Education in our times, “A GENERAL STUDY AND THE CASE OF ITALY”

“Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.” – Albert Einstein

What is education today? What is its value in our fast-growing world? How important is it in our times? All these questions deserve a specific answer that is not yet provided by worldwide societies, too focused on trying to get the last technological tool or to invest in a new project, with the aim of getting a big advantage on others. But humans remain humans and will not, hopefully, turn into machines, therefore humans’ issues will keep on being there in the years to come and they will occasionally show up in a dark evening where there is no distraction nearby.

As a matter of fact, societies have changed a lot in the last century, due to fast technological development and availability of any kind of tool to get things done more easily and efficiently, but how has this affected young generations, the ones that need education the most? Those who are born already knowing everything, because they have information on the palm of their hands; those who are not interested in political reforms and social changes, because there is nothing that seems to be representative of their generation; those who, at last, do not believe anymore in higher values, because, as the Romanian philosopher Costantin Noica[1] recalls to our minds, there was a day when even the stars got sick. They got sick because men had lost their points of reference, that is what Noica means to say. Stars are not considered uncorrupted anymore like it was in the past, because cosmology has found out they can vanish, stars cannot be used to understand where you are in the world like they were considered in Aristotle’s “sky of the fixed stars”[2], because cosmology has found out stars move, our planet is not the centre of the universe, because cosmology has even found out that the main star we were extremely convinced to be rotating around the Earth, is actually not moving, we are the ones who move, therefore the religious idea of “man-centrism” is not valid anymore, we are “just another planet in the infinite universe”. In the process of history, humans always had to deal with difficult discoveries, but it looks like we are the ones paying the higher price of our ambitiousness of having something to be sure of.

In a society where core values have faded and there is nothing or few things left to believe in, what role does education have? Most readers would agree that, in such a cultural environment, education should be one of the top priorities on political schedules, because a society with no belief is less manageable and education is a possible way of creating beliefs. Also, imagine a young boy or girl who is now looking for the path to follow in his or her life at our times, they will most certainly face many issues that education could help them with. However, it does not look like that is the case. Focusing on Italy, for example, recent data show[3] that the country invests only 3,6% of its PIL in education, one of the lowest in Europe. Now, the big question is, how can a country investing only a few resources in one of the most necessary tools not only for itself, but for the whole historical period we are living, pretend to see improvements in society? Society is, unfortunately, the place where young people build their education today, because families are not ready to answer questions they are afraid to ask themselves and schools only give them information they are not interested in, whilst they would rather hear how to get over the existential crisis the XXI century is currently going through[4]. There is no involvement in studying how others lived and thought if you do not know, beforehand, how you are going to live and think.

The need for balance and clarity of mind is an imperishable human necessity that does not currently seem to be fulfilled by our educational systems, too focused on concepts, rather than being focused on those they are delivering these concepts to. This is a typical capitalistic way of reasoning[5], where quantity values more than quality, and our societies have taken precisely that economic model, since economics are the most widespread model nowadays, to turn it into an educational model. It basically should come down to understanding the big gap between quantity and quality of studies.

Of course, the capitalistic model is not working and we have evidence of that. When the market asks for professionals[6] and society can only provide an education which does not fit with what is needed by students, who are humans before being anything else, we have, as a natural result, chaos. Chaos has disorder and confusion as its main sources and does not aim to find meaning and to give life to something worth studying (and living), but simply takes lack of meaning as a matter of fact and decides that, therefore, the apparent order and perfection of our societies needs to be taken down and wiped out. Chaos has many consequences, such as violence against society[7], aiming to wound the “perfect” system, or such as abuse of drugs and alcohol[8], if the aim is not reached and solace is needed. Both these phenomena explicitly go against public order, the first one directly, the second one encouraging illegality, and they are both largely documented in our everyday newspapers. When society does not provide a meaning to what they really care about but just decides to provide for what has already been given by history and past thoughts, young people face the worst part of what Nietzsche has called “nihilism”[9]. Nihilism, simply put, is the belief that things do not have a value per se and conveys them into their nothingness. An important existentialist philosopher of the XX century, whose name is Albert Camus, stated in one of his books: “If nothing gives a strong belief, nothing makes sense and no big value can be affirmed, everything is possible and nothing has importance”[10]. Why is this relevant for the topic? Because if young people face nihilism and do not have the means to go against it and provide new and original value to what they have[11] due to their lacking education, they will take, as I mentioned, the worst part of this philosophical doctrine; they will, as Nietzsche would say himself, stare at the abyss only to fall. From this point on, life is something that is worth living today, but maybe not tomorrow, because it takes an awful amount of strength and will to live a life you do not perceive as relevant for yourself and others.

So, what could and should education do? Of course, the answer is not easy, but I would say education could and probably should be the most powerful tool in our hands to give meaning to our everyday life, because nothing else could be more necessary and useful as a matter of fact. Education should not be, instead, a load of information on someone who is not interested. It is, lastly, essential to bear in mind that the human brain learns only when there is some interest in what it is learning, otherwise it does not really learn, it simply memorizes information to use them in a limited period of time and it ends there, which is counterproductive in terms of time and resources spent, not to mention the frustration of being forced to do something you will not eventually receive a benefit from.

This is my study on education, with my best wishes both for present and future students, in the hope that the next generation will be better thanks to the widespread of the “right” education.


This study is greatly inspired by Umberto Galimberti’s book “L’ospite inquietante, il nichilismo e i giovani”, serie bianca feltrinelli, to whom go my warmest regards.


[1] C. Noica “Șase maladii ale spiritului contemporan” (1978), quotation taken from U. Galimberti, “Nichilismo e Giovani”, Serie bianca Feltrinelli, pag.22

[2] See “Περὶ οὐρανοῦ” (350 a.C.) Aristotle

[3] “Il sole 24ore”, 12 september 2019

[4] In this regard, see the philosophy of Existentialism and its main representatives

[5] About capitalism, see “Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei”, K. Marx and F. Engels

[6] Degrees are today almost necessary to get a job, since most jobs are highly professional

[7] You may want to check this article for example, / the article is in Italian

[8] You may want to check this other article, / the article is in Italian

[9] F. Nietzsche (1844-1900), german philosopher, one of the leading theorists of nihilism

[10] A. Camus (1913-1960), quotation taken from « L’homme révolté », Gallimard, Paris 1951, p. 419. The page of the quotation was found on the following link (webpage in Italian), , also useful for further research

[11] Nietzsche refers to the process of going over nihilism as “active nihilism”

1 Comment

  1. Patrizia Pasetti

    Right, if we don’t invest in education the chances of become a greater society decrease abruptely

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