Luc Ferry

Fighting Illiteracy Publication date : September 3, 2009

International studies regularly confirm that French school students obtain poorer academic results than students in other countries of a similar economic level. And yet the budget allocated to education in France, in proportion to population, is one of the highest in the world. After progressing for many years, French academic performance has stagnated, or even regressed, according to every study made since 1995. Why? And what can be done?

Having failed to determine the objective causes of such poor academic results, the experts are reduced to giving high-handed advice: the traditionalists telling us to revert to “good old-fashioned methods” — without stopping to examine why they were abandoned — and the innovators urging us to adopt a plethora of new remedial social and pedagogic approaches. Both fail to face a major challenge: How to teach spelling, the rules of civility, and even mathematics, when our individualistic society undervalues our past heritage whenever it does not lend itself to each person's subjective reinterpretations? When it comes to spelling, there is little room for personal creativity, argues the author.

This book has a three-pronged goal. First of all, it attempts to identify the profound origins of the current crisis in education within democratic societies, focussing on the French case. It then attempts to learn from the experiences of those countries that have successfully fought against academic failure and illiteracy. Drawing on this information, the author offers a number of new, immediately applicable solutions, and explains why he is convinced they will work.

Luc Ferry is most notably the author of Vaincre les peurs (2006). A professor of philosophy at the University of Paris-VII, he was formerly French Minister of Education and president of the Conseil National des Programmes (the official body that determines curricula for French schools). His books, which have been published in translation in more than 25 countries, include Qu'est-ce que l'homme? (with Jean-Didier Vincent, 2000; paperback, 2001), Lettre à tous ceux qui aiment l'école (with Xavier Darcos and Claudie Haigneré, 2003), Qu'est-ce qu'une vie réussie? (2005), Apprendre à vivre (2006) and Pour un service civique (2007).