Pietro Lucisano, Professor of experimental pedagogy, Sapienza University of Rome, Rome, Italy, e-mail:



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